More on Identifying Chillies

More on Identifying Chillies

Identification through flowers

Have you ever bought seeds and then found that the Chilli, when fully grown, is not what you thought it would be? This has happened to me on several occasions now. It would seem that it is not that uncommon. I am not sure how it happens. Maybe some seed suppliers sometimes just get it wrong?

Just recently I had a case in point. In a previous post, I mentioned that I have placed a couple of my smaller Chilli plants under grow light lights to find out if this would help ripen the fruit. The plants were chosen for their size. They had to be small enough to fit under the lights. I chose a Barak Chilli and another that fitted the bill in terms of size. The latter falls into the category mentioned above. I need to try and identify it .

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Spicy Chinese food

Ways in which Chillies are used

Chinese cooking is based on seven basic flavours: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic and salty.   Chinese cooking aims to achieve a perfect balance in these tastes.

Chillies are used to provide the pungency and hot elements of these basic flavours in spicy Chinese food  They are a must have ingredient found  many a Chinese cook’s pantry. To not have Chillies in some form or the other (particularly in Inner China) is virtually unheard of

Indeed. In Sichuan province and other regions where most of the cooking is pungent ,Chilllies are used as an ingredient in most dishes. In this region, Chillies are combined with a liberal use of garlic and Sichuan to produce a cuisine that is world famous. So much so that in 2011, Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province ,was declared a  city of gastronomy It was given this accolade by UNESCO in recognition of the excellent cuisine that comes from the region.

Much of the cuisine in China involves quick cooking in a wok. Woks are used to stir fry ingredients at high temperatures. In this way, the freshness and crispness of ingredients is retained. Chillies are typically introduced at the beginning of cooking . They are typically added to oil that has been heated in the wok. In this way the oil gets infused with the flavour of the Chillies

The following are examples of how Chillies are used in Chinese cooking.

Fresh Chillies

A definite favourite

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, China produced 326040 tonnes of dried Chillies and 19007248 tonnes of green Chillies in 2019. China is the world’s largest producer of green Chillies. When considering that most of this production is consumed domestically, it becomes quite clear that China consumes a lot of fresh Chillies.

Green Chillies are sauteed in a dish called hǔpí jiān jiāo ( cow horn or goat horn Chillies fried in oil in a wok). Chillies are also to flavour various stir-fried dishes, like Hunan beef (spicy stir-fried beef) , Qīngjiāo Ròu Sī  (pork and pepper stir-fry), and crispy Chilli chicken.

Fresh Chillies are also used in stir-fried rice dishes, sauces like Tengjiao Gongqing sauce with Birds eye Chillies . Tengjiao Gongqing uses Tengjiao oil together with fresh Chillies. This oil is made from green Sichuan pepper.

Another dish made with fresh Chillies is Xianjiao Yoa Pian (scalded kidneys with fresh Chillies).

Besides these dishes, one of the main uses of fresh Chillies is as a side dish or snack. They are eaten raw with salt.  Chillies are also chopped up and served in a separate bowl with meals. These are then sprinkled over food to give it fresh pungency and flavour. When served in this way, rice vinegar and salt may be added.

Another use for Chilllies in Chinese cuisine is in salads. An example of a salad made in China with Chillies is Chinese cucumber salad

Dried Chillies.

The main ingredient

Dried Chillies are the main way of utilising Chillies in Chinese cooking. They are used whole in dishes like gōng bǎo jī dīngung (fried chicken with whole Chillies) and Chongqing Chilli chicken (Chicken that is virtually buried under Chillies during cooking)

Dried Chillies are also used in stir-fried dishes like Yu Xiang Tofu . The Chaotianjiao Chilli (facing heaven Chilli), in particular, is used in a whole dried form because of its attractive appearance. It is a small conical Chilli with a striking red colour and medium heat.

An important element in Chinese is colour.  The red colour that Chilles like dried Erjingtiaos provide is  is highly prized by Chinese cooks.

Dried Chillies are often ground into flakes and Chilli powers  used for seasoning. This can be added to food while it is being prepared, or used to add flavour after it has been cooked. Before the Chillies are ground, they are sometimes fried in oil.

