WARNING: Be careful handling chilli seeds as they can cause a painful burning sensation: Avoid contact with the eyes or any sensitive skin before washing your hands thoroughly. Chilli is native to the Western Hemisphere and probably evolved from an ancestral form in the Bolivia/Peru area. The first chillies consumed were probably collected from wild plants. Apparently the indigenous peoples were growing chilli plants between 5200 and 3400 B.C., which place chillies among the oldest cultivated crops of the Americas. It is not known exactly when chillies were introduced into New Mexico. Chillies may have been used by the indigenous peoples as a medicine, a practice common among the Mayans. By the time the Spanish arrived in Mexico, Aztec plant breeders had already developed dozens of varieties. According to historian Bernardino de Sahagùn, who lived in Mexico in 1529, “hot green chillies, smoked chillies, water chillies, tree chillies, beetle chillies, and sharp-pointed red chillies. Chilli fruits are considered vegetables when green, a spice when red and dried, but are berries botanically. Fruit characteristics (i.e., pungency, colour, shape, flavour, size, and use) usually classify chilli types. Despite vast trait differences, nearly all chilli varieties commercially cultivated in New Mexico belong to one species, C. annuum. Other species are the tabasco (C. frutescens) and habañero (C. chinense). Several hundred chilli varieties of C. annuum are grown in New Mexico. These include bell, New Mexican, Jalapeño, Cayenne, Yellow Wax, Ancho, Pasilla, Mirasol, and De Arbol, but most of New Mexico’s commercial acreage is limited to a few varieties.