The use of Chillies in South African cooking

Image: Potjiekos with chilli
The History Of Chillies in South Africa

Many will know that South Africa has a history of having been colonised by both the Dutch and the English. While neither of these countries added much in terms of spiciness to South African cuisine, the people that they brought with them, either as slaves or workers, certainly did.

The Dutch

When the Dutch colonized the Cape, they were accompanied by their slaves from India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. These slaves brought their cuisine with them, and that meant? Of course, you’ve guessed it …. Chillies.  Portuguese traders, who were very instrumental in making the  Chilli known to the world,  had been hard at work and had introduced Chillies to the countries they had originally come from.

The English

The owners of sugar cane plantations in the British colony of Natal employed indentured labourers from India to work in the sugarcane fields. Under this arrangement, the labourers were brought to the country to work for a period of seven years and then would be entitled (in theory) to a paid return journey back to India.   They carried their spicy cuisine with them, and the Chilli was definitely part of the ingredient list.

The Portuguese

While the Portuguese were not part of South Africa’s colonial history, they had colonies which bordered with South Africa. By virtue of their geographical proximity and subsequent events, many Portuguese people who had previously lived in these colonies emigrated to South Africa.  Their cuisine came with them, and once again the Chilli featured

Whilst Christopher Columbus first brought Chillies into Europe, it is the Portuguese who can take credit for making them popular around the world. They introduced Chillies into- believe it not - countries like India and China. They also introduced them to their own colonies.  Angola and Mozambique, which were Portuguese colonies at the time, were given what is now known as the African Birds-Eye (Peri-Peri chilli).  Once planted, it took like a duck to the water.  Absolutely loving the African growing environment, it thrived and was soon very much at home


How Chillies are used in South African cooking

It was inevitable that the Dutch would see Malay and Indonesian influences creeping into their menus as they often had slaves working in their kitchens.

Baboti made with chillies

Current day classics like  Bobotie, Cape Malay curries and Bredies (stews) soon became part of everyday eating. These dishes were often adapted by the kitchen workers from the original recipes to make them more palatable to their owners.  This may have entailed toning down the heating element, but it still meant that chillies had arrived as a part of South African cuisine. Today these dishes are considered traditionally South African and absolutely part of the culture.

A combination of local conditions and factors has influenced the distinct style of Indian cooking that is found in South Africa today.

When the Indian indented labourers arrived in the country, they often had to substitute local ingredients for those that might previously have used back in India. They were also introduced to different tastes and cooking methods by their countrymen, who had come from different parts. With these factors influencing them, the traditional way of doing things changed.  South African Indian cuisine started taking on a shape of its own

Durban curry

Anyone who has eaten a Durban curry knows that this is excellent eating.  When this great curry is filled into a half or quarter loaf of hollowed-out bread to become a " Bunny Chow" - this dish takes on even more greatness.  It becomes a takeaway meal with amazing taste and an incredible depth of flavour.

How the Bunny Chow received its name is the subject of much debate and speculation. The one thing that is for sure, though, is that it is a typically iconic South African dish loved by all. It, together with South African Breyanis (Indian Biryani) and Samoosas (Indian Samosas), are examples of how South African Indian cuisine has come to be as great tasting and unique as it is today.

Being the great cooks that they are, the Portuguese discovered that the African Birds-Eye (Peri-Peri) chilli had taken on a character of its own. It had developed more heat and its own distinctive flavour.  These special qualities were put to exceptional use in the creation of their now world-famous Peri-Peri chicken.

Peri-Peri chicken, which is made by marinating spatchcocked chicken in lemon juice, garlic, Peri - Peri Chillies & salt and then grilling it over an open fire,  found its way across the border and soon became a South African favourite.  Today, this great-tasting grilled chicken is virtually ubiquitous in South Africa  Besides being offered by great Portuguese restaurants ( including Nandos, of course )  you will find Peri-Peri chicken being eaten at many a home-cooked braai ( barbeque).   Once again, an iconic South African dish.

And the final result.

All of these influences have not gone unnoticed by the other parts of the South African nation. All have had their impact on South African cuisine as a whole. Dishes like Chakalaka,  Potjiekos with chilli, offal curry, Chilli Sticks (Biltong with chilli) and Boerewors with chilli, all of which are considered typically South African.

