Chiltepin: The Mother of Peppers
The appeal – sometimes the legend even – of some chillies is their monstrous heat. There are tales (true ones) of lunatic gastronomes frying up some entire Trinidad Moruga Scorpions or Butch T’s or Naga Vipers for a stew, having to wear full chemical suits while they cook, to prevent eye and lung injury. We see videos of chilli connoisseurs on their knees, reduced to fiery tears when sampling a Dorset Naga or a Carolina Reaper for the first time, their pride and their mouths melted away.
The Chiltepin’s appeal is different. Unlike most peppers, the Chiltepin’s spiciness hits the human mouth near-instantly, and will hold your undivided attention for 2 to 3 minutes, then leave you in peace and endorphins. In Mexico, the Chiltepin’s heat is called arrebatado (“rapid”, or “violent”, but also with a second meaning of “ecstatic”). They know the pungency is intense, but also pleasant and diminishes quickly.
The Chiltepin also has the perfect heritage. It is believed to be the parent of all domesticated chillies; the Chiltepin was most likely the planet’s first chilli. The word Tepin is from the Aztec Indians’ Nahuatl language. It means ‘little one’, or literally, ‘flea’ – tiny with a big kick. According to the Capsicum Database, “most experts believe the Tepin, also called Chiltepin, is the original wild chile – the plant from which all others have evolved.” Given the vigour of the plant’s growth, and its established relationship with animals, the Chiltepin being the MotherPepper is imaginable. Shaped like a berry or a large pea, the Chiltepin is the favourite of wild birds, who chomp through the pods like there’s no tomorrow, then fly merrily around dropping seeds from their claws or in their feces. They thusly distributed Chiltepin across the prehistoric Americas. A beautiful and spicy symbiosis.
Originally cultivated in Mexico, Chiltepins still grow wild in Mexico, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico and are now used worldwide as a food and spice. Being so ancient and adored, the Chiltepin has collected pet names left, right and centre. To some it’s the Chile Tepin, Chiltepin, Chiltepine or just Tepin. Some prefer Bird Pepper. To others, Pequin, Piquin, Chile Mosquito, Chile de Pajaro, Chile Silvestre, or Tecpintle.
A ring of fire or not, chillies are phenomenally good for us. Chiltepins and other hot peppers stimulate the metabolism. They fight cancer. They help diabetics. They are vitamin-rich and contain immune-boosting antioxidants. They reduce cholesterol… click on “Benefits of Peppers” for the comprehensive rundown of the amazing and reassuring things they can do for us mere mortals.
Chilli peppers are used for their flavours and not just their heat, with Mexico using the widest variety of chilli peppers, take your chance and experience the delicious Mexican Cuisine on a Mexico City Tour.