Do you have any idea of how many different types of chili there are? It is estimated that in excess of 400 different kinds of chili pepper are grown around the world today. They range in heat from ultra burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth-off searingly hot to a gentle, mild warming sensation. And they range in size from the large capsicum to the tiny bird’s eye. The “hotness” of a chili is measured on the Scoville scale. This measures how much capsaicin is contained in the chili in parts per million. Capsaicin is a potent chemical that is resistant to cooking and freezing, which as well as causing a burning sensation also triggers endorphins. While some say an apple a day keeps the doctors away, they might be better off prescribing a chili. So when you read a recipe that calls for a chili, do you know which types of chili you should be choosing? Here’s a few you might like to get to know.
1. Bhut Jolokia
Even though this is only fourth in the list of the world’s hottest chili peppers, the Bhut Jolokia is the hottest that is commercially available. Also known as the Ghost Pepper, it is grown in the Indian states of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur and it was the Guinness world Record holder for heat until 2007. With a Scoville unit count of 1,041,427, these types of chili are eye-wateringly hot and should be used VERY sparingly. The chilies ahead of it for heat strength are Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” (1,463,7000 Scoville units), the Naga Viper Pepper (1,382,117) and the Infinity Pepper (1,176,182).
Probably one of the most well known types of chili, the jalapeño is a medium-hot chili that lends itself to many uses. Jalapeños usually have Scoville units between 2,500 and 8,000, making them suitable to most palates. Unlike other kinds of chili pepper which are used when green or red, the jalapeño is most commonly used when green. Its name comes from the area where it was traditionally cultivate – Xalapa in Mexico, and most of the world’s production still comes from Mexico, along with Texas. You’ll find jalapeños sliced on pizza, chopped up in salsas, stuffed with cheese and fried, and simply pickled.
3. Aji Limon
The Lemon Drop Pepper or the Hot Lemon Pepper is not surprisingly bright yellow and as well as being hot, also has a citrus flavor. It is a cone shape and has fewer seeds than many other different types of chili. It is especially popular in Peru where it is often used in cerviche.
Foodies will probably be well aware of this chili as it has certainly grown in popularity over the last decade. A chipotle is actually a smoke-dried jalapeño with the name simply meaning “smoked chili” in the Nahuatl dialect. Smoking was devised as a way to preserve jalapeño peppers as due to their thick skins they don’t dry well. Chipotles are widely used in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, but are great for any recipe that benefits from smoky heat. Chipotles generally range between 5,000 and 10,000 Scoville units.
5. Scotch Bonnet
These are the hottest I have ever tried (never again!) and did so in the Caribbean where they are one of the most popular kinds of chili. Given that they only have between 100,000-350,000 Scoville units, I guess I am a chili wimp. Its name comes from its distinctive shape which is said to represent a Tam-o-Shanter hat – a piece of traditional Scottish headgear. I think the name they give it in Guyana is much more telling – “Ball of Fire”.
6. Peri Peri
Also known as piri-piri and the birds eye chili, the peri peri chili is mainly cultivated in Africa and are among the smallest types of chili. You might also hear of it being called pili pili which is pepper pepper in Swahili. In the UK we have seen a huge growth in piri piri chicken being made in restaurants and fast food joints and at home, with the chilies being readily available in supermarkets. Piri piri is a sauce of Portuguese origin and relates to the time Portugal had colonies in Africa.
7. Tabasco Pepper
Another of the more familiar kinds of chili, except most of us know of it through Tabasco Sauce rather than the pepper fruit. Another of the chilies that originated in Mexico (aptly, in the state of Tabasco), this one ranges between 30,000 and 50,000 Scoville units, although interestingly, Tabasco Sauce only has 2,500 Scoville units. What makes this different from other types of chili is that the tabasco chili is they are juicy on the inside, not dry.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my short lesson on the different kinds of chili peppers. I don’t think I will ever again venture beyond the jalapeño, but it’s good to know that if I ever want to experiment or challenge my palate, there are hundreds of types of chili to choose from. How about you? Are you a fiery or mild chili lover?