Unravelling the taste of Chillies

What do Chillies taste like?

When we think of chillies, the first thing that comes to mind is their fiery heat. But there’s more to these spicy peppers than just the burn.  It is also how they smell and taste. Each variety of Chilli offers a unique taste experience, from mild and sweet to intensely spicy and smoky In this post, we embark on a flavourful journey, exploring the diverse tastes that different chillies have to offer.

Some chillies greet our taste buds with a gentle sweetness and mild heat. These are chillies that are used as vegetables rather than as a spice  Examples include the popular bell peppers, which are not spicy at all but contribute a pleasant, slightly tangy flavour to dishes. Poblano peppers, with theirChillies used in Thai cooking mild heat and rich, earthy taste, are also favourites in Mexican cuisine. These sweet and mild chillies provide a delightful balance in various culinary creations.

Medium chillies encompass a diverse range of flavours and heat levels. For example, the Cayenne Chilli brings a fiery and pungent flavour with a subtle sweetness, while Indian green Chillies offer a vibrant and zesty taste with a hint of citrus. Jalapenos contribute a refreshing and mildly spicy profile with a pleasant grassy note, and Thai Bird’s Eye chillies bring an intense and sharp heat accompanied by fruity undertones. Combining these medium chillies allows for a culinary exploration that balances heat and flavour, lending depth and complexity to a variety of dishes across different cuisines.

Moving up the flavour scale, we encounter chillies with fruity and tangy profiles. The Habanero Chilli known for its intense heat brings a distinctive fruity flavour to dishes. It offers a tropical twist with hints of citrus, mango, and even apricot. Similarly, the Scotch bonnet pepper, a close relative of the habanero, delivers a sweet and tangy taste that adds depth and complexity to Caribbean and West African dishes.

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Introducing Weymouth 51 Chilli sauces

Dorset Chilli Festival

When I met David Tamlyn of Weymouth51 earlier this year at the at the Dorset Chilli festival I sensed there was an interesting story to be told about this interesting character in the UK Chilli world.  As a blogger on the Chilli Workshop, I am always interested to find out how Chilli sauce businesses came into being.  To me it is a fascinating subject.

What initially caught my eye was the interesting names he had for his Chilli sauces, including Rhubarb and Custard, Tutti Fruity and Scorpion on the beach. Never mind the likes of Rockfish Oyster   Drizzle, Allotment Special and The Kicker.  These names really intrigued me, so I had to find out more. To do just that I asked David if I could interview him. He agreed and what I found out didn’t fail to disappoint.

I learnt that Rhubarb and Custard got its name when David (who grows his own Chillies) noticed that a mixture of yellow and red Chillies (Yellow Jigsaws, Jamaican Yellow, Yellow Trinidad Perfume, Lemon Aji and Red Naga Chillies) he had picked to make sauce and placed in a wheelbarrow looked remarkably like the dessert. Thus, the name was borne Read more

Introducing Prices Spices

Award winning producer

Michael Price of Prices Spices is an entrepreneur in his 40’s, who has distinguished himself in the Chilli scene within the United Kingdom by achieving no fewer than 21 Great Taste awards and two Foodie awards. Amongst the many Great Taste Awards, Michael also achieved the top accolade of a Golden Fork award from the Guild of Fine food in 2021. He was also the 2016 winner of the new business category from the Leamington business awards.

Great Taste awards are awarded to only the very best foods (including sauces) in the United Kingdom( and other countries around the world) .  They are awarded by the Guild of Fine food after a rigorous judging process in which the sauces are blind tested by elected chefs, cooks, buyers, retailers, restaurateurs, food critics and writers.  The judges consider the texture, appearance of the product and quality of ingredients. They also take aroma and bite into consideration, but of paramount importance is the taste of the      products.

Similarly, the Foodie Awards are a food and drinks awards program for Coventry and Warwickshire to celebrate the makers, creators and providers of excellent food, drinks and hospitality experiences. Micheal’s award falls under the Artisan food producers category which  as Foodie awards put it ” recognises an artisan food producer who really does have the wow factor”

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Chillies and heat waves

Stuck in France

Sometimes when growing Chillies, the strangest things happen. And that is exactly what happened to me this season.   My Chilli growing season was following a normal pattern, and then disaster struck. Half my Chillies died. This wasn’t due to any mistakes I made, but rather due to what life throws at you.  Let me explain.

When my wife and I went to Bordeaux in France for her birthday, we had no idea what was waiting for us.  We had gone to the region to visit wine estates when a we were hit by the unexpected.  What was supposed to be a relaxing one-week holiday, eating fine French cuisine and drinking good wine in sunny France, turned into a nightmare. We caught COVID-19.

In France, the regulations dictate that when you get Corona virus disease, you must mandatorily self-isolate for seven days. In our case, it struck down my wife first. Three days later, I too became infected.  That was it. It meant we were stuck in the country. We had no choice but to follow the rules. A holiday that was only supposed to have taken a week landed up with us being holed up in a hotel room for ten days, with reception and room service being our only connection to the outside world.

Before leaving for France, had I known that we were going to be away for so long, I would have been more careful to ensure my plants had more than enough water to survive longer. Particularly because I knew that the United Kingdom was in the throes of a heat wave. Temperatures were predicted to be well over 30 degrees Celsius for the period. Unfortunately, I didn’t. There was no way to predict what would happen.

