Monday, 24 August 2009


Chillies (or chilli peppers, chilli, chile) originated from Mexico in Central America and there are several species, all belonging to the capsicum genus.

Chillies have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. There is archaeological evidence at sites located in southwestern Ecuador that chillies were domesticated more than 6000 years ago, and is one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas that is self-pollinating. Chillies are members of the solanaceae family, along with cousins potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes.

Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter chillies (in the Caribbean), and called them "peppers" because of their similarity in taste (though not in appearance) with the Old World black peppers of the Piper genus.

Chillies can be red, green, orange, purple or almost the colour of chocolate. They can be pointy, round, small, club like, long, thin, globular, tapered, or bell shaped. Their skin may be shiny, smooth or wrinkled and their walls may be thick or thin. They range from extremely hot to sweet and mild. Be assured that only a few varieties of chillies are as mild as capsicums.

The colour of chillies is no guide to the intensity of their flavour. Nor is the size. Yet they are utterly delicious and an essential part of the cuisine so many parts of the world. Some people (myself for one) believe they are mildly addictive in a nice and harmless way.

Chillies grow in a range of areas. They are short lived perennials in subtropical and tropical areas, but are normally grown as annuals in colder regions because the cold weather causes them to die off.

In Australia, most fruit is produced from December through to April. chillies like a warm, sunny spot, well drained soil and regular watering during dry weather. Over fertilising can lead to excessive foliage and fewer fruit, just like with tomatoes. I have grown chillies successfully in a hot house throughout the Canberra winter. Ensure that you do not over water during the winter period as the roots may freeze if the ground is too wet.

The substances that give chillies their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is the primary ingredient in pepper spray.

When consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are normally responsible for sensing heat. Once activated by the capsaicinoids, these receptors send a message to the brain that the person has consumed something hot. The brain responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and release of endorphins.

The "heat" of chillies is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU), which is the number of times a chilli extract must be diluted in water for it to lose its heat. Bell peppers rank at 0 SHU, New Mexico green chillies at about 1,500 SHU, jalapeños at 3,000–6,000 SHU, and habaneros at 300,000 SHU. The record for the hottest chilli was assigned by the Guinness Book of Records to the Naga Jolokia, measuring over 1,000,000 SHU. Pure capsaicin, which is a hydrophobic, colorless, odorless, and crystalline-to-waxy solid at room temperature, measures 16,000,000 SHU.

It is amazing how Capsaicin can get around; therefore care should be taken when handling chillies. Capsaicin can damage your eyes so always prepare chillies by wearing disposable gloves and by thoroughly washing all knives, cutting boards and anything else that has come into contact with a cut chilli. Also, do not allow chillies to come in contact with a cut or graze as it can burn the skin.

Most of chilli’s heat is in its seeds and membrane. You can ‘tone’ down the chilli’s heat by discarding these.


 Sweet Chilli: A mild chilli that can be eaten even by children. About 6-8 cm long, bright yellow-lime green skin and pointed at one end.

 Bell Chilli Red/Green: This chilli is shaped like a bell. The red ones are hot the green variety can be medium to hot and are excellent for pickling.

 Green Chilli: A long slender green chilli, 6-8 cm long, pointed at one end. It has a medium flavour that is easily eaten by most people who are not use to chilli. Around 1,000 and 2,000 Scoville units on the heat index.

 Red Chilli: Similar in size and shape to the green chilli, but with more sting to its flavour. Good idea to mix the red and green chillies together in any dish.

 Thai Hot/Bird’s eye chilli: A very hot tiny chilli 1-2 cm long. The skin colour can range from green, lime yellow to orange and red. Most people will find these very hot even without the seeds. Used mainly in Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian or Spanish dishes.

 Mexican Hot Chilli: One of the hottest chillies. It has a bright green skin, is 6 - 8 cm long and is pointed at one end.

 Jalapeño Chilli: This fiery hot chilli is the one by which all other chillies are judged. Ripened they can be dark green or red. They have a very thick fleshy skin and are sausage shaped with a blunt end. The Jalapeño rates between 3,000 and 8,000 Scoville units on the heat index.

 Serrano Chilli: It has thin walls and the Serrano chilli is green in colour at first, and ripens to red, brown, orange, or yellow. It is said to be about 5 times hotter than the Jalapeño and rates between 8,000 and 22,000 Scoville units on the heat index.

 Cayenne Chilli: This chilli is generally dried and ground, or pulped and baked into cakes, which are then ground and sifted to make the powdered spice known as Cayenne pepper. It is generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Units.


Chillies are normally sold commercially in the following forms:

 Fresh whole
 Fresh minced
 Dried whole
 Dried flakes
 Dried flakes in oil
 Powdered/Ground
 Pickled in a variety of vinegars or wines and in brine
 Infused in a variety of oils
 Chilli Sauces and Sambals


If you have been unfortunate and suffer from ‘chili burns’ to the mouth, don't be tempted to drink cold water as this can intensify the effect in the short term. Instead, have one of the following:

• Salt – put some common table salt on your tongue
• Milk
• Yoghurt
• Cucumber
• A couple of mint leaves
• Yoghurt with chopped mint

Source: Wikipedia, ABC Gardening and Apex

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