An example of a dish made with dried Chilli flakes is Mapo Tofu. Mapo Tofu is one of the top ten most popular Chinese foods in China and in other parts of the world. It is a famous Sichuan dish made with firm Tofu ( bean curd) , beef , Chilli flakes and Sichuan pepper. The combination of spices makes the dish mouth numbingly hot.

This numbness brought on by Sichuan pepper is a sensation that is particularly enjoyed in the Sichuan region. Indeed. Its citrus-like flavour accompanied by the pleasant tingling is part and parcel of the region’s cuisine.

Chilli Oils

Red oil

Making Chilli oils is an important part of the use of Chillies in Chinese cooking.Chilli oils are made by combining oil with Chillies, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, sesame seeds and other spices. This Chilli oil, called “Red oil   is used to season many Chinese meals, but especially Szechuan style dishes.

“Laoganma” Crisp Chilli oil is another example of a Chilli oil found in Chinese cuisine.  Laogan Moa (Old godmother|) is the brand name of a company well known throughout China for making Chilli oils and sauces. These Chilli oils are all made to traditional recipes. They are widely used in Chinese cooking.

A Chilli oil that gives dishes like Gongboa Chicken ( chicken fried with dried Chillies) a scorched flavour.  This dish is made by sizzling Chillies in very hot oil. The oil gets infused with the flavour of the Chillies. It is then used with Sichuan peppers as the base for vegetable stir-fry, and many other recipes including the one mentioned above.  It can be made with any vegetable oil, but peanut oil is generally preferred in China for making Chilli oils.

Various Chillies  are used to make oils. The Erjingtiao Chilli is a favourite. It used to make Chilli oil because of its rich red colour and fragrant flavour.  The Xiaomila (little rice Chilli) is another favourite for making oils.  Lajiaoyou  (Sichuan Chilli oil) is a typical recipe for making Chilli oil with Little Rice Chillies.

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Chilli varieties in China



The generic term for Chillies in China is ” lajiao”. The term is used when not referring to a specific cultivar or variety. It is a generic word for Chillies.  Most Chinese cooks however, have their own favourites. They certainly wouldn’t refer to Chillies just using this reference. They would be far more specific.

When it comes to how many Chinese Chillies there actually are, the definitive answer is hard to find. It seems that many cultivars have been developed to cater for specific local tastes. Special selection and breeding have shaped, sizes, colours, and pungency levels to meet local needs.

These Chillies are often named after local names that describe the Chillies shape. Examples of these names include the Chicken toe Chilli, Cow-horn pepper, Cherry pepper, and Chicken Heart Pepper.

China is a huge country with over a billion citizens.  The variety of cultivars that are produced to meet the needs of so many people must surely run into the thousands.

The most used Chillies

A list of Chinese Chillies

With so much diversity, this list can only cover the more well-known Chillies in China.  Besides the popular Zidantou (bullet Chillies) and Qixingjiao (Sichuan seven-star Chilli , the following Chillies are the most widely used and known in China.

Erjingtiao Chilli

This Chilli is the most popular Chilli in Sichuan cooking.  It is used to make Chilli bean paste (Doubanjiang), It is also widely used (among many other uses) to make Chilli oils, pickles and Chilli powders. Another popular way of eating Erjingtiao Chillies is as a fresh vegetable. It is served with salt and soya sauce.

The Erjingtiao Chilli has a distinctive J shape. It grows to between four and five inches long and is deep red when ripe. It is because of this distinctive red colour that it is often used to make Chilli oils.

Its flavour is said to be robust, fragrant and sweet with fruity raisin notes. It has a medium pungency of between 15000 and 20000 Scoville heat units.

In line with many other Chillies used in Sichuan cooking, the Erjingtiao Chilli is sun-dried. It is then dried further indoors before packaging.  Erjingtiao Chillis are widely used in a dried form along with Sichuan pepper to make stir-fries with rice, vegetables, meat, poultry and sea food.


