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It's All in a Name--Chili or Chile or Chile Pepper

By Jane Butel  June 27, 2023

Did you ever wonder or even think about the confusion between chili and chile and chili pepper?  Well, all of the confusion was started by Christopher Columbus who was quite enterprising.  He thought he could make money or even become rich with chiles.  He thought if he called chiles, chile pepper or chili pepper when he introduced them in European markets, that people would buy chiles as a less expensive substitute for black pepper.  The botanical name is piper nigrum.  Well the experiment did not work, but the name stuck.  That is why so many people say “chile peppers” or even call chiles “peppers”.

Black pepper is the most popular condiment in the world and is often paired with salt.

There are other pepper corns in the world, but the black one is by far the most popular.

Chiles are a totally different plant than the black pepper plant    and are part of the night shade family.  What makes chiles hot is their possession and ability to produce  capsaicin  This substance is developed in the white, puffy ball shape known as the placenta and is located on the inside top of the chile, just under the stem.  From this production area, the capsaicin is transported down the veins of the chile and then dispersed within the flesh of the chile.  This distribution pattern is what allows the tip of the chile to always be the mildest—it is farthest away from the production and distribution areas.

Black pepper comes from an entirely different type of development.  It is produced on a vine and the pepper corns grow in clumps.  The source of spiciness is not capsaicin.  And, in fact capsaicin has many healthful properties.  Black pepper has none and is known to lodge in some people’s intestinal tract, slowing digestion.  Chiles speed digestion.

The healing properties of chles are very diverse.  In fact a study done at the Medical School at the University of the Philippines revealed that if a person developed a habit of eating at least a half teaspoon of the hottest chile that can be endured at least 2/3 of the time, the incidence of either heart disease or cancer are greatly diminished.  The University of Nottingham in England and Harvard have each developed similar studies that have revealed the same beneficial results.

In addition, chiles are great for your complexion, and many, many other parts of your body--inside and out.

I think it is totally amazing that capsaicin can not be synthesized.  Only the chile plant can create it.  Amazing, when you think of all the amazing scientific developments we have today.

This week we have a Green Chile class where we will be making yummy green chile dishes--even a green chile appple pie!  We still have 2 openings if you would like to join us this Thursday, June 29, at 5 PM.   

Next month, we will kick off the month with our award winning 3 day full participation  weekend cooking school, starting Friday, July 7 at 5 pm.  The  next day ckass is our popular Red Chie Fiesta on July 13 at 5 PM followed by our Green Chile Favorites again on July 27 at 5 PM.

Here's a couple  of recipes for you to enjoy-- 


The hearty, full flavor and creamy consistency of this chicken soup tastes like work, but this dish is actually fast and easy to make. Cutting the chicken breast is the most time-consuming part of the recipe. This is a versatile dish that you can vary in many ways. Instead of chicken breasts, you could use leftover roast chicken or turkey, firm-fleshed fish or shellfish with fish stock, roast beef, or ground chuck with beef stock.  It is a great "Go to" recipe for hot  nights or for a lunch.

Cooking Time: 10-12 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

1, 14 ½ oz. can chicken broth, preferably low sodium, with water added to make 2 cups

2 white or yellow corn tortillas, broken up

1 pound chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

3 scallions, thinly sliced (some reserved for garnish)

1 ½ tablespoons minced pickled jalapenos with juice

Optional Garnishes:

Cilantro leaves

Crushed red caribe chiles

Lime wedges

  1. Place the chicken broth and water in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the tortillas and chicken. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes.
  1. Add the scallions and jalapenos with juice. Stir to combine well. Simmer for approximately another 5 minutes. Serve garnished with the reserved scallion and, if desired, the cilantro, chiles, and lime to squeeze on the chowder.

Per Serving:

Calories 326, Protein 50g, Carbohydrates 14g, Fiber 2g, Fat 8g, Saturated Fat 2g, Cholesterol 130mg, Sodium 338mg.

Reprinted with permission from Jane Butel’s Quick & Easy Southwestern Cookbook.

Clam and Green Chile Chili

Clams are definitely innovative in chili! However, I have always loved New England style clam chowder and thought, why not marry the flavors—using the milder green chile flavor with the spiciness of chorizo to pep it up. It works, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

8 ounces Mexican chorizo
1 cup chopped onion (1 large onion)
2 large unpeeled russet potatoes, diced
3 large green chiles, parched, peeled and chopped—can be 1, 4 ounce can or ½ cup frozen green chile
2 fresh jalapenos, minced
3 fresh garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons cumin, divided
1, 15 ounce can whole kernel corn
2 cups chicken stock
2, 6 ounce cans chopped clams
6 corn tortillas, cut into very thin strips
Pequin chile, to taste, optional

1. Remove casing from chorizo and coarsely chop. Place in unheated large 5 quart pot and sauté over medium heat until the chorizo melts and cooks—about five minutes. With a spoon, remove most of fat.

2. In remaining fat, sauté the onion until clear. Add the potato, chiles, garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin, corn and chicken stock. Simmer until the potato is done, about 20 minutes. Add clams and remaining cumin. Taste and adjust flavors, adding salt if desired.

3. In the meantime while the chili is simmering, preheat an oven to 425 F. Place finely cut tortilla strips on baking sheet and place in oven until crisp—about 8 to 10 minutes. When tortilla strips are first baking, squiggle with a large fork to make them curl.

4. To serve, ladle soup into individual bowls, then sprinkle with pequin if desired. Or pass the pequin for those who like it spicier.



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