The Trend and Tragedy of Chilli
It’s actually been a long time since hot salsa overtook ketchup in sales in the USA, though that probably has at least as much to do with the population structure shifting towards Hispanics and Asians as with shifting palates in general. Hot sauces are one of the few growth industries of the US economy. And even in Europe, chilli has become quite a trend.
It’s been a boon to interest about the chilli, and it has given some traditional varieties and products a boost that they could well use. Finally, it would be apparent that chilli didn’t just pass through Europe on its way out of the Americas and over the whole world, to an influence on local/regional cuisines from Africa to the Far East, but became established in local cuisines in Europe as well. Not the worst ones, either, even if historical-culinary trends and the presentation of fine cooking had moved away from this rustic spice.
No, by now, Pimentón de la Vera and Piment D’Espelette even have their protected “denomination of origin” status. Even a Milka chocolate with chilli has come and gone, some chilli (and not just bell pepper) can be found fresh in the normal supermarket, just like some chilli sauces, not even to look towards the spicy flavor among the chips…
It’s not really worthy of celebration, though. The way chilli is everywhere and used in ever-the-same ways, just to give a kick and satisfy the lust for a little exoticism and/or “benign masochism” in a boring life puts it on par with drinking to alleviate boredom – but when it comes to drinking, at least everyone would know that there isn’t just alcohol, but there are hard and soft drinks with different characteristics and different recommendable usage.
With chilli, it’s all just chilli.
Not only that, but it’s also become such a part of unthinking fun culture, it’s as if, to stick with the example of alcohol, there were only binge drinking with alcopop, not also the fine cuisine that pairs wines of different varietals and vintages with different dishes and even cooks with some kinds of wine, nor the connoisseurship that differentiates between the various kinds of whiskey…
Oh, I’m well aware that it’s my own personal kind of swan song I’m singing here, and as a peculiarly ugly duckling at that. Sure, we shouldn’t have to care about any and all of the ingredients we use when we just want to grab a quick bite. But we don’t have to. And yet, we still profit, and even make it easier to decide how to eat, and eat better, when we pay it a little attention so that it’s not just a decision between chilli or no chilli, but the experience and expertise to realize which few kinds/types of chilli pair well with which plates – and our own palates.