Today, chilis are strongly associated with Hunanese cuisine, which is regarded as the spiciest Chinese regional cuisine. However, Chinese recipe books didn't start mentioning chilis until the 1790s, and the very earliest imports of chilis into China didn't start until the 16th century.

What was Hunanese food like before the introduction of chilis? Did they find other sources of heat? Or were other flavors favored before peppers were introduced?

  • Pepper(s) - like black pepper (Piper genus), ginger, prickly ash (Hua jiao)?
    – bob1
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 5:07
  • 2
    For most of pre-Columbian history, black pepper would have been a good imported at great expense, so I'm not sure it would have been common in Hunan cuisine at the time. Hua jiao, also called Sichuan peppercorn, is not common in modern Hunan cuisine so it would be surprising (and interesting!) if there was evidence of its widespread use in pre-Columbian Hunan.
    – WiJaMa
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 13:32
  • 2
    I think you're going to need someone who reads Chinese to answer this; there is definitely food writing going back 1000 years in Hunan, but none of it in translation that I can find.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 16:58
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    BTW, consider that Hunan cuisine might not have been spicy at all before the introduction of the chili pepper. THey might have, for example, relied heavily on pickled foods & flavorrs.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 17:01

1 Answer 1


Before the introduction of chili peppers to China, including the region of Hunan, the cuisine relied on other sources of heat and flavor to create spicy dishes.

One of the key ingredients that provided heat in Hunanese cuisine prior to the arrival of chili peppers was black pepper. Black pepper was widely used as a spice and a source of heat in many dishes. It added a pungent and aromatic flavor to the cuisine.

Additionally, Hunanese cuisine made extensive use of other spices, such as Sichuan peppercorns, which provided a unique numbing and tingling sensation rather than a direct spiciness.

Hope this helps

  • 2
    It seems like black pepper would have been far too expensive at that time to be "widely used". Do you have a source for this?
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 13:00
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Chinese_cuisine Here It's not mentioned if white pepper or black pepper but I remember once reading in a book it was mentioned they used black pepper Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 13:04

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