The rich and diverse history of South Africa has made the love of the Chilli an undeniable part of being South African.  Who would have thought that a spice that started out in Central or  South America would find itself so part and parcel of the cuisine and culture in a fantastic country on the tip of Africa.  Absolutely amazing!



African bird’s eye (Peri-Peri chilli) is a small red Chilli that grows to about an inch in length. It has a Scoville rating between 150000 and 175000 shu. Used to make  Peri- Peri chicken, prawns, curries and also  Peri -Peri sauce. Fantastic flavour and a great bite

Piquante pepper. (Also known as the Pepperdew ®)  This small red Chilli with a Scoville rating of roughly 1200 SHU was discovered in South Africa in 1993.  Upon application, the farmer who discovered it was awarded plant breeders rights to protect the species. He began commercial cultivation and successfully began marketing it in a pickled form under the brand name Pepperdew ® The Pepperdew ® brand is currently owned by Peppadew International (Pty) Ltd, who also sell a variety of other products under this name

The Piquante pepper resembles a cross between a cherry tomato and a Chilli, but this purely coincidental (no botanical) link.  The Chilli has a sharp bite when consumed raw but in its pickled format has a slightly sweet taste. Fantastic if stuffed with cheese and served as an appetizer.

A variety of other Chillies are popular  in South Africa, including the Long Slim Cayenne, the Habanero  and also the Serrano, but these are not indigenous to the country  in the way  that  the African Birds Eye and the Piquante pepper are,

The use of Chillies in Korean cooking

Image; Korean cuisine made with chillies
The History Of Chillies in Korea

While the history of the use of pungent spices in Korea goes right back in time, the chilli probably only arrived there during the late 16th century.  One theory is that they were introduced by Portuguese missionaries . Another is that chillies were introduced to the Koreans by the Japanese when they invaded Korea in 1592

Grilled pork bulgogi

According to Wikipedia, it has commonly been assumed that prior to being introduced to the chilli, spices like black pepper (Piper nigrum) and Korean Pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum) were used to make Korean pepper paste (Gochujang). Once the Koreans, however, tasted chillies, that was that. They were hooked. Following the same pattern as that which happened with the introduction of chillies to India, they rapidly replaced the previous peppers, due to their superior taste and pungency.

Another reason for the Chillies great success is that they were easy to cultivate and were soon grown very successfully around the country. Indeed, to such an extent, that Chillies are today one of the most widely grown and eaten vegetables in Korea

How Chillies are used in Korean cooking

Today, Gochujang is made by fermenting red chillies with glutinous rice, fermented soya powder, barley powder, and salt to result in a spicy red paste with a sweet note. It is extensively used in Korea as a condiment and to flavour many dishes including Bulgogi

Besides the use of Gochujang in their cuisine, you will also find chillies being used in just about every other form in Korean cooking. Fresh chillies are used to make dishes like Kkwarigochu-jjim (Steamed shishito chillies), Ssam (vegetable leaves wrapped around grilled meat with the option of adding chillies) and Gochu-sobagi (Green chillies stuffed with Kimchi.  Gochu-jangajji (Korean chilli pickles) uses fresh green chillies that are pickled with soya sauce and vinegar. Yet another recipe using fresh chillies is Gochu Twigim (Korean chillies stuffed with ground meat and deep fried)

Dried Korean chillies are used in powder or flake form to make dishes like Kimchi (fermented cabbage and radishes), Kkotgetang (Korean crab stew), and Tteokbokki (Spicy rice cakes that are stir-fried and Ojinguh-bokkeum (Korean spicy stir-fried squid


The word for chillies is Gochu. When chillies are young and green, they are called Put-gochu, which means young and green. When allowed to mature and turn red, they are called hong-gochu

Image red chilliesCheongyang chilli - is a medium-sized green chili (when young) with a Scoville rating of about 10000 SHU. It was developed as a hybrid between the local Jejudo chilli and the Thai chilli. It is used in recipes like Gochujang eomuk bokkeum (spicy fish cakes). When they mature and turn red they can be dried to make cheongyang gochutgaru (Korean chilli flakes)

Kkwari-gochu chillies – Also known as the Shashito or ground cherry chilli is a wrinkled slim chilli that grows to between one and two inches. While it will turn to a bright red colour if allowed to ripen, it is generally harvested when young and green. It has a Scoville rating of about 1000 SHU. They are used to make dishes like Myulchi Bokkeum (Korean pan-fried anchovies and chillies) and Jangjorim (salty beef with chillies)

The general term for chilies in Korea is cheong-gochu, which includes many varieties like the Korean long green pepper and asagi-gochu.

