Chili peppers in general and chile chocolate in particular


We raise four varieties of chilli peppers in our experimental ethnobotanical garden at 1500 meters elevation, Guatemala City, Central America. But our primary interest is in chile chocolate: a chile used to flavor cacao a thousand years ago in Guatemala.

But since there are dozens of other kinds of chiles in the diet of the Aztecs through Zapotecs, we offer a bibliography on chile of Mesoamerica in general. There are a hundred chile-related web sites, articles, and dozens of monographs, but we at least get you started with the bibliographic references on this page.

I tend to use the Spanish word chile, rather than the North American spelling chili or chilli pepper. Divergent spellings are common on the Internet.

Bibliography and resources on chili, chilli, chile: web sites


There are easily thousands of web pages on chili peppers. But most web pages are, sadly, just bait for commercial sales. Another pathetic percentage are content farms (copying and pasting material from everyone else, usually without citing them). Too much information is just copied by people who do not really know the details behind the original information.

So we prefer to provide a bibliography of books and articles, but we do list one web site which is worth looking at. And another which is a bit of helpful info, and a tad of confusing wishful thinking. First the one page. One of the most helpful web sites; albeit auf Deutsch. Fortunately I can read it, but would be nice to find a comparable web site in English; or Spanish (though Ayala's book is pretty close).

You could easily write a thesis, and potentially a dissertation, on the documentation which is needed for this web page, especially on the word pochotl, one of the ceiba trees (probably the seed). I am not convinced this is Ceiba pentandra; pochote is potentially Ceiba aesculifolia or another ceiba which would be common in Mexico.  The author of this page is well intentioned but clearly does not realize that ceiba species abound in many areas of Mexico (including species not found in Guatemala).

Plus, the national tree of Guatemala, Ceiba pentandra, is not a unique species in Guatemala: Ceiba aesculifolia grows in many dry areas, especially along the Rio Motagua, especially km 60 through 100 along highway CA9, and up the turnoff from El Rancho towards Coban (the first 20 km or so have lots of Ceiba aesculifolia alongside the highway).

This does not mean that I support the idea of Corominas that the word chocolate comes from pocho-cacaua-atl, but there is potential evidence that pochotl was used to flavor Aztec cacao.

  • 2008
  • Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana (4th ed.). Gredos, Madrid.

Fruits of Chili chocolate with dry cacao seeds and an example of Chile chocolate processed by Lindt. Photographed by Sofia Monzón in FLAAR studio. Date: December 2011


Bibliography and resources on chili peppers: books and articles on chili, chile, and chilli


Many of these references are those listed by Ayala. Most of the monographs are those in our own library at FLAAR, books which I bought at the Missouri Botanical Garden bookshop or that of the New York Botanical Garden. Other references we have found on the Internet.

  • ANDREWS, Jean
  • 1995
  • Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums. New edition. University of Texas Press. 274 pages.
  • AYALA VARGAS, Helmer Dagoberto
  • 2000
  • Le Ik, Los chiles en Guatemala. Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala Facultad de Agronomía. 117 pages.
  • AYALA, Helmer
  • 2003
  • Los huertos familiares de Alta Verapaz y la conservación in situ de los recursos genéticos de Capsicum spp. In USAC, Facultad de Agronomía, Instituto de Investigaciones Agronómicas. Informe de investigación. Guatemala. 43 pages.
  • AYALA, Helmer and RIVERA, M.
  • 2001
  • Los chiles del Peten. Tikalia 19(1):29-44.
  • AZURDIA, Cesar and GONZELEZ, M.
  • 1986
  • Collection of some native crops of Guatemala. Final report. USAC, ICTA, IBPGR. 256 pages.
  • AZURDIA, Cesar
  • 1995
  • Caracterización de algunos cultivos nativos de Guatemala. Guatemala, USAC, Facultad de Agronomía. 172 pages.
  • AZURDIA, Cesar
  • 2013
  • Cultivos Nativos de Guatemala y Bioseguridad del Uso de Organismos Vivos Modificados Chile (Capsicum spp.). CONAP. Documento técnico No. 7-2014. 54 pages. Guatemala.
  • 1999
  • Peppers vegetable and spice capsicums. New México, US, New México University Las Cruces, Departament of Agronomy and Horticulture.194 pages.
  • 2001
  • Chile Peppers. Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 112 pages.
  • CANIL, B.
  • 1987
  • Caracterización agromorfolégica y bromatolégica de 30 cultivares de chile (Capsicum sp.) nativos de Guatemala, en el valle de La Fragua, Zacapa, Guatemala. Tesis Ing. Agr. Guatemala, USAC. 73 pages.
  • 2001
  • Caracterización agromorfológica de 13 cultivares de chile cobanero (Capsicum annuum var. annuum) bajo condiciones del área de influencia del parque nacional Lachua, Alta Verapaz. Tesis Ing. Agr. Guatemala, USAC. 78 pages.
  • DEWITT, D. and BOSLAND, P. W.
  • 1993
  • The pepper garden. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California. 258 pages.