This Chilli is also known as the Facing heaven Chilli. It gets its name from the fact that the Chillies grow upwards. It is a cone-shaped Chilli that  is extensively used in Sichuan and Hunan cuisine.  It is quite pungent with  a Scoville rating of approximately 75000 SHU. The pods grow to between one and a half and three inches long . They can grow up to an inch in width. The pod narrows to the conical shape of the Chilli. When fully ripe, it has a deep red colour. Its flavour is said to be very aromatic, with citrus notes

Because of the attractiveness of this Chilli, it is often used whole in dishes. This is generally in its dry form. It is also used to make dishes like  Gong Bao Ji Ding  (spicy chicken with Cashews), Shui Zhu Niu Rou ( spicy boiled beef) and Ganbian Ji (deep-fried chicken). It is also used to make Chilli oil

Hainan Yellow Lantern Chilli

The Hainan Yellow Lantern Chilli is a plump, yellow Chilli that originated from the Hainan island in South China. It grows to about two inches long and to just over an inch wide.  It is thought to resemble a Habanero Chilli in terms of flavour, taste and pungency. It has a Scoville rating of 300000 SHU.

Hainan Yellow Lantern Chillies are mainly used for making hot sauces. These sauces are so popular that they even are a standard offering on  Hainan’s regional airline. The taste is said to be fruity with a tart aftertaste, once the burning sensation has set in.  Another use for this Chilli include adding pungency to seafood dishes.  Many restaurants on Hainan Island offer crab, tiger fish, prawns and squid dishes that have been prepared with Hainan Yellow Lanterns.

It falls under the Capsicum Chinense species. This is the same species as the Habenero and the Scotch bonnet. It is known to be related to these Chillies. It very probably was initially brought to Hanain island in maritime trade. From there, as with other Chillies brought to a new environment, it developed its own character. A Chinese favourite

Xiaomila (little rice Chilli)

Together with the Chaotianjiao ( The facing heaven Chilli) and the Erjingtiao (two vitex Chillies), these small Chillies are one of the most commonly used in Chinese cuisine. They are called “Little rice  Chilies “because of their relatively small size. The Xiaomila Chilli pods only grow to about an inch in length. They ripen to an orange coloured red.

Xiaomila Chillies are from the Yunnan province in China.  While they are commercially grown, they are the only Chilli that grows in the wild in China. They are from the Capsicum Frutscens species. Together with other Chillies like African devils, Malaguetas, Cabai Rawit, Siling labuyo, Xiaomila pepper and Tabascos, these Chillies grow on shrub like bushes. In warmer climates, they are perennials. Another characteristic they share with these other Chillies is that their fruit grows upwards.

Xiaomila Chillies are relatively spicy. They are used to make Sichuan dishes like Lazi Dry Pepper Chicken Wings, Lajiaoyou (Chilli oil), Mala Xiang Guo ( Stir-fried hotpot cooked twice), and Shangxin Ban Kongxincai (tragically hot water spinach salad).  The Chilli is also used in Chilli flakes and powders.


As mentioned, this list only covers some of the most well-known Chillies in China. Others include Chinese five colour Chillies, Yunnan wrinkled skin Chilli. Tien Tsin, Yunnan Shuan Shuan Chilli,   Chi Chien and Thai Bird Eye Chillies. There are many more

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The use of Chillies in China


Chilli varieties from A to Z.

Image of mixed chillies
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From African devil to   .......

It is absolutely amazing how many different types of Chillies there are in this world. The variety of colours, shapes, sizes and heat intensities  seem almost endless. Indeed, there are Chillies to cover every single letter in the alphabet from A to Z . Starting with the African Birds-eye Chilli and, in time, to end with the Zavory ( Habenero with a mild taste).

This listing of Chilli cultivars from A to Z aims to cover most domesticated Chillies found in the world. If you have a suggestion of a Chilli you would like to be shown, we'd love to hear from you.

