WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Scientists discovered fossil evidence that Central and South American people were eating domesticated chili peppers as long as 6,000 years ago.
The discovery, say the researchers, makes chili peppers one of the oldest documented domesticated food sources in the Americas.
The project was led by Linda Perry, a research associate in the Smithsonian's archaeobiology program at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
Perry discovered an unknown microfossil starch grain while doing research in Venezuela and when she compared notes with other researchers they realized their work in the Bahamas, Panama, Ecuador and Peru revealed the same unidentified starch grain.
After studying the starches of many domesticated and wild plants, Perry determined the mystery starch was that of a chili pepper.
The research involved scientists from the University of Missouri, the University of Calgary, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Central University of Venezuela, Miami University, the University of Maine; Temple University, the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Investigations, and Colorado State University.
The study appears in the journal Science.