    The only “chocolate” chile which is mentioned (in the index) is a bell pepper called chocolate because it is cacao-brown color.

    This cocoa-colored bell peper is not visible in Guatemala. If it exists here it is well hidden.

    Most books on chiles cover the chiles of Tex-Mex style, and often totally omit chiles of Guatemala.

    The cayenne fruits (B&W photo on p. 29 and a color photo with no plate number) are the same shape and proportions as Chile chocolate, but the cayenne in this photo are much longer (but the length could result from a different eco-system than I have at 1500 meters in Guatemala City).

    “de arbol” (fig. 2.6 on page 34) are another size and shape of Mexico which are comparable to Chile chocolate of Guatemala.
  • DEWITT, Dave and BOSLAND, Paul W.
  • 1996
  • Peppers of the World. An identification guide. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California. 219 pages.

    Chocolate habanero is pictured on page 85. This is a cacao-colored bell pepper: not a pepper used to flavor chocolate.

    Frankly amazing that an entire 219 page book, on Peppers of the WORLD (caps mine) fails totally to mention Chile chocolate (or really much of Guatemala whatsoever). Guatemala is not even in the index.
  • DEWITT, Dave and BOSLAND, Paul W.
  • 2009
  • The Complete Chile Pepper Book. A gardener's Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving and Cooking. Timber Press. 336 pages.

    Another demonstration of the total lack of cognisance of the flora of Guatemala. The same issue was in an excellent book on magnolia: there was inadequate awareness of the magnolia species of Guatemala. I filed a polite complaint with the “world” Magnolia Society and got a polite answer in response. With Chiles I give up, because in TWO ENTIRE BOOKS, both by “world leading experts” and both covering “THE ENTIRE WORLD” there is effectively zilch knowledge or even awareness that Guatemala or the Maya or their chiles even exist. There is plenty about the modern varieties created at the University of New Mexico.

    Sorry, but if you go into any market in Guatemala you see chiles all around you. I would estimate the same in Belize, in Honduras, and in El Salvador. I would not be surprised fi the chiles of each of these countries were a tad distinctive (as chiles of Guatemala are distinctive to those of Mexico).

    “Chocolate” is not even in the Index. But seems that the index is incomplete, since “Chocolate Habanero” is pictured on page. 29. This is the cacao-colored bell pepper.

    There are endless Mexican peppers (and peppers grown in USA) which share some features with the physical appearance of actual chile chocolate. Most are cayenne pepers, but also others, including “de arbol” (p. 48).

    Although being called THE COMPLETE Chile Pepper Book, only 65 pages actually show actual chile varieties. The same authors also wrote “Peppers of the WORLD” which has 195 pages of varieties (but still absolutely zilch about Guatemala or chile chocolate).

  • 1987
  • Evaluación de características agronómicas de nueve cultivares de chile picante (Capsicum annuum var. annuum ) en Cuilco, Huehuetenango. Tesis Ing. Agr. Guatemala, USAC. 60 pages.
  • FOSTER, Nelson and Linda S. CORDELL (editors)
  • 1992
  • Chilies to Chocolate Food the Americas gave the world. The University of Arizona Press. 191 pages.