An alphabetical list

Fresno Chilli
Indian green Chilllies
Lemon drop Chilli
Orange Habanero
Chilli varieties from A to Z. Biological classification

How Chillies are biologically classified

No listing of Chillies from A to Z would be complete unless more information was given regarding their biological classification. Having an idea of how they are classified makes the subject even more intriguing, and fills in missing pieces.

All Chillies belong to the Solanaceae family. Solanaceae includes other vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, and goji berries. From this broad classification, they are broken down into the Genus Capsicum L -pepper. According to Wikipedia, it is believed that the name Capsicum may have originated from the Latin "capsa", which means to box (perhaps referring to the shape of the pods). Another possibility is that the name is derived from the Greek "kapto", which means "to gulp." The reference to pepper is thought to refer to the similarity in pungency that this Genus has with black pepper (Piper nigrum ). There is, course, no biological connection between black pepper (or Sichuan pepper) for that matter) and this Genus.

From here, things start becoming more specific. Capsicum is broken down into the particular species that the Chillies fall under. While there may be as many as thirty species, many of these grow only in the wild.  Five species have been domesticated and are more well-known

Domesticated Chilli species
Capsicum annuum

It gets its name from "annual ", which implies that a plant only has one season from seed and then dies. This is, in fact, not the case.  If not subjected to very cold conditions, these plants can survive for many seasons and turn into large perennial bushes.

Capsicum annuum includes Chillies like Bell peppers, Jalapenos, Poblanos, Cayenne, Hidalgo, Hungarian Hot wax, Chiltepin, Serrano, Paprika, Anaheim, Ancho, Banana pepper, Chile de árbol, Thai birds-eye  and many more.

The Scoville rating for this species starts at the very bottom, with Bell peppers having a SHU of zero.  Mild Chillies like Cubanelles, Poblanos, Anaheims and Jalapenos rank below 8000 SHU.  The medium heat C annuums like Cayennes and Serranos have a heat rating of between 10000 and 50000 SHU. One of the hottest is the Thai birds-eye, with a Schoville heat rating of about 100000 SHU. Their flower corollas are typically white. A few varieties have purple flowers.

These Chillies are used in various dishes, including stuffed peppers, pickled Chillies, curry, moles, spicy stews, and many hot sauces.

Capsicum baccatum

The name means "berry-like", which generally describes the shape of Chillies that come from this species. It has its origins in an area (Peru and the Andean region of South America) hypothesised to be the birthplace of the first Chillies in this world. Aji Chillies, which generally come from this species, have been consumed in this region for thousands of years.

Chillies that fall into this species include Aji Amarillo (Peru's most popular Chilli),  Aji Limone ( also known as the lemon drop Chilli), Pitanga ( starfish Chilli of Brazil), Bishops Crown, Aji Andean,  Aji Ayucullo (Peru), Aji Benito (Bolivia), Aji Catatenango ( El Salvador),  Aji Brown (Peru) and the White wax Chilli 

The Scoville rating for this species of Chilli tends to range between 30000 and 50000 SHU, with certain exceptions.  One exception to this is the  Sweet piquanté pepper from South Africa with a SHU of 1177. The Aji Amarillo falls in the 30000 to 50000 SHU category, as does the Aji Limone.  The flowers petals  (corollas) are coloured between white to cream. Their corollas have dark green, yellow or brown spots at the base. This species is probably the easiest to identify by this trait

In cooking, B baccatum is used in ceviche (Aji Amarillo and Aji Limone), grilled chicken (Aji Amarillo)fish stews (Dedo De Moca in Brazil) and many other dishes.  The Aji Amarillo, by far the chefs choice in Peru, is used to make dishes like Pollo a la Brasa with Aji Verde , Cau Cau, Causa and Papas ala Huancaina (layered potatoes with a creamy spicy sauce).


The naming of this species came from the mistaken belief of a Dutch botanist that it originated in China. He came to this conclusion of noticing how extensively it was used in Chinese Cuisine. In fact, it was introduced to China by European explorers. Chinense is a very hot species of Chilli that has its origins in the Andean region. It is known as a Habanero type Chilli and includes.

