A Flaming Guide to Different Types of Chillies
If you love cooking with a little or a lot of heat, then you’ve come to the right place… We’re talking about all different types of chillies — from the mildest of piquant peppers, right through to the fiery Carolina pepper. You might want to grab a glass of milk for this read, don’t say we did’t warn ya!
The Chilli Challenge
Chilli challenges have swept the internet for some time now — brave folk of the world have filmed themselves eating some of the world’s hottest peppers and entertained us as we watched their pained reactions. As with anything, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. At the end of 2016, it was reported that a man was hospitalised in the US after being rushed to the ER with a spontaneous oesophageal rupture, also known as ‘Boerhaave’s syndrome’, after eating a burger smothered with ghost pepper purée. There have also been reports of vomiting blood and other delightfully nerving reactions.
The Scoville Scale
If you plan on entering a chilli contest anytime soon, you might want to avoid a similar situation. But, how can you tell what kind of heat different types of chillies are packing? Well, the Scoville scale, invented by a daring fellow by the name of Wilbur Scoville, is used to measure hotness by determining the capsaicin content – the compound that gives chilli peppers their sting. Back in the day, human beings were used as ‘guinea pigs’ to test heat levels. The testing method determined how diluted the pepper would need to be in order for participants to no longer taste its effects — the peppers were originally diluted in an alcohol-based extract. Besides the possibility of getting hammered, this method was a bit trial and error.
Did you know? The infamous Carolina Reaper chilli is currently the hottest chilli in the world as determined by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2013, scoring more than 2.2 million SHU (official record). To put that into perspective, the jalapeño pepper has a range between 1000 and 20 000 SHU which pales in comparison.
Fortunately, scientific has advanced and we’ve figured out a way to separate the capsaicinoids and use liquid chromatography to measure the heat, instead of subjecting people to agony. This method is still measured in SHU (Scoville Heat Units), keeping Wilbur’s legacy intact. Using SHU as a guideline when reading the label of your favourite chilli sauce will come in handy when you need to know whether you’re dealing with a spicy kick or full-scale taste bud warfare.
Different Types of Chillies
The theory is — the more spicy food you eat, the better you’ll be able to tolerate it — but we’re not sure if that theory holds any water. To be safe, we suggest firing up your chilli knowledge with our handy guide to different types of chillies.
The heat: A tangy fiesta in your mouth.
Length: 4 cm
This pepper is native to South Africa. It was discovered in the 90s and has been popular worldwide ever since. The Peppadew® name is trademarked in South Africa as a means to control the commercial growing of the pepper. It has a unique taste with hints of spice and sweetness. It is very mild with a Scoville rating of 1100 to 1200 SHU. This versatile pepper can be sliced and used on pizzas and in bread, pasta, salads and more. It can also be filled with cheese for a quick snack. The Peppadew® resembles a cherry tomato or a miniature red pepper and is mostly sold pickled, with the seeds removed to give a milder flavour.
The heat: A mild bite…
Length: 7 – 15 cm
You’re still in safe territory if you’re eating a poblano chilli. This larger size pepper ranges from 7-15 cm long and packs a Scoville rating of 2500 to 5000 SHU. It comes from the Puebla state in Mexico and its name means ‘an inhabitant of Puebla’. These types of chillies are much more potent when ripe and red as opposed to its raw, green state. As they mature, they turn a dark, almost brownish red colour and are a good chilli for drying because of their thick skin. When dried, they are known as an ancho chilli and where it hails from is also accepted by many as the origin of mole poblano – the spicy chilli sauce enriched with very bitter dark chocolate, which is one of the most iconic dishes in Mexican cuisine.
The heat: You’re getting warmer…
Length: 5 – 10 cm
This chilli, often sold dried, is deseeded, soaked and ground into a thin paste to be used in salsa, soups or stews. It is most commonly used to make salsa for dishes such as tamales and it adds a rich, aromatic taste. The guajillo chilli is relatively big measuring 5-10 cm in length, their medium hotness ranges between 2500 and 5000 SHU on the Scoville scale. Due to its thick and leathery skin, this chilli requires a longer soaking period than most other dried chillies in order to unlock its flavours.
The heat: Whoa, we’re in Mexico son!
Length: 4 cm +
This is probably one of the most popular peppers out there. It has a Scoville rating that is pretty broad, ranging from 1000, right up to 20 000 SHU. Being that the heat range is so broad, it can be a bit of a gamble. Something to remember though is that as jalapeños get older they turn red and become much hotter. The hotter jalapeños also have white ‘stretch marks’ which indicate their age and hotness, while milder jalapeños will be smoother. Jalapeños contain vitamin C and A, so besides being tasty, they’re a good addition to your diet. Personally, we love them stuffed, wrapped and fried.
The heat: The Cheech & Chong of chillies.
Length: 5 – 7 cm
The word chipotle means ‘smoked chilli’ and just like the name says, these little flavour bombs are actually smoke-dried jalapeños. If you’re wondering why they have a reddish hue when most of the jalapeños you would have seen are green, it’s because they are smoked when they are ripe, and jalapeños turn red when ripe. The two most common varieties of chipotle are the Chipotle Morita and Chipotle Meco.