    The chapter on chiles in this compendium (by Jean Andrews) is not really about chiles of Mesoamerica but more on trade: when and how chiles arrived in each part of the world beyond the Americas. So not a useful reading for Mesoamerica scholars.
  • HANSON, Beth
  • 1999
  • Chile Peppers Hot tips and tasty picks for gardeners and gourmets. Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 111 pages.

    Not oriented to Mesoamerica.
  • HOLDRIDGE, L. R. and POVEDA, L. J.
  • 1975
  • Árboles de Costa Rica. Vol. I. Centro Científico Tropical, San Jose, Costa Rica. 545 pages.
  • LABORDE, J. and POZO, O.
  • 1982
  • Presente y pasado del chile en México. México, Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agrícolas. Secretaria de Agricultura de México. 80 pages.
  • LESUR, Luis
  • 2006
  • Manual del Cultivo del Chila. Una guia paso a paso. Trillas, Mexico. 80 pages.

    Has about 11 pages showing different varieties of Chiles (all of Mexico; not of other countries).
  • LOGSDON, Jason
  • 2011
  • Pick a Pepper: A Photographic Guide to Chile Peppers, their History, and Uses. Create Space. 88 pages.
  • LONG–Solis, Janet
  • 1986
  • Capsicum y cultura: la historia del chili. Fondo de Cultura Económica, México.
  • LONG–Solis, Janet
  • 1998
  • Capsicum y cultura: la historia del chili. 2 ed. Fondo de Cultura Económica, México. 203 pages.
  • LONG Solis, Janet, ALVAREZ, Manuel and Aranzazu CAMARENA
  • 1998
  • El placer del Chile. La cocina Mexicana a través de los siglos. Clío. 96 pages.

    Magazine format.
  • MILLER, Mark
  • 1991
  • The Chile Book. Ten Speed Press. 156 pages.

    Book is only 4 inches wide, but is normal height and thickness.

    Zilch on Guatemala; effectively nothing informative on Aztec or Maya or much prehispanic usage.
  • PAYES Guerra, O, E.
  • 2000
  • Recolección y caracterización de cultivares de chile picante (Capsicum spp.) en el valle del Polochic, Alta Verapaz. Thesis Ing Agr. Guatemala, USAC. 56 pages.
  • PICÓ, B. and NUEZ, F.
  • 2000
  • Minor crops of Mesoamerica in early sources (I) leaf vegetables. Genétics Resources and Crop Evolution 47:527-540.
  • PICÓ, B. and NUEZ, F.
  • 2000
  • Minor crops of Mesoamerica in early sources (II) herbs used as condiments. Genétics Resources and Crop Evolution 47:541-552.
  • PICKERSGILL, Barbara
  • 1969
  • The Domestication of Chile Peppers. In P. J. Ucko and G. W. Dimbleby (compilers). The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals. Gerald Duckworth, London.
  • 2004
  • Caracterización morfológica de 36 cultivares de chile (Capsicum spp.) de huertos familiares de Alta Verapaz. Tesis Ing. Agr. Guatemala, USAC. 52 pages.
  • POZO, O.
  • 1981
  • Descripción de tipos y cultivares de chile (Capsicum spp.) en México. México, Secretaría de Agricultura y Recursos Hidráulicos México. 39 pages.
  • RIVERA, M.
  • 2000
  • Colecta y caracterización in situ de los chiles del departamento del Peten. Tesis Ing. Agr. Guatemala, USAC. 95 p.
  • SAPÓN, M.
  • 1988
  • Caracterización de 25 cultivares de chile (Capsicum spp) del sur oriente de la república de Guatemala. Thesis Ing. Agr. Guatemala, USAC. 60 pages.
  • TOJIN, J, P.
  • 1984
  • Caracterización de 39 cultivares de chile (Capsicum spp.) provenientes del altiplano de Guatemala bajo condiciones de Chimaltenango. Tesis Ing. Agr. Guatemala, USAC. 134 pages.

    Then some books (none of which I have), but frankly I bet the Guatemalan publications, and the occasional Mexican one (listed above) should be enough. Keep in mind the above list is only what was available when Ayala wrote his book on chile.

Updated January 9, 2015.
Posted August 29, 2014.