When Christopher Columbus set out to discover easier ways to get spices, like black pepper, he couldn't possibly have realized the real "spice" he would find on his journey. The ancient Aztecs and other Native Americans grew peppers long before the rest of the world knew of them. They ate them like apples, despite the burning sensation they caused. They also ground up the pepper seeds and sprinkled the resulting powder on their cooked dishes or used the peppers to season tomato sauces. As Christopher Columbus and other European explorers discovered, the peppers made food very hot and very spicy and were a vital seasoning of the Native American tribes. The native Americans grew both sweet and hot peppers, and Christopher Columbus took all of the varieties back to Europe with him.
Countries like Italy and Spain recognized the value of the sweet peppers. They combined them with tomatoes and onions, as we do today, to make fabulous sauces. The hot peppers, on the other hand, circled the globe and landed in India and China. The cooks there were astounded at the hotness and spiciness the peppers lent to food. Before the entrance of hot peppers, precious black pepper was the strongest seasoning agent available, but it soon lost its place of distinction as it was replaced by the spicy, hot peppers from the New World. Those little hot things Christopher Columbus brought from the Americas dramatically influenced the cultural foods of China and India that we recognize today.
When shopping for peppers, choose ones that look glossy and feel firm. Green stems and unwrinkled skins also tell you that you're picking a pretty pepper. Store the peppers, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Peppers are high in vitamin C, but red peppers also contain vitamin A.
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