Chipotle Meco is much harder to find and is dried out for a much longer time than the Chipotle Morita. The vast majority of Chipotle Morita are made in Chihuahua state in the north of Mexico, while the less common Chipotle Meco, are made in the central and southern parts of Mexico. These types of chillies are medium to hot, with a Scoville rating of 2500 to 10 000 SHU. It can be used in salsas, stews and soups, as well as many other dishes for a mild to spicy and smoky kick.
The heat: Enough to make your nose run.
Length: 5 cm
Serrano peppers look very similar to jalapeños, but don’t be fooled by the look of these types of chillies – the serrano pepper is much hotter, with a Scoville rating of 10 000 to 25 000 SHU. The average size is of a serrano pepper is about 5 cm long, and the smaller, the serrano the more potent it is. This pepper also originated in Mexico and is one of the most commonly found peppers in that part of the world with 180 000 tons produced in Mexico every year. The taste can best be described as ‘crisp’ and they are usually eaten raw. The serrano has a very thin skin which makes it easy to eat raw but tricky to try. They are green when raw and turn into a multitude of colours including red, brown, orange and yellow when ripe.
Red Cayenne Pepper
The heat: Mother of dragons!
Length: 12 – 15 cm
This is probably quite a familiar one, with the ground version of it being a popular spice rack favourite. It is named after the capital city of the French Guiana, “Cayenne” but also known as the ‘red hot chilli pepper’ (as in the band). The cow-horn pepper or the aleva, is rated at around 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. If you’re interested in growing chillies, this is a good place to start as the plant grows well and the fruit dries well, it can also be ground to powder.
Piri Piri (African Bird’s Eye or Peri Peri)
The heat: Ring sting… it’s happening.
Length: 2 – 3 cm
Ah piri piri, peri peri, however you say it or spell it, we love it! The direct translation from Swahili means ‘pepper pepper’, but do not be deceived by this, nor its small form – butt clenching will soon induce. Said to have been brought by the Portuguese from Goa, this tiny chilli has comfortably found its home in the hearts of South Africans, most notably in the dish of peri peri chicken. Peri Peri sauce is also a national treasure and an important condiment that accompanies meals across the country. Ask any Portuguese-South African and they’ll claim their recipe is the best!
The heat: Bombay bottom territory…
Length: 2 – 4 cm
These types of chillies are very small and the seeds are often spread by birds, hence ‘bird’s eye’. If you’re wondering how our feathered friends manage to eat them, it’s because they can’t taste capsaicin. It’s meant to deter mammals, but so far that hasn’t stopped us. They can either be red and green in colour. Although small, bird’s eye chillis pack quite the uppercut, with a Scoville rating of 100 000 to 225 000 SHU.
Bird’s eye chillies have surprising health benefits, including alleviating arthritic pain, stomach pain and toothaches — possibly because they’re so hot that you forget about any other ailment. This chilli has its origins in the South American country of Guyana. Although it comes from South America, it is widely used in many south-east Asian dishes and in India, it is even used as an antibacterial agent to prevent infections.
The heat: Refrigerate the toilet paper…
Length: 2 – 6 cm
This chilli is named after Havana (La Habana), the capital city of Cuba. Most habanero chillies come from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It is a very hot chilli, with a Scoville rating of 100 000 to 350 000 SHU. The habanero chilli comes in many different colours, although some growers consider the orange habanero to be the only real habanero. Limited research has revealed that habanero peppers may be somewhat helpful in controlling insulin levels in diabetics. Be careful when trying this chilli, as its heat is very intense for a novice chilli taster. Add very carefully in micro quantities to a salsa or chilli con carne, for a significant bite.
The heat: Don’t handle without protective clothing!
Length: 6,5 – 8, 5 cm
The ghost pepper is known by a few names, but most commonly ‘Bhut jolokia’. It held the top honour as the world’s hottest pepper for quite a while, but has since been pipped by the Carolina Reaper. It still rates at a cool (or rather boiling), 1 million SHU’s though, so nothing to sniff at. The ghost pepper originates from India and grows in the north-eastern regions of Nagaland and Assam. It grows to its most potent in this area, and studies have shown that growing it outside of these specific places lowers its potency. Even at a lower potency, it is still deadly hot – just touching the flesh can cause skin burns, so why you would want to eat it or cook with it, we really don’t know.
The heat: Hospitalisation probable.
Length: 3 – 7 cm
The final chilli in our guide to different types of chillies is the Carolina Reaper – a mean, gnarled and pointy-tailed looking pepper, which makes total sense given its devilish demeanour. Perhaps ‘devilish’ is too kind of a description for this chilli, which quite literally bestows the wrath of hellfire on anyone who dares eat it. It should be noted though that this is a ‘man-made’ pepper and is not an original product of Mother Nature. A man by the name of “Smokin” Ed Currie, owner of the PuckerButt Pepper Company in, as you guessed it, South Carolina, crossed a ghost pepper and a red habanero to breed this evil spawn.
Described on the PuckerButt website as causing ‘an increasing tidal wave of scorching fire that grips you from head to toe’ – you really need to think about how much you value your stomach and intestinal lining before you consider eating one. If the thousands of YouTube videos of people’s suffering don’t pucker your butt, we don’t know what will.
Watch some silly people eat the world’s hottest chillies for kicks…
Now that you’re clued up about different types of chillies, why not cook up a Mexican inspired feast with this list of our favourite Mexican food recipes? If you’re not sure what you need to get started, check out this guide to Mexican ingredients.
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