It is also known that chiles were grown and used in what is now the United States by the ancestors of today's Southwestern Pueblo Indians about 1,000 years ago. The Spanish colonization of the Southwest and the foundation of the Mission system were important factors in the rapid spread of chiles throughout that region. In the 16th century, for instance, the Spanish explorer Captain General Juan de Onate introduced the formal cultivation of certain varieties from Mexico.
At the time of Columbus' discovery of "pepper", black pepper was a highly prized commodity, as valuable as silver in the European marketplace. Columbus' mistake was the culinary world's gain, for he and other explorers brought chile seeds back to their homelands, and the fruit from the plants of these seeds received a rousing reception. Chiles were found to be a good substitute for black pepper; they added a welcome piquancy and flavor to the existing cuisines. They were also easy to grow whereas true pepper was not.
The Spanish and Portuguese explorers took chiles with them on their travels, and the plant rapidly established itself along the new maritime trade routes to North Africa, the West African coast, Madagascar, and India. The native populations there incorporated chiles into their diets, and chiles soon became a part of the cuisines of those regions. By 1550, chiles had reached western China, Southeast Asia, and the East Indies. Within 100 years, then, chiles had spread from the Americas right around the world. They had even reached far countries such as Hungary (brought there by the Ottoman Turks) and Tibet.
Today, chiles are grown throughout the world, but the major portion of the world's crop is grown and eaten in Mexico. They are also widely grown in New Mexico, California, Texas, and Arizona. New Mexico is the largest producer of chiles in the United States. Louisiana is also a major producer. Chiles are being grown increasingly in other parts of the United States as interest in ethnic foods and spicier dishes grows.