Chapter XX: "Of Axi or Indian Pepper"


Chapter XX: "Of Axi or Indian Pepper"


Chili peppers


José de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit and naturalist, discusses the use of chili peppers in the West Indies. The chapter focuses on the varieties of chili peppers, their medicinal properties, and the ways in which indigenous peoples used them.


José de Acosta


The Natural and Moral History of the Indies. English translated edition of Edward Grimestone, 1604. 241-2.


London: The Hakluyt society, 1880.




Jimmy von Albade
Translated by Edward Grimestone


Public domain


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Scanned book, PDF


English, translated from the Spanish.


Document, ethnography


A firsthand account of chili peppers and their uses in the New World


Late 16th century Mexico and South America; published in Western Europe

Original Format



CHAP. xx. Of Axi or Indian Pepper.

They have not found at the West Indies any kinde of Spices proper or peculiar to them, as pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmegges or ginger, although one of our company, who had travelled much, and in diverse partes, tolde vs, that in the deserts of the Hand of lamaica he had found trees where pepper grewe. But they are not yet assured thereof, neither is there anie trade of these spices at the Indies. The ginger was carried from the Indies to Hispaniola, and it hath multiplied so, as at this day they know not what to do with the great aboundaunce they have. In the fleete the yeare 1587, they brought 22053 quintalls of ginger to Seville : but the naturall spice that God hath given to the West Indies, is that we call in Castille, Indian pepper, and in India, Axi, as a generall worde taken from the first land of the Hands, which they conquered. In the language of Cusco, it is called Vchu, and in that of Mexico, Chili. This plant is well knowne, and therefore I will speake a little, onely wee must vnderstand, that in olde time it was much esteemed amongst the Indians, which they carried into places where it grew not, as a rnarchandise of consequence. It growes not vpon cold grounds, as on the Sierra of Peru, but in hote valleys, where it is often watered. There is of this Axi of diverse colours, some is greene, some red, some yellow, and some of a burning color, which they call Caribe, the which is extreamely sharpe and biting ; there is an other sorte not so sharpe, but is so


LlB - IV - sweete, as they may eate it alone as any other fruite. There is some of it very small and pleasing in the mouth, almost like to the smell of muske, and is very good. That which is sharpe and biting in this Axi, be the veines and the graine onely : the rest is not : for that they eate it greene
and dry, whole and beaten, in the pot, and in sauces, being the chiefe sauce, and all the spice they have at the Indies. When this Axi is taken moderately, it helps and comforts the stomacke for digestion : but if they take too much, it hath bad effects, for of its self it is very note, fuming, and pierceth greatly, so as the vse thereof is preiudiciall to the health of yong folkes, chiefely to the soule, for that it provokes to lust. It is strange, that although the fire and heate of it be well knowne by experience, and that every man saies it burnes in the mouth and the stomacke ; yet some, yea many, holde, that the Indian pepper is not hot, but colde, and well tempered. But I might say to then, the like should be of pepper ; though they brought me as many experiences as they would of the one and the other : yet is it a very mockery to say it is not note, seeing it is so in the highest degree. They vse salt to temper this Axi, having great force to correct it, and so they moderate one with the other by the contrarietie that is in them. They vse also Tomates, which are colde and very wholesome. It is a kinde of graine great and full of iuyce, the which gives a good taste to sauce, and they are good to eate. They have generally throughout the Indies of this Indian pepper, at the Hands, New Spaine, Peru, and all the rest that is discovered. As mays is the generall graine for bread, so Ax-i is the most common spice for sauces.




José de Acosta, “Chapter XX: "Of Axi or Indian Pepper",” Food origins, accessed April 14, 2024,