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Spicy Cuisine Originated in Mexico 1,500 Years Ago

The spicy Mexican cuisine, which is one of the world's tastiest and most popular, may be nearly 1,500 years old, say scientists at the Smithsonian Institution .

Linda Perry of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History says that as early as 1,500 years ago, Pre-Columbian inhabitants of southern Mexico enjoyed a spicy fare similar to Mexican cuisine today.

The new finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is based on an analysis of plant remains from two caves in the region, which yielded 10 different cultivars of chilli pepper.

"This analysis demonstrates that chillies in Mexican food have been numerous and complex for a long period of time. It reveals a great antiquity for the Mexican cuisine that we're familiar with today," said Perry, the lead author of the study.

In the course of study, desiccated plant remains from excavations in Guila Naquitz and Silvia's Cave, two dry rock shelters near Mitla in the Valley of Oaxaca, were studied.

Guila Naquitz is famous for its well-preserved plant remains, dating back to the beginnings of squash cultivation in Mexico some 10,000 years ago. Arid conditions through the centuries prevented decay of the crop remains, which include corn, squash, beans, avocados and chilli peppers.

The study was focused on the two upper layers of ash and debris, known as Zone "A" and "Super-A," spanning the period circa A.D. 500-1500. Perry distinguished different cultivars among the abundantly preserved chilli peppers, a type of analysis that had not been completed on ancient Mexican chilies.

The researcher found that peppers from Guila Naquitz included at least seven different cultivars, while peppers from the smaller sample in Silvia's cave represented three cultivars.

Perry, however, is yet to confirm whether the cultivars found in the caves correspond to modern varieties, or whether
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