Image credits:  

Korean food chosun Ilsan  by Aron Yoo  is licensed under ( CC by- ND 2.0) via Flikr

Pork Bulgogi by Alpha  is licensed under (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flikr

The use of Chillies in Peruvian cooking

The use of Chillies in Peruvian cooking
The History Of Chillies in Peru

Before spreading itself around the world the origin of the Chilli goes way back to the Amazon basin in  South  America   Studies have concluded that the Capsicum genus, the broad biological classification of Chillies originated in an area in upper Peru that is now Bolivia. It then spread, through the dispersal arms of nature, to areas throughout  South America and to the West Indies (where Christopher Columbus first encountered it and took its journey to Europe)

Peruvian chicken with chillies

Evidence from archaeological excavations in sites in Huaca Prieta and Punta Grande (on the coast of Peru)  indicates that  inhabitants were cultivating Chillies in the area dating way  back to 2500BC. Whilst this evidence was carbon dated to arrive at a scientific conclusion, there was also the discovery of evidence to the presence of cultivated Chillies in a cave in Guitarreo Cave (in the Yungay province of Peru) that dates from 8000 years ago.

From the above, it becomes clear that Peru has provided an essential part in the place that Chillies hold in the world today. As a country that first used  them as a spice  and where Chilies are now used to make exceptional cuisine, it certainly rates as a country where the Chilli is held in high esteem

How Chillies are used in Peruvian cooking

Peruvian cuisine has evolved from the original Inca cuisine that has been adapted and refined through European, Asian and African influences to provide exceptional flavour and depth.  When combining the above with exceptional taste of Peruvian Chillies – some of which are totally unique to Peru – the results are in the highest order of cuisine.

Peruvian Chillies,to the most part, are not exceptionally (although there are exceptions to this rule. They are used to provide colour and flavour to food, as opposed to pungency alone. Peruvian classics like Parihuela (Peruvian seafood soup), Cebiche Peruano (fresh seafood marinated in lime juice and chillies), Pollo ala Brasa (grilled chicken) and Lomo Saltado (Peruvian Steak with chips) all use chillies of varying heats to achieve different results.

The influence of Japanese settlers upon Peruvian cuisine has resulted in a rich Umami taste in many of its dishes. In combining  Umami rich ingredients like garlic and onion and seafood with chillies, they  created wonderful dishes that are in a world of their own. Examples of dishes that portray this wonderful taste include Tiradito ( similar to Ceviche, but more subtle) and Cau Cau (Peruvian tripe stew with potatoes and chillies)

More recipes for Peruvian cooking with chillis can be found here 


The taste of chillies from Peru is so unique that Peruvian chefs sometimes find it difficult to replicate dishes that they make back home without  Peruvian Chillies. For the very reason that they are not easy to be found in many countries outside of Peru, the list below provides the name of the Peruvian  Chilli and what it can be substituted for:

Aji Amarillo. A staple in Peruvian cooking. This orange / yellow looking Chilli is about 30000 to 50000 SHU on the Scoville scale. If fresh cannot be found use Serranos and orange bell pepper (for colour). Otherwise, use a paste which can normally found quite easily online.  Used in Aji de Gallina (Peruvian Chilli chicken), Causa Rellena (layered potato dish) and Pollo ala Brasa (grilled chicken). It also makes a very good hot sauce

Aji Limo (Lemon drop)  Has a distinct citrus flavour and is yellow colour (it can also be found in green, orange and purple). It has a Scoville rating of 30000 to 50000 SHU. Substitute with Cayenne Chilli and Hungarian hot wax (for colour) with a squeeze of lemon juice. Used in Cebiche /Ceviche (seafood marinated in lime/ lemon juice) and Tiradito (sushi/ carpaccio Peruvian style)

