Chili or Chile?

How do you spell it? Chili? Chile? Chilli? Cheeliey? At least three out of these four spellings are correct. Can you guess which ones?

That’s right, the first tree spellings are proven to exist, consider the following resources:

If you are used to write any of these, you are fine. However, whether you spell it as chili or chile, maybe chilli, tells more about you than you might think. To find out what exactly, we are going to use Google Trends, the search giant’s insight tool where we can browse public search statistics.

What does your chili spelling tell about you?

Let’s start with “chili pepper”. We have to add the word “pepper” to all forms of chili (or chile or chilli…) to restrict the searches to the English ones and not to be polluted with queries for Chile, the country – that’s none of our concern right now.

Wow, that’s odd! Apparently this spelling is quite common in New Mexico but really nowhere else in the States. Does this only have to do with Spanish influence from the border? (In Spanish it’s spelled chile.) Not quite.

Proud New Mexico

Chili pepper is a very important part of the New Mexican cuisine. Their most popular dishes include caldillo (a green chili soup), posole (spicy pork stew) and chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers). Locals are understandably proud of the traditionally superior chili pepper grown there, so they decided to distinguish it from the plants produced elsewhere.

Around the end of the 19th century Scottish whisky producers flooded the market with cheap, low quality drinks. The response from the outraged American producers was simple: they added an extra “E” letter to the name of their product so that they could separate their higher standard drinks from the Scottish crap – the name “whiskey” was born. Of course by now the situation has changed, but the name remained.

New Mexicans did the same trick – chili pepper made in New Mexico is called chile, period. (The name mostly refers to the pod itself and not the processed forms.) How seriously they take this unique “brand” can easily be demonstrated by the story of Senator Pete Domenici and his famous congressional statement in 1983. The senator gave a passionate speech in front of the Congress titled “The correct way to spell chile”, dwelling long upon the differences between New Mexican and other Capsicums and the importance of the distinction by spelling.

He closed his speech with the following line:

“I could go on and on about the wonders of red and green chile, but in reality, all I wanted to do was inform Congress on the correct way to spell the word.”

Hopefully all your questions are answered and you won’t ask yourself “is it chili or chile” ever again. Interested in the difference between pepper and chili as well? Keep reading!