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It's All About the Pepper

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

The pepper that Peri Peri sauce comes from, the Birdseye chili, originally came from the Americas (as do all chili peppers). It was brought to Spain and Portugal in the wake of Christopher Columbus’ voyages. While the Portuguese initially didn’t appreciate the pepper, it found its way down into Brazil via Portuguese traders. After that, another group of Portuguese traders took it with them to East Africa and to Asia, where the peppers became much, much more popular.

Once in East Africa, the sauce got its new name: piri piri simply means “pepper pepper” in Swahili. On the African continent, the original Birdseye chili branched off from its American counterpart and became a cultivar known as the African Birdseye. Meanwhile, Portuguese traders and slavers formalized their control over different parts of Africa, maintaining colonies in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and elsewhere.

The Portuguese empire actively encouraged settlers from the home country to settle abroad, meaning that in Angola and Mozambique there were large numbers of Portugese settler-colonists. Both the indigenous peoples and the settlers adapted the pepper into their food. Mozambique appears to be where the sauce first appeared, with the indigenous population adopting certain Portuguese traditions such as cooking chicken with lemon.

However, the Portuguese also refused to grant equal rights to the African population in their colonies, and by the 1960s guerrilla war had broken out as Angolans, Mozambicans, and Guineans fought for their freedom.

In 1974, a coup removed Portugal’s long-ruling dictatorship from power. The new government promised independence to the colonies, and the Portugese settler population largely fled from these newly-independent countries. Many of them went back to Portugal and became known as the “retornados.” They brought Angolan, Mozambique, and Guinean food traditions with them back to Portugal, where previously they had been largely unknown. These dishes soon became wildly popular there.

Meanwhile, some retornados went to neighboring South Africa instead of Portugal, and they brought the food with them.

That's where the BrazzaKu adventure begins.

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1 Comment

Keira Venketsamy
Keira Venketsamy
Nov 26, 2020

This was very insightful!

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