Known for their eye-watering heat, chili peppers are the biggest spice crop in the world today and a constant presence in dishes globally. They come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes and can be eaten on their own or made into flakes, oil, pastes, sauces and powders. They’re in peak season right now (for those lucky enough to be enjoying summer) and are our hero ingredient on the Maude menu in July! That means chilis are threaded through each dish of the 9+ course degustation. Fortunately our chefs know a thing or two about balance and aren’t set on blowing out our diners’ palates or their heads off with heat.
Read below to get to know these fire crackers a little better, then get to eating them with 9 chili-spiked recipes for home.
How did the chili get its name?
While trying to find a shortcut to the East Indies, Christopher Columbus sampled a chili plant, thought it was a relative of the black pepper and called it a “pepper.” But chiles are not related to black pepper and didn’t originate in India. Rather, hot chili peppers are members of the nightshade family (which includes tomatoes and eggplant) and actually came from South America.
Why do chiles burn?
The chemical compound capsaicin (found in a chili’s seeds, white fleshy parts and skin) stimulates neural sensors in the tongue and skin that detect rising temperatures. Although capsaicin produces a feeling of heat and binds to a pain receptor, it will not cause a chemical burn or harm any tissue.
How can I tell a chili is fresh?
All fresh chiles should be shiny, smooth-skinned and firm.
How do you measure a chili’s heat?
To measure a chili’s heat, scientists use a scale developed in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist from Detroit. Bell peppers have 0 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs), while cayenne peppers have 50,000 and a Bhut jolokia racks up over 1,000,000.
Is it true that black markings on a chili mean that it’s hotter?
Nope. Without tasting a chili or seeing how much capsaicin it has, you cannot tell exactly how hot a chili is – that’s why they are so much fun, you just never know what you’re getting yourself into. Typically, though, smaller chiles are hotter than bigger ones.
What’s the hottest chili in the world?
The Carolina Reaper takes the prize as the hottest chili pepper. It was first bred by Ed Currie in his Rock Hill, South Carolina greenhouse and is a cross between a Bhut jolokia and a red habanero. And as if the name wasn’t enough to discourage anyone from ingesting this tiny red ball of fire, its 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) and Guinness World Record might.
What’s the best way to fend off a chili’s heat?
Contrary to popular opinion, water is not the best way to quench a chili’s fire. If anything, water spreads the burning to other parts of the body. Alcohol is also not helpful — it simply magnifies the burn. On the other hand, acidic drinks (like lemonade or orange juice) or dairy products (like milk, cheese or yoghurt) break up or dissolve capsaicin to bring down the heat. The more fat an acidic product has, the quicker it will get rid of the burn, so have sour cream or cheese instead of skim milk in a dire situation! While carbohydrates won’t get rid of the capsaicin, they provide a physical barrier between the mouth and some of the chemical, so less of it comes in contact with the tongue and the lips. The sugars in bread, rice, tortillas and other starchy foods also help lessen the capsaicin.
What are some unconventional ways to use chili?
Hot, ground-up peppers and water can be mixed together to make insecticide, and chili peppers placed at the bottom of shoes can keep the feet warm. Capsaicin is also used in a variety of muscle creams.
Muscle relaxants and insectides aside, we’re about great tasting grub here! Celebrate the peak chili season with nine chili recipes and check out Curtis’ Chili Pepper Pinterest for recipes, photos and more!