Like the milder members of this family – Capsicums – chillies or chilli peppers (Capsicum annum), as they are sometimes called, are native to Central and Southern America where they have been cultivated for thousands of years.
Today chillies are such an important ingredient in so many cuisines it is hard to believe that prior to Columbus taking them back to Europe in the late 1400’s they were unknown outside of the America’s.
Chillies start out green and as they ripen turn red, when they will be at their sweetest, but not necessarily hottest. Colour is not an indication of heat and growing conditions influence the final flavour and heat of the chilli.
In the early 1900’s, pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, came up with a method of measuring the heat of chillies which allocated chillies, Scoville heat units. This very scientific method may work well for scientists and the like, but a more practical system is the Official Chilli Heat Scale which rates members of this family from zero to ten – as an indication, capsicums are rated zero, Habaneros ten, Serranos six and Jalapeños five. No matter which method is used, it is subjective and relays on the perceptions of the tasters and as heat levels can vary between individual pods the chilli plant itself. Use these methods of measuring heat, as an indication, but the most reliable way to gauge the heat of an individual chilli is to taste it!
Should a chilli or a dish containing chillies prove to be too hot for your liking, don’t reach for water, but rather choose a diary product such as milk, yogurt or sour cream which helps neutralise the Capsaicin – the component which is responsible for the heat.
At The Chef’s Garden @ Epicurean we grow a number of varieties of chillies including Anaheim, Habanero, Havasu, Hungarian Hot Wax, Jalapeño, Poblano and Serrano.
- Anaheim: This large cone-like, very mild chilli is popular in both its green and red forms. When used green it gives a fresh green taste to sauces and salads. Because of its large size it is excellent for stuffing. Heat 2.
- Habanero: These small lantern-shaped chillies are one of the hottest varieties grown in the Central America. Heat 10.
- Havasu: This conical-shaped chilli is usually harvested while it is still pale yellow buy can also be used when orange or red. Heat 4.,
- Hungarian Hot Wax: With a pretty array of colours – yellow to orange to red – this variety is popular for pickling. Heat 6.
- Jalapeño: Named after the Mexican town Jalapa, this variety measuring 5-7.5cm is thick fleshed and has a tapering shape ending in a rounded end. Readily available as green or red – the green jalapeno has a green vegetable flavour while the red jalapeno is sweeter. It was the first chilli to be taken into space and is the one that popular for chilli eating competitions. Heat 5.
- Poblano: This larger variety – 8-12cm long and 5-7cm in diameter – is thick fleshed and ranges in heat from medium to hot. It is the chilli traditionally used to make ‘chile rellanos’. Heat 4.
- Serrano: A small cylindrical chilli with a tapered rounded end this is a hot thick fleshed variety. Heat 6.
Availability: Summer to autumn
Goes with: avocado; beef; chicken; coriander; cucumber; cumin; fish; garlic; ginger; limes; noodles; pasta; rice; and tomato.
SELECTION, STORAGE, PREPARATION & USING
- Selection: No matter the variety, chillies should have a smooth, firm skin – wrinkled skin indicates that they are starting to dry.
- Storage: Fresh chillies will be keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. They can also be frozen whole and then split, seeded and chopped while still frozen – freezing chillies in this way gives you a good supply of fresh chillies for year round use.
- Preparation: Capsaicin found in chillies (particularly in the ribs and seeds) means that they should be treated with care to avoid burning and particular care should be taken to avoid rubbing eyes and face with hands that have handled chillies. Wearing disposable food preparation gloves is one precaution that some experts recommend.
- Using: Raw or cooked, the ways in which chillies are used and cuisines in which they are used is almost limitless.
Recipes Using Chillies