From the pampas of Argentina to the sprawling jungles of the Amazon to the slopes of the Andes - South America is a continent of contrasts. With such a diverse landscape, it is not surprising that this area is home to a variety of spices. Many of them are now grown in other regions of the world because they are so popular.
Three of the classic South American spices that are used around the world today are peppers, cayenne peppers or chillies and pink pepper.
Peppers & Paprika
Chillies are native to South America, but are now mainly grown in Hungary, Bulgaria, Spain, southern France and Greece. Both the plant and the fruit are called "peppers". Depending on the color, size and spiciness, the latter has plenty of other names. As a spice, dried peppers are traded as ground powders, with different levels of spiciness. Today there are hardly any local cuisines where peppers are not used. The respective regional can be very different.
Lots of different dishes can be seasoned with paprika: goulash soup of various types, all kinds of meat dishes, fish dishes, spicy rice, potato dishes, casseroles, salads, sauces, pizza, various vegetables, etc.
Cayenne pepper / chilies
Ground chilies are called cayenne. The cayenne pepper is not obtained from the fruit of the common pepper, but from very spicy pepper varieties.
The plants originated in South America, today however, they are also grown in Africa and India. Attempts to cultivate chillies started around 7,000 years ago close to the prehistoric burial sites in Peru.
Cayenne pepper is suitable for meat dishes, stews, goulash and tomato soups, casseroles, dark sauces, pizza or venison.
Under the name "pink pepper", both the fruits of the Brazilian and the Peruvian pepper tree are recognized. These plants grow up to 14 meters high are native throughout South and Central America. It is interesting that these are not true peppers, but another plant. The fruits of these trees are mildly aromatic and taste similar to pepper. Therefore, they are also referred to as pepper even though they are actually berries. For optical reasons these fruits are often mixed with pepper in pepper blends.
Nowadays a lot of other spices are grown in South America, some of which were not originally at home there. Nevertheless, they now represent an important economic factor for the area.
South American Cuisine
South American cuisine is not really one cuisine per se, as it is a conglomeration of various trends and traditions with huge regional differences. In order to really cook "American", you must consider a very wide range of dishes. This variety can be traced back to the influences of the former European colonial powers. The strongest influence was from the Spaniards. Every country in South America has unique traditions for cooking and preparing food.
It is practically impossible to count all typical dishes of South America. The typical ingredients that are used in the South American cuisine are drastically different because continent is geographically so different. In some regions, maize, beans, potatoes and rice play an important role. In the Caribbean, seafood is more important.
This diversity means a feast of different recipes! For this reason, nearly everyone has tasted some kind of South American food.. Our tip: buy a good, South American cookbook and take your first culinary steps in the New World! The spices you need can be found here.