How Hot do you like your Chilli

Move over jalapenos, there’s someone hotter in town, and it’s 629 times spicier. In fact, the BBC reported that the Carolina Reaper pepper is the hottest on the planet, scoring a red hot 2.2 million on the scoville scale, the official measurement of chilli potency.

Chilli peppers are a small, fiery variety of capsicum. The chile pepper, chili pepper, or chilli pepper or simply chile, is the fruit of the plant Capsicum from the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The name comes from Nahuatl via the Spanish word chile. 

They can be green, yellow, orange, red or black. There are more than 200 known varieties and they differ greatly in size, colour and level of hotness and they can be smokey or sweet. It is said that the smaller and greener they are the hotter they will be. A useful guide but these days not always the case! With so many hybrids and new varieties there are also large hot ones, very hot red ones and very sweet green ones! It's worth bearing in mind that individual chillies of the same variety and even from the same plant can contain different levels of capsaicin, the volatile oil that gives chilli its heat. So buyer beware! 

Believe it or not ..... There is an official heat scale for chillies known as The Scoville scale, developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. A sweet pepper scores 0 on the scale, Jalapeño and chipotle chillies score anything between 2,500 to 10,000 and habañero, Scotch bonnet score 80,000 to 300,000 plus! But if you like your chillies extremely hot try the Carolina Reaper (currently the world’s hottest chilli). A common mistake with chillies is that the seeds are the hottest part - NOT SO. While they are hot, the worst part is the white placenta that holds the seeds to the inside of the pod. So both the seeds and placenta must be removed to decrease the heat.

Chilli & Chocolate a winning combo
Chillies work well in sweet as well as savoury dishes: a little chilli helps to cut through the richness of the chocolate.

Chillies are available fresh, dried (whole, as flakes or ground into chilli powder), preserved in oil (where the heat from the chilli will infuse the oil) or made into condiments such as Tabasco. Fresh chillies sold in packets in supermarkets usually have a heat scale on them as a guide. When shopping for more interesting chilli varieties, farmers' markets and ethnic stores are the best hunting grounds. Look for a smooth, glossy skin that is deep in colour and firm to the touch. Discard any chillies with shrivelled skin, brown marks or watery bruises.

Try to get to know the names of the chillies, this is a far better way of knowing what you are buying and letting yourself in for. 

Some of the most common chilli varieties are: 
  • Poblano - mildly hot, dried chilli used in the Mexican mole poblano sauce
  • Mulato Isleño - mildly hot chilli with a deep, sweet flavour
  • Ortega - elongated mildly hot New Mexican chilli, ideal for use in stews and salsas
  • Chipotle - mild, dried smoked chilli commonly used in Mexican cooking and commercially produced chilli sauces
  • Pasillas - long, very dark brown chillies, usually sold dried, then ground and added to sauces
  • Jalapeños - fiery chillies, used either fresh or pickled; can be dried and smoked to make chipotles towards the end of the growing season
  • Tabasco - hot chillies with a distinctive flavour that comes from a fermentation process in which the chillies are combined with vinegar and salt
  • Bird's-eye - tiny but powerful green and red chillies, especially common in Thai and South-east Asian cooking
  • Habañero - lantern-shaped, blow-your-head-off hot chilli, usually orange, with a slightly fruity flavour
  • Scotch Bonnet - lantern-shaped red-hot chilli related to the habañero, usually yellow, green or red in colour

Chillies in prime condition can be stored for a week or two in a ventilated mesh bags in the fridge. Chilling affects the flavour, so bring them to room temperature before use. Dried chillies will keep for around 12 months if stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.

Understanding chillies is a must. The following will help you anytime you have to prepare them, cook them or add them to dishes. The seeds and flesh of the chilli can both be eaten, but cooking chillies does not reduce the intensity, only removing the seeds and veins will lessen their heat.

To prepare fresh chillies:

  • slit them lengthwise, 
  • remove the seeds and membranes with the tip of the knife and cut off the stem. 
  • Rinse them under cold running water and then prepare according to the recipe. 
During and after preparing chillies, great care must be taken with hands and any equipment used. The chemical capsiacin, that gives it its heat, will remain on hands and equipment for hours afterwards and not only taint other food but when left on the hands can be very painful if the eyes, ears, nose, mouth or private body parts are touched.

Cooking with Fresh Chillies:

What to do with our harvest of Chillies
Remember chillies have a flavour as well as adding heat to a dish. Garlic and chilli are the perfect combination and the base of many cuisines including Indian, Mexican and Thai. Add fresh chillies, chilli powder, etc at the start of the cooking process, this allows it to cook out, the flavour to develop and the heat to diffuse.

Add chillies sparingly, remember you can always add more later and if it is the fierce heat you want you can always add that with a little tabasco sauce or similar at the end or allow your guests to do so at the table.

