by Michael Humphrey
Michael Humphrey talks about the chile peppers available in Australia and shares some of his experiences with hot peppers.
They can be red, green, orange 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.
Not all chillies are hot but do not be deceived - with only a few exceptions, most of the several hundred varieties of these little pods have some degree of pungency for the palate. Be assured that only a few of them are as mild as capsicums.
The colour of chillies is no guide to the intensity of their flavour. Nor is the size. Yet these fiery little vegetables are utterly delicious and an essential part of the cuisine so many parts of the world. Some people even believe there are mildly addicted in a nice and harmless way.
Chillies belong to the same family as tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. They came originally from the West Indies and quickly spread to India and Asia, then to North Africa and Spain.
Usually chillies begin life green, though my home grown jalapeno chillies start life very black then turn green, and end up yellow or red as they ripen. There is no rule that the green or red have more heat so check the label for clues as to the pungency of the ones you have chosen.
Chillies contain capsaicins. These are peppery compounds that can damage your eyes. Capaicins are produced by the ripening chillies to ward off insects that attack its' fruit and bush.
It is amazing how Capaicins get around, so always prepare chillies wearing disposable gloves and thoroughly wash all knives, cutting boards and anything else that has come into contact with a cut chilli. Above all, make sure you never rub your eyes if you have been preparing any kind of chilli. Do not allow chilli to come in contact with a cut or graze as it can burn the skin.
Most of a chillies heat is in its' seeds and membrane. If it is yours first try, or you do not like too much heat, discard these. The seeds are particularly damaging to the eyes, so discard them carefully if you are not eating them.
Types Of Chillies
Following is a brief description of a few varieties of chillies. All these varieties, plus many more are available in Australia. In November 1997 when we visited the UK, I was surprised to see many varieties of chillies now available in the large chain supermarkets.
A chilli that is so mild you can even give it to children. About 6-8 cm long, bright yellow-lime green skin and pointed at one end.
Chilli Baby Hot
A very hot tiny chilli 1-2 cm long. The skin colour can range from 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. If you try them, beware:-( they are very hot!!!
Cooling Down Afterwards
The hottest part of the chilli is the membrane and the seeds attached to it. You can remove these to reduce the 'heat'. If it's too late for that and your mouth is burning, don't be tempted to drink water as this can intensify the effect in the short term. Instead, breathe through your nose, not your mouth, as this tends to "irritate" the "hot spots" and have one of the following:
- Salt, common table salt (I find this the best);
- A couple of mint leaves; or
- Yoghurt with chopped mint;
Michael Humphrey is the owner of The Cook's Corner, an excellent collection of Thai recipes, cooking tips, techniques, and ingredient descriptions.