500 years after Christopher Columbus introduced Europeans to the fiery flavour of the chilli, cooks around the world are still discovering their unique qualities. Available year round, dried or fresh, their brilliance of yellow, green, red and black hues match the diversity of their potency.
Chilli peppers are fiery because of a substance called capsaicin. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. Studies show that the capsaicin in chilli peppers causes the body to release endorphins, which can give a person a feeling of well-being or pleasure.
Scoville units measure the intensity of chilli peppers. They are measured in multiples of 100, beginning with bell peppers at 0 and ending with habaneros at 300 000 units. Much of the flavour found in a pepper resides in their flesh while the heat they possess live in the seeds and membranes. Removing these will allow you to enjoy the flavour while reducing the fire of these piquant pleasures. It's very important to always wear disposable gloves when working with chilies. Discard the gloves after use and wash your hands thoroughly. Whatever you do, don't touch your eyes!!
Some of the more common chilies found in your local grocery store include:
One of the most popular and widely available chilies, Jalapenos are actually considered somewhat mild on the chilli front (2500 to 5000 Scoville units). They are smooth skinned, thick-fleshed and are commonly used in salsas or as a meat accompaniment.
Somewhat more fiery than Jalapenos (30 000 to 50 000 Scoville units), these chilies are more commonly dried and ground before being added to recipes. Also known as finger chilies for their shape, they can be finely chopped and added to soups, sauces and stews.
Thai chilies really turn up the heat (80 000 to 300 000 Scoville units). Widely available in green or ripe red, they are often used in Asian cooking to add spice to stir-fries, soups and sauces. But be careful, their heat lingers.
One of the hottest peppers in the world (300 000 Scoville units) and also the most colourful and unique. They range in colour from brilliant yellow to pungent orange to rich red and look like little lanterns. They are usually reserved to make hot sauces and spicy salsas.
So what are you waiting for? Experiment and savour these inexpensive spices in exotic dishes from Mexico, India, Spain or Asia.