Aji Rocoto. Resembles a small bell pepper but when sliced open looks like a tomato with black pips. Can be red, orange or yellow. It is a hot chilli with a Scoville rating of 50000 to 100000 SHU. Best substituted by Scotch Bonnets. Used in Rocoto Relleno (stuffed peppers), Ceviche de Rocoto (seafood marinated in citrus juice with chillies)

Aji Panca.  Has a fruity flavour with a mild smoky flavour. Initially, a green/orange colour that matures into a  burgundy hue. It mostly found in a dried pod format. It is not hot at all and used mainly for colour and flavour. Substitute with Kashmiri Chillies. Used in Anticuchos de Carne (Peruvian meat skewers) and Pollo ala Brasa (Peruvian grilled chicken)

Image credits: 

 Anticuchos de Hongos  / by  Gary StevensCC by 2.0 / via Flikr

Los Toldos Chicken in Cuzco /  by K Toa  /   CC by ND 2.0 / via Flikr 


The use of Chillies in Spanish cooking

The History Of Chillies in Spain

While Christopher Columbus’ 1492 misguided voyage to the West Indies had the result of Spain probably becoming the first country in Europe where Chillies were introduced, the Spanish people did not become immediate fans. Initially, Chillies were looked on as being mere biological curiosities from the New World and found themselves being grown in monasteries and botanical gardens for their ornamental properties, rather than for their use as a culinary ingredient.

Spicy Spanish Paella

Slowly but surely, however, things began to change. The monks became more adventurous and started experimenting with using  Chillies in their cooking. Spanish farmers also started growing them as a domestic crop -  as an alternative to the ( then very expensive ) black pepper we know today.  In the 15th/16th century, when these changes were taking place, black pepper was the preserve of only the super-rich as it is said to have cost more than its weight in gold. To have something similar in the form of Chillies was to the poor farmers of the time, a taste of a lifestyle they could not afford

As time stepped on Chillies (particularly the milder varieties) gained popularity, it became more and more entrenched in Spanish cuisine, but even today they are still not used to the extent that they are, for example, in Asian and African cooking

How Chillies are used in Spanish Cooking.

Whilst the tendency in Spanish cuisine is definitely towards milder varieties of Chillies like the Padron and Gernika peppers (from the Basque region), Spain has a wonderful climate for growing Chillies. A variety of the super-hot Naga family (think similar to Dorset Naga) is successfully grown in Spain in the form of the Spanish Naga (aka Gibraltar Naga).

The Gernika Chilli (also known as the Choricero Chilli) is used in different ways at its different stages of maturity. When young and still green it is fried and typically sigaerved as tapas or when allowed to mature and turn red, is dried and used as a flavouring and colourant in Chorizo sausages. The Choricero is family of the famous Espelette chilli, which is grown on the French side of the Basque region. Both have special protected status declaring them to be unique specifically to their regions and that they must have been produced and packed in the area to be sold commercially under these names (Cookapedia)

Other uses for the Chilli in Spain are for use in rice dishes , being grilled or stuffed with cheese , pickling, in chilli sauces like that used for Albondigas (Spanish meatballs) and as in the case of when being used as a powder, Patatas Bravas ( Spicy potatoes)


Padrón. A  Chilli with a Scoville rating of 500 -2500 SHU from the municipality of Padrón, Galicia, Spain.  Whilst most are mild, a certain percentage at the upper end of the Scoville rating scale can be quite hot. Padróns  grow to approximately 2 inches long and about 1 inch thick and can be found in colours ranging from green, yellow and sometimes red.  Used in recipes like Pimientos de Padrón (Chillies blistered in Olive oil) and Pimientos de Padrón rellenos de queso Tetilla (Padron chillies stuffed with Tetilla cheese)

Pimiento Choricero ( aka Gernika) A  mild sweet Chilli with a Scoville rating of  0 to 1000 SHU from the Basque town of Gernika, Biscay, in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, Spain.  They are harvested while still young and green at a length of between 2 and 3 inches long with a width of approximately 1 inch. When is this format it is prepared in a similar style to Pimentos de Padron (blistered in hot olive oil and served as Tapas).  Another way of using these Chillies is allowing them to mature and turn red before drying them for use as in ingredient in making Chorizo sausages and flavouring dishes like Bacalao a la vizcaína  (Salt cod in Biscay sauce)