Scotch bonnets, Adjumas & Madame Jeanette's (from Suriname), 7 pot cultivars, Trinidad Scorpions, Bhut Jolokia (Ghost peppers), Datils (from Florida) and Fatalli (from South central Africa)

The Scoville rating of these chillies is more than 100000 SHU. The Carolina Reaper , which is officially the hottest Chilli in the world, is a cultivar of this species. It is a cross between the a Soufriere pepper from the Carribean and the Naga viper Chilli from Pakistan. It rates a whopping 1,569,300 on average SHU on the Scoville rating scale. Less pungent cultivars like the Habenero and Scotch bonnet are in the 100000 to 350 000 SHU range. Certainly hot Chillies indeed! Their flower corollas (petals) are white. The anthers and filaments are purple.

These Chillies are typically used in dishes from the Caribbean, like Jamaican Jerk chicken, Mexican dishes like Salsas, and very hot   hot curries like Vindaloo and Phall (one of the hottest curries in the world).


Frutescens means "Shrub Like". These pungent small Chillies that grow skyward facing are prized in China , Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, the Philippines and the USA for their fantastic flavour. They are commonly used to make hot sauces like Tabasco, Piri- Piri, etc. They have their origin in South America, but were widely distributed by the Portuguese around the world.

Chillies in this species include African devils, Malaguetas, Cabai Rawit, Siling labuyo, Xiaomila_pepper and Tabasco.

These Chillies are in the comfortable range for most Chilli Lovers. In common with Chillies, like the Cayenne, Thai birds eye (which is often mistakenly thought to belong to this species) and the Serrano from  Capsicum Annuum, these Chillies are widely used in everyday cuisine . They are in the 30000 to 175000 SHU range .  This makes them pungent, but pleasantly so .  African Devils have a SHU oF between 500000 and 175000 SHu.  Malaguetas are in the 60000 to 100000 SHU range, and the Siling labuyo  80000 to 100000 SHU . Tabasco chillies, which are used to make the sauce of the same name, have a  relatively mild SHU of between 30000 and 50000 SHU.

The flowers have green/ white corollas with no spots. They have purple anthers and filaments

Besides their use in hot sauces, this species is used to add flavour to many dishes and pungency to dishes like  Piri Piri Chicken ( Portugal, Brazil and Southern Africa, Moqueca de peixe com camarão ( Brazil),  Sambals (Indonesia),  Chilli vinegar ( Philippines) and a host of other dishes from around the world.

Capsicum pubescens

Chillies that have been used for thousands of years in the Andean region. Traces of its use go back more than 7000 years, with traces of its use found in the Guitarrero Cave. Its name means "hairy" in reference to the hairs in its leaves. In Peru and Ecuador, it is known as a Rocotto, Locoto in Bolivia and Argentina, and as the Manzano pepper (apple pepper) in Mexico.

Rocotos are very hot with a Scoville rating of between 100000 and 300000 SHU.  These are a variety of cultivars, including the brown rocoto, rocoto Canario ( yellow), Rocoto de Seda, Rocoto Largo san Isidro, Rocoto Roja (red), orange rocoto, and the white rocoto .  These cultivars come in various shapes, including resembling apples and pears. It is called a Manzano in Mexico because this means apple in Spanish. Their flowers are purple.

These Chillies are essential in Peruvian cooking and the most important ingredient in the Bolivian sauce Llajua. It is also used as an ingredient in ceviche and Rellenos. Its thick walls make it excellent for stuffing  Its flavour is described as being similar to a Bell pepper, with the juiciness of a tomato, but with a very pungent heat.  When cut in half, it actually even looks like a tomato with black seeds.


Final thoughts.

This post  on Chilli varieties from A to Z carries information on all the most known domesticated Chillies. Because many Chillies are covered , it is only possible to give an idea of where they are used in cooking. Their uses, of course, are far more comprehensive than that. There are hundreds of Chillies in these species, so there are probably a hundred ways to use them.

All these species have characteristics that help identify them. For a more in-depth look at these distinguishing characteristics, visit the Chili Pepper project website.

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