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Hot chocolate spices- chili

You may remember a couple of weeks ago we started talking about the spices we like to add to our hot chocolate, kicking it off with cinnamon. We are finally returning to that topic now to consider a spice which, although it may not be first on our minds, certainly has a strong association and history with hot chocolate. Join us then today as we investigate the chili pepper.

Hot topic

The chili pepper is anything but; humans have been aware of its powerful heat for a long old time. This heat comes predominantly from a chemical known as capsaicin which interacts with our sensory neurons to produce a burning sensation. Capsaicin is most concentrated in the white membrane which the seeds connect to- if you want to reduce the heat in your next curry, but still have the chili's flavour, just remove the white bits!

Chili peppers originated in the Americas around the area we now call Mexico. They have been a feature of the human diet for several thousands of years, preceding their domestication around six thousand years ago. Apparently they were one of the first cultivated crops in the region. That they should be cultivated before other more staple foodstuffs shows that clearly the mantle of the 'chilihead' is one with a long history! Chilis spread around the world during the Columbian Exchange, where animals, foodstuffs- and unfortunately, diseases- were exchanged between the New and Old Worlds, following Christopher Columbus' voyage to the Americas.

Chili broth

The Europeans who came to the Americas witnessed a peculiar drink made by some of the natives. It was cold, frothy and rather bitter to taste, but lent a piquant heat by the addition of chili. This proto- hot chocolate is a far cry from the sweet and rich hot chocolate we drink today, but it has something to share with us. Those of you who enjoy something more than a bar of dairy milk have probably come across chili chocolate, a blend of typically dark chocolate laced with chili. Despite the origin of this combination, you're probably less likely to have come across a similarly charged drinking chocolate.

Thankfully, you don't need to buy some fancily decorated carton of chili and chocolate powder to enjoy your own Mesoamerican hot chocolate. The simplest way to add chili is a sprinkle of chili powder stirred in at the end. The advantage of this is the ability to fine tune your brew, but you'll want to stir it intermittently as you drink it- nobody likes chili chocolate sludge at the bottom of their mug! For a more authentic take, you can try using dried chili. One way is to split open a whole dried chili and make up a big batch for yourself and your family and friends- be sure to strain it before serving, as a rogue chili may offend. Alternatively, you could try sprinkling some chili flakes in- like the powder, you can adjust to taste once more, but it will also look pretty decorating the top of a layer of cream.

So there you have it- when you next feel like having a hot chocolate, consider making a nod to its heritage and spice it up!


Chili pepper

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