Pimiento Ñora. A mild ball-shaped chilli with a Scoville rating of 0 -1000 SHU from Murcia, Southern Spain. It turns to a bright red colour when mature and is then dried.  It is extensively used in Spanish kitchens in the form of Paprika.  In the cuisine of Valecian community (Alicante) of Murcia it is fried when fresh to colour and flavour rice. In Catalonia, it is commonly used as an ingredient in Romesco sauce which is used to flavour Catalan recipes for rice, grilled meats, vegetables, and fish.  A typical recipe in this region is Arroz Negro (black rice with squid and prawns)


Image Credit :   Tapas / by  Ben Sutherland CC by 2.0 / via Flikr


The use of Chillies in Portuguese cooking

Image: Portuguese seafood
The History Of Chillies in Portugal

While they were hugely instrumental in popularising Chillies around the world - having introduced them amongst others to countries like India and China -  the Portuguese are not particularly fond of spicy foods.  Except for the  Piri-Piri Chilli,   which can be found as a sauce or oil on many a Portuguese table, you are more likely to find mild bell pepper type chillies in Portugal’s cuisine.

Image Prawns and clams with Chillies
Portuguese seafood prepared with chillies

Whilst the Chilli is not that widely used in Portugal, this is not to say that  Portuguese speaking people in other parts of the world are not fans. In Mozambique, Angola and South Africa (which has many citizens of Portuguese descent), Portuguese cooking is closely associated with the use of the Chilli. Dishes like Piri- Piri Chicken  (  Peri - Peri in South Africa)   and Piri- Piri prawns are much loved by many from these countries. Indeed, it was because of the fondness for chillies developed in the former Portuguese colonies that the Piri-Piri chilli has become so popular in Portugal.

Similarly, in Goa India,  which was a Portuguese colony for 450 years, many dishes are fusions of Indian and Portuguese cooking, e.g. Vindaloo curries are made with Chillies.  Brazil is another example of a former Portuguese colony where Portuguese is widely spoken where Chillies are used in a variety of recipes.

How Chillies are used in Portuguese Cooking.

Peri- Peri chillies are used in Portugal to prepare chicken and seafood dishes. Dishes like Frango Peri- Peri (Peri-peri chicken), Sardinhas assadas com pimenta chili, limão e alho (roasted sardines with Chillis with lemon and garlic are typical examples. In Portugal and Mozambique chillies are used to make Piri-Piri Camarão (Peri –Peri Prawns). It is also used extensively to make Molho de Piri-Piri (Peri -Peri sauce) and Peri –Peri oil

Milder chillies are used to make Massa de Pimentão (Bell pepper paste with garlic and olive oil), Caldeirada (Portuguese fish stew) and Chourico com Pimenta (Chorizo and chillies)


Peri-Peri / Malagueta Chillies. The names are used interchangeably depending upon what part of the world you are in. Some may call the Malagueta the Peri-Peri chilli; others will argue that the African Devil should claim this title. Yet others claim that they are the same thing. Whilst they both have the same origin (Capsicum frutescens species), I believe  that these chillies are different. The African Devil  is a shorter and about an inch in length. When it matures, it turns bright red. It has a Schoville rating of between 50000 and 175000 SHU and is predominantly grown in Africa. It was highly likely introduced to the African continent by the Portuguese

The Malagueta whilst being grown in Africa ( and also called Peri-Peri) is more commonly found in Brazil, which interestingly was a colony or Portugal It starts out as a small tapered green chilli that grows to 2 inches when it will mature and turn red. It has a Scoville rating of between 60 000 and 100000 SHU.

Irrespective of the above both are much loved in Portugal.

The use of Chillies in Thai cooking

The use of Chillies in Thai cooking
The History Of Chillies in Thailand

Whilst it is not entirely clear how the Chilli arrived in Thailand, it is speculated that it arrived there via the Portuguese.  Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), which is in relatively close proximity to Thailand, was occupied by the Portuguese from 1505 to 1658.  When considering that wherever the Portuguese went, their Chillies went with them. As  Sri Lanka likes extremely pungent foods; it is not unlikely that the Chilli was introduced to the island during this time. In turn, they would have found their way via trade or the flight of birds (who absolutely love chillies) carrying seed to Thailand.

