Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pimentas and Pimenta

The Portuguese word pimenta is used to refer both to the family of plants that are called chilis or chili peppers in English, and to the table-top sauce made from the fruits of these plants. It's a bit like the situation in English where tabasco is the name of a particular species of chili pepper AND the name of the sauce made from this pepper.

Brazilian food, contrary to what many people believe, is not necessarily spicy and hot. Certain regional cuisines, indeed, are very spicy - Bahian food, or Amazonian food. In other regions in Brazil food normally comes to the table unspiced. However, whether in a restaurant or at home, a bottle of pimenta stands in the middle of the table, like salt and pepper might in North America, ready to be used by any one who wants to spice up a dish on their plate. If it's not on the table at a restaurant, it can always be obtained on demand.

A tremendous number of different chilis are grown in Brazil, and the taxonomic confusion is enormous. The same pepper might have two different names in different regions - or two totally unrelated peppers might share a single name. To add to the confusion, some common Brazilian chilis are also used in other national cuisines, but with different names.

For instance, one of the most common hot chilis in Brazil is called the malagueta. In Portugal, and in Portuguese-speaking Africa, it's called peri-peri or piri-piri. In Asia, it's known as the birdseye pepper or the Thai chili, and in North America it's our familiar Tabasco.

There are literally hundreds of other common names for chilis in Brazil. We'll be exploring some of them in this blog.

If you would like to make a Brazilian-style pimenta at home, it's very easy. The instructions are in the following post.


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