Wednesday, May 11, 2011

PEPPERS OF BRAZIL - Malagueta Pepper (Pimenta Malagueta)

There are hundreds if not thousands of different chili peppers consumed in Brazil. This isn't really all that surprising since the genus shared by all these peppers (Capiscum) is native to Central and South America, and there is archeological evidence from Southern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated as far back as 6000 years ago. Spreading throughout the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans in the New World and moving all around the globe since as part of the Columbian exchange, it is natural that a number of different varieties and cultivars of the genus would have developed.

Interestingly there is one variety of the chili pepper species Capiscum frutescens that seems to have spread only to Portuguese-speaking countries. Presumably the variety originated in Brazil, was carried back to Portugal as part of the trade between that country and its largest colony and subsequently carried onwards to Portuguese colonies in Africa, principally Mozambique and Cabo Verde. In Brazil this chili pepper is called pimenta malagueta. Elsewhere is has many names - gindungo, maguita-tuá-tuá, ndongo, nedungo and piri-piri among others. In English it is also known as the malagueta pepper.

The name malagueta itself is derived from an entirely different plant from Africa called melegueta in Portuguese and Grains-of-paradise in English. This relative of ginger has no botanical relationship to chili peppers, and the similarity of names has caused more than one source to suggest an African origin for Brazilian malagueta peppers. This is absolutely not true, malagueta peppers originated in the New World.

The malagueta is a small pepper than grows no larger than about 2 inches (5 cm). It is green in its immature stage and turns red as it ripens. On the Scoville scale which measures the spicy heat of chili peppers, the malagueta clocks in at anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 units. This puts it in the middle range of hot chilis, about the same as the Tabasco pepper and the Thai Bird's-eye chili.

Although the malagueta is cultivated and consumed throughout Brazil, it is most strongly associated with the cooking and food traditions of the state of Bahia. It is used there to liven cooked soups and stews and a bottle of malagueta hot-sauce is to be found on every Bahian table.

In Bahia, as elsewhere in Brazil, most of the malagueta peppers consumed come from commercial farms and small plantings. A wild version of the malagueta plant does grow in Bahia, though, called malagueta-caipira which means back-country malagueta. Chili fanatics go to great lengths to try to find sources of this wild cousin of the domestic malagueta, claiming that it has higher levels of capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers, and low levels of piperine, the active component of black peppers. This means that the wild malagueta carried more of capsaicin's health benefits. Unfortunately, the wild version of the plant is susceptible to a number of blights and diseases, and is not suitable for commercial cultivation.

Tomorrow, Flavors of Brazil will feature a recipe for homemade malagueta hot-sauce.

9 comments:

  1. I'm from Malaysia and I eat spicy stuff including Thai's bird's-eye chilies on a daily basis. Since I'll be moving to Fortaleza hopefully by the end of this year, I've always wondered if Malagueta pepper was spicy enough for me in case I couldn't find any bird's-eye chilies there. Thanks to your blog, now I know it is. By the way, I'm Carlos C's fiancee, he posted a comment on your blog last week :) -Linda

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  2. I've heard so much about Feijoada, and recently read about the addition of Melegueta pepper (aka Alligator Pepper, also known as grains of paradise - small, chestnut brown, pyramid-shaped seeds similar to peppercorns and originating from a pod) to the classic version.

    But now I am somewhat confused because this Malagueta peppers aren't the Melegueta peppers which I purchased. On the label of my pack of peppercorns, it reads that these peppercorns are added to Feijoada.

    Do you know if grains of paradise are added to the classic Feijoada? Perhaps it is a regional thing. Oh well, it in interesting overall.

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    1. Feijoada is a typical dish from Rio. We don't use malagueta pepper to make it but we'll use on the side, as a hot sauce.

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  3. You're wrong about the history of the Malagueta Pepper. This spicy pepper was first discovered in Liberia, West Africa by early Portuguese traders back in the 1300 AD.

    This pepper is part of our nation's history. Pedro De Sintra and Vasco Da Gama in the 1400 first encountered the pepper in Liberia and took it to Europe. This was the reason Pedro name country, Grain Coast or Malagueta Coast in 1460. This was way before the white man or Europeans encountered the Americas. If you visit Liberia, we still have this spicy pepper all around us.

    My name is Emmanuel Clarke
    I am an Author and Professor
    www.clarkepublish.com

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    Replies
    1. Hello.
      I doubt the dates you are quoting as in the years of 1300, portuguese navigators had not reached those latitudes. Can you give me further facts, please?
      Thanks.

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    2. Hello.
      I doubt the dates you are quoting as in the years of 1300, portuguese navigators had not reached those latitudes. Can you give me further facts, please?
      Thanks.

      Delete
    3. Hello.
      I doubt the dates you are quoting as in the years of 1300, portuguese navigators had not reached those latitudes. Can you give me further facts, please?
      Thanks.

      Delete
    4. Peppers (Capuscum) are endemic to Central and South America. How are you certain, relative to origin of the Malagueta, that your statement, is accurate?

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  4. Where can hi purchase some of your chili powder?

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