Thai chicken with chillies

Another route that the Portuguese might have used may have been via Malacca, which they used as a base from 1511 for trading and missionary expeditions into China, Japan, and Thailand. The Portuguese missionaries would certainly have taken Chillies with them in their journeys to Thailand as they were extremely fond of them in their cooking.

A possible link to the theory of birds carrying seeds to Thailand is the fact that the name of a very popular chilli in the country - the Prik kee noo - is also known as the birds-eye pepper.  This is of course entirely speculation, but not entirely impossible!

Whether by trade, through missionaries or birds, the Chilli arrived in Thailand. Its climate makes growing chillies easy, so it is possible they found their way from the wild into domestication or the other way round. Whichever way, one thing is clear; the Chilli is now so entrenched in Thai cuisine that it is not going away any day soon.

How Chillies are used in Thai Cooking.

Chillies are an integral part of Thai cooking. Whether pickled, dried, made into pastes, fried or fresh, Chillies can be found in a multitude of Thai recipes. Dishes like Pad kra prow ( Beef stir-fried with basil and chillies) Pad Thai (Prawns with bean sprouts and Chillies), Tom yum goong ( Prawn soup with lemongrass and Chilli) and Massaman curry ( a mild Thai curry made with beef, chicken duck or tofu) are but the tip of the fire poker when it comes to Thai cooking


The Thai name for Chilli is Prik.  In this list of some of the chillies commonly used in Thai cooking, you will find all of the names preceded with this title.

Prik kee noo suang (Birds eye pepper) is perhaps the most used and known. It is known outside of Thailand as “Thai Chilli” and reasonably easy to buy in other parts of the world.  The name Birds eye chilli and that of the African Peri- Peri are used synonymously. Thus another link is added to the Portuguese connection (The Portuguese introduced the Peri-Peri chilli to Africa). It is also found and known as kōcci in certain parts of Sri Lanka.

Prik kee noo suang grows from to 2 and 3 cm, with a weight of 2 to three grams. In its immature state, it is green but matures to a pungent, bright red pod with a Scoville rating of 100000 to 150000 Shu. These chillies dry very well and are then called prik kee noo Daeng haeng. They are eaten both as a green chilli and in its mature form. It is used in recipes like Yam Ma Maung (Thai Green Mango Salad), Prik Nam Pla (Thai Chili sauce) and Tom yum Goong (Thai prawn soup with Chillies)

Prik chee fah (Literally means Chilli pointing the sky). As the name implies, these chillies grow pointing upwards. They are quite large, growing to 15cm and milder than the Prik kee noo with a higher-end Scoville rating of approximately 70000. They ripen from a dark green Chilli with a grassy pungent flavour to a bright red colour with a sweeter flavour.  Widely used to make dipping sauce (Nam Jim Jaew ) and in relishes  (Ma hor - ) It is also used in stir-fries, curries ( for its flavour and red colour giving properties) and a garnish in salads or pickled.

Prik Kaleang. The  Thai people are not fond of mild chillies. This one is no exception to the rule. It is one of the hottest chillies found in Thailand. Their colour varies from light green, through orange to red. Used in recipes like Kaeng pa (Thai jungle curry made with pork and chicken). This chilli is not found easily outside of Thailand

Image credit:  Thai Food / by Jeffrey BeallCC by SA 2.0 / via Flikr


The use of Chillies in Indian cooking

The History Of Chillies in India

Many people are surprised to learn that prior to the Chilli being introduced to India by the Portuguese, towards the end of the 15th century; Indian chefs used other spices to provide heat to their cuisine.

Pippali  (Piper longum) also known as Indian long pepper, was the main spice that was used to provide pungency to curries (and to a lesser extent black pepper).  Pippali  is a flowering vine cultivated for its hot fruit, which when dried, has a similar but more pungent taste than the ordinary black pepper we know (piper negrum).

Link to gluten free with the chilli recipe page

It should come as no surprise that the Chilli became so popular in India. Unlike the Pippali and black pepper, which requires specific climate and soil conditions to be grown, the Chilli can be grown virtually anywhere. Poor people who found it difficult to afford these spices were soon growing it their back gardens and using it to add the wonderful spiciness to their curries that only the Chilli can provide.

