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). It 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).
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 it has a multitude of uses ranging from the making of Chilli 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