In Italy they believe that I bring good luck. A bunch of corno rosso (red pepper) will help to avert ‘il malocchio’ (the evil eye). After all, you never know when someone might cast a curse on you.
But how did this superstition come about? In his ‘Metamorphoses’ the Roman poet Ovid described the use of blood coral as a protection against evil, and Romans started to wear blood coral amulets, a tradition that continued for many generations.
You can see these kinds of amulets in Renaissance paintings, too. If you’re ever looking at a 14th or 15th-century painting or altarpiece, look closely at the Christ-child: he’s often wearing a little red horn around his neck.
When the first chili peppers were imported into Italy, the locals immediately saw a similarity between their little red horns and this new fruit, and the amulets started to change shape, gradually taking on the form of a chili pepper.
They were held to protect against infidelity, improve your luck in gambling, and help you invoke the weather gods. Today, you need never fear a road accident if you hang a plastic ‘corno portafortuna’ from your rear-view mirror.