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The Dr Trouble Chilli sauce story

In search of adventure

When Robert Alexander Fletcher, a Scotsman, arrived in Africa in the late nineteenth century, little did he know that he was to be the start of one of Africa’s finest Chilli sauces. Dr Trouble Chilli sauces, developed from his recipe from Zimbabwe, undoubtedly have this distinction. This is the story behind the sauce.

Fletcher, who was a cartographer, came to the continent in search of adventure.  After being employed by Cecil John Rhodes, the notorious British colonialist, he set off to create maps of the country Rhodes had colonised and named Rhodesia. This involvedDr Trouble Chilli sauce setting off on horseback with his assistant into the African bushveld, carrying only a rifle, salt, and a flint. In this way, he could shoot wild animals, and by cooking their meat on an open fire, provide food for him and his assistant. They would obviously have relied on the numerous streams and rivers for water.

During his travels around the country, Fletcher was given some Chillies by an African Tribal leader. These probably had  found their way into the country by either by Arab or Portuguese traders. These Chillies were probably of the African Birds – eye variety, which had found their way into the region through trade with the local people.

Fletcher,  kept some of these Chillies for use as seed, but it is also easy to imagine him combining them with wild lemons and salt to eat with meat, he grilled on his fire in the wild.

When he returned home, Fletcher grew the seeds he had received and started refining what he had learned in the bushveld. He refined the recipe to include fermenting it in the sun. After developing the sauce to his taste, he made a note on the back of a notebook of a rudimentary recipe to make it.

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Making sauces with Aji Amarillo

Peru’s favourite Chilli

Aji Amarillo is a great tasting Chilli that is massively popular in Peru, where it is used to make many Peruvian dishes like Ceviche (marinated fresh seafood), a Papa a la Huancaina (a potato dish with a spicy sauce) and Causa Rellena (a spicy layered potato dish). In addition to these dishes, Peruvians also make hot sauce with Aji Amarillo. They also use it to make a dipping sauce that is served with roast chicken, french fries, boiled potatoes, and fried plantains.

Recently, I bought some Aji Amarillo Chilli paste.  I intend to make a few Peruvian hot sauces and the dipping sauce mentioned above. Usually, I would want to use fresh Chillies to make my sauces, but seeing as this Chilli growing season has only just started, that will be out of the question. At the moment, the Chilli paste will just have to do for now.

The Aji Amarillo paste I will use is authentic and was made in Peru. Indeed, it is even thickened with Tara gum.  This is a thickener uniquely Peruvian. It is an alternative to Guar gum and is made by grinding the endosperm of seeds from a tree native to Peru – the Tara tree.

Because the paste is already thickened, I will only need to add other ingredients like vinegar, garlic, onions, salt and spices to make the hot sauces.  I might also add a bit of Chilli powder and a sweeter sugar to balance the flavours. I aim to make the hot sauces carb friendly and sugar free by using Xylitol or Erythritol. The dipping sauce does not need to be sweetened

The dipping sauce combines sour cream, feta cheese, Aji Amarillo Chillies and citrus to make a creamy sauce that is great for serving with various dishes. It is also fantastic as a dip for a snack table, where it can be eaten with potato crisps, nachos or flat breads

Okay, so let’s make some Aji Amarillo sauces!

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Are Malagueta & Piri-Piri Chillies the same?

Solving the mystery

The Piri Piri or African devil is one of my favourite Chillies. It has great flavour and has a hot, pleasant bite. It is used among many other uses in cooking to make Portuguese favourites, like Piri-Piri chicken, prawns, sauce and Piri Piri oil. It is a favourite in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and many other Portuguese speaking parts of the world.

One thing that I have always found fascinating is the relationship between the Piri- Piri Chillies and the Malagueta Chillies from Brazil. I have known they are distant cousins, but which came first? The Malaguetas or the Piri- Piri. There is no doubt the Portuguese who introduced the Malaguetas to Africa, but where did they encounter Malaguetas for the first time? Did they find them in Brazil when they discovered the country, or was it somewhere else?

To answer this question, I decided to do some investigation. I put on my detective’s cap. Chief inspector Morich was on the case. It was time to solve the mystery of the Malaguetas and Piri- Piri Chillies. And what an investigation it would turn out to be!

The first thing I investigated was what the similarity is between Malaguetas and Piri Piri Chillies. I wanted to find just how close they are. After all, Chillies grown in different environments (even if they start the same) may develop different qualities. They may differ in taste, size, and pungency. Was this the case with Malaguetas and Piri- Piri Chillies? I certainly wanted to find out.

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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 the pain is felt- into passing a message to the brain that discomfort is being experienced. The brain releases an endorphin to provide relief, 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).Red Chillies

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 with sour flavours like lime, lemons, vinegar, tomato-based dishes, and savoury ingredients like onion and garlic. Italian, Mexican sauces and Indian curries would 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  much of this country’s cooking,  Korea where a  pungent fermented condiment (Kimchi) is made by combining cabbage and red Chillies, and  Hunan in  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 isn’t easy 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, it surely means that they have something special to offer. But what?  Clearly, it is the whole experience of combining 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