February 15, 1996
Web posted at: 3:00 p.m EST
From Mexico City Bureau Chief Lucia Newman
MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CNN) -- It may seem like a masochistic pleasure but most Mexicans don't even think about it unless they don't have it.
Just ask a few of them. "Every meal has to be super hot, otherwise I don't like to eat it. It's something I can't live without," said one. And another said, "It makes food taste good. Without it, it's not food."
"It" is chile, the most Mexican of condiments -- hundreds of kinds of peppers, with different colors and tastes. They come dried as well as fresh, in pastes as well as powder.
Chile (also spelled "chili" in English) is a gift from Christopher Columbus and Mexico to the world. "Nearly all chiles are of Mexican origin," said Jose Iturriaga, a chile expert. "The paprika they use in Hungary is a Mexican capsicum. And the spicy foods of China, like in Szechuan, are also from Mexican chiles. There was no hot food until the 16th century."
Today, some people can't seem to get it hot enough. "You have to rub them to make them bite more," said one laborer on his lunch break as he pinched a chile.
Mexicans find chile absolutely irresistible; chile is served with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then some.
There hardly is a children's snack that isn't spiced with chile -- chile lollipops and chile powder flavored with tamarind are the rage at any age. And almost no Mexican would dream of eating fresh fruit without a generous sprinkling of lemon and chiles.
But it's not just a matter of taste, Iturriaga said. "Chile (peppers are) one of the richest foods in vitamin C. And in the trilogy of corn, beans and chile, the main diet of Mexicans since pre-Hispanic days, chile plays a fundamental role," he said. Iturriaga said chile makes the proteins in corn and beans more digestible.
But even if it had no nutritional value, chile would probably be just as popular, because when it comes to Mexican food, hot isn't hell, it's heaven.
Copyright © 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.