The Thai people when cooking with chilli will always add a little sugar and vinegar as they stir fry them. This chemical combination reacts with the capsaicin and decreases the chillies heat.

It must be known there is a raw chilli heat and a cooked chilli heat. When raw the capsiacin will burn on contact with the lips, tongue, etc. However when cooked the chemical reacts more when eaten and swallowed, thus giving the nice heat sensation.

Some of the larger dried chillies work better when reconstituted. If you're making a liquidy dish such as a soup or sauce, add the dried chillies to the pan whole and they'll plump up during cooking. Otherwise, reconstitute them by soaking in a bowl of water for about an hour, then use them in the same way as fresh chillies. Crumbled dried chillies work well when fried in olive oil with garlic and mixed with spaghetti for a simple Italian-style supper.

Chilli can divide a family, those who have their meal as hot as possible and those who can’t stand the heat. It’s fantastic as it is versatile, you can pop it in your breakfast, lunch, dinner or even your dessert! 

Should you find yourself with a particularly fiery mouthful of chilli, the most effective antidotes are dairy products (particularly when combined with cooling cucumber, as in the Indian raita), because capsaicin is fat-soluble. Eating starchy foods such as bread or rice can also help. A drink of cold water won't help - it will actually seem to increase the heat. You may notice that many cuisines known for their hot foods serve it with some kind of fat such as Indian with a lasse or Mexican with sour cream.

Mild chillies can be roasted and stuffed in the same way you would a sweet pepper. 

To Roast Fresh Chillies:
  • place them under a very hot pre-heated grill, 
  • directly over a gas flame or - best of all - over hot coals, 
  • until the skin blackens and blisters. 
  • Be careful not to over-roast chillies as they tend to disintegrate. 

Chilli flavoured Oil:

For chilli oil it’s best to use dried red chillies (ideally small enough to fit through the bottle neck), and in a ratio of one part chilli to three parts (non-virgin) olive oil – you want to taste the chillies here, not the oil. 
  • Gently warm the oil in a large pan – around 75C is ideal – and add the chillies. 
  • Heat for four minutes then take it off the burner and leave aside to cool. 
  • Carefully decant through a funnel into a sterilised bottle. 
  • It’s ready to pour straight away, but its flavour, heat and health-giving qualities will continue to develop over time as the capsaicin in the chillies infuses into the oil. 

Powdered Chilli:

Dried Kashmiri chillies make for a very good powder – fruity, vibrant and bright red. 
  • Halve 6-7 chillies, throw them in a medium-hot cast iron pan with a tablespoon of cumin seeds and toast for around 5min. (For a milder powder, remove stems and seeds first.) 
  • Leave to cool, then whizz up in a blender (or coffee grinder) with 1 tbsp of garlic powder and 1/2 tbsp of oregano. 
  • Tip into an airtight jar and deploy at will. 
  • Sprinkle into a sweet potato and spinach curry for a triple whammy of eyesight-protecting vitamin A.

Hot Chilli Sauce:
  • Blend together six whole chillies with around half their weight in oil. That’s your basic paste. 
  • Leave that aside while you heat up a dash of oil in a pan and gently fry three cloves of garlic, three onions and six tablespoons of tomato paste. 
  • Once the ingredients are softening, add your paste and season with salt and sugar to taste. 
  • Cook for another 10-15 minutes over a medium heat before serving (or pouring into a sterilised bottle). 

Dollop over salmon fillets, creating an anti-inflammatory combo.

On Our Dreamtime we love cooking with Chilli and you will find many of our recipes incorporate chilli. We also like it hot so if you like a soft pallet cut down the listed amount you can always add more later. For recipes head over to the individual recipe pages to find your favourites...

Chilli Crab is one of our favourites

Miracle Spice ....Some things you may not know about chilli
Their health benefits are myriad, and it seems that now, finally, the rest of the world has caught on. You might not know that gram-for-gram, chillies contain more vitamin C than oranges and more vitamin A than tomatoes. Although chilli is packed with vitamin C, fibre, potassium and some B group vitamins it is eaten in such small quantities that its overall nutritional contribution is usually minor. 

But researchers believe the capsaicin in chilli could be of enormous medicinal benefit.

Capsaicin is thought to: 

  • Stave off colds. The capsaicin opens the nasal passages, easing congestion.
  • Increase the metabolic rate, helping burn calories.
  • Reduce cholesterol and fight high blood pressure.
  • Assist sound sleep. Capsaicin is thought to influence brain receptors which control sleep cycles.
  • Relieve arthritis pain when applied via topical cream.
  • Possibly kill cancer cells. Scientists are currently investigating.
  • Capsaicin is responsible for stimulating the sensors on the tongue which detect heat and pain, tricking the brain into thinking the tongue is on fire! 

If you’re wondering what you can cook with some chilli I have some great recipes for you!  There's a variety of recipes in the Our Galley recipe pages that have a delicious chilli focus.



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