QuickCheck: Are chillies native to Malaysia?
To say chillies are popular in Malaysia is an understatement. Malaysian cuisine more or less revolves around the use of this spicy and pungent berry (yes it is a berry).
But is it true that chillies originated in Malaysia?
Unlike bananas, the humble chili does not come from our region, in fact, its history here dates back only a few hundred years.
Like many other members of its family (Nightshades), the chili pepper is native to the Americas and was part of the Colombian trade after Europeans reached both continents of the Americas.
By the way, the Colombian exchange was the widespread transfer of plants, animals, precious metals, commodities, culture, human populations, technology, diseases, and ideas between the Americas and Afro -Eurasia.
It is named after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who sailed under the Spanish flag and reached the New World in 1492. This “exchange” was not a one-time affair and in fact took place over several hundred years and given the current Covid-19 pandemic. , it is still technically ongoing.
The story of chilies conquering the world, however, does not follow the Spaniards, but the Portuguese.
In 1493, Pope Alexander VI arbitrarily divided the world into two hemispheres to prevent further hostilities between the Spaniards and the Portuguese.
Both sides were rising powers with colonial aspirations, and the pope wanted to prevent the two Catholic nations from going to war over the New World. This papal diktat was eventually transformed into a formal treaty between the two nations in 1494 (the Treaty of Tordesillas).
Essentially, the pope affirmed the Spaniards’ right to “conquer” the New World by placing the demarcation line 370 leagues west of the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa.
However, unbeknownst to the Pope and Spain, much of the future country of Brazil lay east of this line which the Portuguese eventually discovered and colonized.
The treaty did two things – It gave Portugal access to the New World (and the chillies) and forced them to move east into Asia, making them the first European nation to find and settle on the markets of Africa, India and of course South East Asia.
Nearly 20 years later, King Manuel I of Portugal heard of a fledgling trading power in South Asia called Melaka who was apparently extremely wealthy, so he decided it would be a good idea to enter into a trade pact with its ruler.
He then sent Admiral Diogo Lopes de Sequeira to Melaka as his representative in eastern India.
Admiral de Sequeira reached Melaka in 1509 and was initially well received by Sultan Mahmud Shah, but eventually trouble began which was eventually ended by an invasion led by Admiral de Sequeira’s countryman Afonso of Albuquerque in 1511.
However, being originally a trade delegation, it can be assumed that de Sequeira would have presented the humble chili pepper to the sultan as one of the various commodities the Portuguese could trade in Melaka.
This would be the earliest the chillies could have reached our shores as Admiral de Sequeira was the first European in Southeast Asia, and at that time only Europeans had access to both the New World and the Asia.
So all in all, Malaysia has had chili peppers for just over 500 years, however, the spice has had such an amazing impact on our culture and cuisine that it’s almost impossible to imagine a time when we didn’t. we didn’t have access to it.