Although it was initially specific to one part of India – mainly where the Portuguese traders operated  - it soon spread either by nature in the form of migrating birds or from hand to hand throughout India, where it now is not only ubiquitous by also virtually indispensable in Indian cooking.

Today India is the world’s largest producer of Chillies, with an estimated annual production of 1.3 to 1.5 million tonnes. Up to eighty percent is consumed in its domestic market and the rest is exported

How Chillies are used in Indian Cooking.

Being such an important ingredient in the Indian Chefs larder Chillies have  a multitude of uses ranging from the making of powders, chutneys, relishes, hot sauces and ( depending on the heat level of the chillies used) as a vegetable or a spice in the making of curries.

As a general rule when cooking with chillies it is important to heat the chillies in hot oil or ghee at the beginning of the cooking process in the making of curries but they may also be roasted on a hot griddle Cooking chillies is important to soften the taste that would be delivered by eating it in its raw state. An example of a fantastic curry made using chillies is Lamb Vepadu, which can be found on this site


There are literally thousands of Chilli varieties that may be used in Indian cooking but many may be difficult to find or simply unobtainable. Our list aims to provide a good selection of Chillies that are reasonably easy to get hold of and which will cover, not all, but many of the more common uses of the Chilli in Indian cuisine

The Kashmiri Chilli - is a Chili that is normally found in dried pods and used in many curries for the bright red colour it imparts. It is not particularly hot with a Scoville rating of approximately 2000 SHU. Hydrates when cooked in a curry

Birds Eye Chilli (Dhani) – is a very hot Chill that provides pungency to curries. Also used in pickles and chutneys.

Bhut Jolokia - Super hot Chilli that must be treated with caution. Can be used in curries and hot sauces.

Green Finger Chillies (Hari Mirch) - Can be used for making sambals (a hot relish made with vegetables or fruit) for serving with curry or eaten with poppadum’s. Can be used to make pickles and relishes. Also used in curries

Why do we love the Chilli?

Image Love chillies

Ever since man discovered chillies thousands of years ago, we have had a love affair with this fantastic gift from nature. When considering that the burning sensation one experiences when eating chillies is evolutionary – a ruse by the plant intended to prevent mammals (humans included) from eating them – it is incredible that we enjoy them so much. In this post, we explore the reasons for our love for the chilli

Chillies contain a substance called capsaicin – the hot peppery stuff that tricks the mind into thinking that the mouth is on fire. The capsaicin stimulates the areas of the tongue (and skin)- where pain is felt- into passing a message to the brain that discomfort is being experienced. To provide relief, the brain releases an endorphin, which creates a feeling of happiness, to neutralise the pain. Feeling happy is undoubtedly a reaction that we experience when we eat foods that we enjoy. Happiness translates into enjoyment (and vice versa).

The second part of the equation is in the taste. Chillies have a distinct flavour that is difficult to define but yet very identifiable as being just that. They have  a character of  their  own that is unmistakable. Describing the taste can best be done using terms like sweet, peppery, mustardy and savoury. This excellent flavour is further enhanced by grilling, drying and smoking.

Finally, it is when chillies are added to other ingredients that the magic is boosted exponentially. They combine particularly well , not only with sour flavours like lime, lemons and vinegar but also with tomato-based dishes and savoury ingredients like onion and garlic. Italian, Mexican sauces and Indian curries  would just not be the same without the addition of chilli.

Other examples include Peruvian cooking , where  a combination of caramelised onion, chilli and garlic form the foundation of the umami taste – see  The use of Chillies in Peruvian cooking  –  of much of this countries cooking ,  South Korea where a  pungent fermented condiment (Kimchi) is made by combining cabbage and red chillies and in Hunan,  China, where  the cuisine is known for its liberal use of chilli, shallots and garlic to create wonderfully appetising dishes.

Chillies are increasingly becoming popular in the Western world and it is difficult to find a country where they are not used at all. When considering that chillies  were only being  introduced to the wider world by the Portuguese in the late 15th century and  have now become mainstream ; surely means that they  have something special to offer. But what?  Clearly , it is  the  whole experience of the combination of  their  addictive  pungency ,  distinctive taste and  the  ability to combine exceptionally well with other ingredients that  has resulted in chillies  finding  that special place  in our hearts

Long live the Chilli !

Image: nicolas / CC by 2.0 / via Flikr



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