Chili In The Kitchen: Fiery Pleasure

Spanish Pimientos de Padrón, Mexican Jalapeños, or the American Carolina Reaper – chilies range from mild to fiery and come in all sorts of colors, although green chilies are not necessarily milder than red ones. Here you can find out how the varieties differ and how to use chili in the kitchen.

Chili – an integral part of Mexican cuisine

Chili has been used as a spice in Mexico for thousands of years. In Europe, red and green chilies are mainly known. But there are also yellow, orange, violet, brown, and white ones – from elongated and pointed to round. Whether fresh chili peppers or dried and ground as a spice – chili ensures that things get hot in the kitchen.

Chili – a close relative of the peppers

The degree of sharpness distinguishes the chili from its mild sister, the sweet pepper. Like them, it belongs to the paprika ( Capsicum ) plant genus. However, it is not entirely clear when exactly one speaks of sweet pepper and when of chili.

Colloquially, chili in German-speaking countries usually means the hot and often elongated peppers. On the other hand, one speaks of paprika when it comes to the mild, roundish sweet pepper. All information about the peppers can be found under the previous link.

Chili is a berry

Although chili peppers are often mentioned, from a botanical point of view the fruits of the pepper plant are not pods, but berries. For the sake of simplicity, we will use the term pod in this article, because this has become established in everyday language.

A berry is a so-called incipient fruit that has emerged from a single ovary and has juicy pulp when it ripens. Closing fruits are characterized by remaining closed when they are ripe and fall off the plant. A pod, on the other hand, is a subtype of the capsule fruit. In contrast to incisal fruits, capsule fruits open to release their seeds.

There are several thousand different types of chili worldwide – the exact number is not known. The varieties can be assigned to different species, of which Capsicum annuum is the most widespread – Capsicum annuum also includes many representatives of sweet peppers.

We have listed some of the most well-known types of chili below. We go into more detail about their level of spiciness in the paragraph “The spiciness of the chili: Scoville scale”:

  • Cayenne: The Cayenne variety is characterized by its biting heat and its slightly smoky, sometimes somewhat scratchy aroma. The red fruits are usually dried, ground into powder, and can then be found on the spice shelf as cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper has nothing to do with pepper (from the pepper family).
  • Jalapeno: Jalapeños are very popular in Mexican cuisine. They are usually harvested when they are still green and taste rather mild. You can often find them in the supermarket in jars.
  • Habanero: There are many special breeds of the Habanero variety, which is why the variety here is very large. They usually do not have the typical elongated shape, but look like small sweet peppers. They come in all sorts of colors and many of the strains are known to be very hot, so this strain may not be for everyone.
  • Serrano: Serrano pods are harvested green or red. They have a sweet aroma and are particularly juicy. Mexican cuisine, they are usually eaten raw.
  • Thai Chili: Thai Chili is a very hot chili that is harvested in green or red. Thai chili is particularly popular in Asian cuisine, where it is used e.g. B. processed into curry paste.
  • Pimiento de Padrón: Pimientos de Padrón are grown in the Spanish region of Galicia. They are usually harvested green and can be oblong to almost round. For the dish of the same name, Pimientos de Padrón, the chilies are fried in a pan and sprinkled with sea salt.
  • Tabasco: This variety is mainly grown to make the Tabasco sauce. The variety tastes very aromatic and is fiery and hot.
  • Anaheim: Anaheim (from the city of the same name in California) chilies are harvested in both green and red. The pods are often filled with cream cheese or minced meat or grilled and taste quite mild.

Green chilies are not necessarily milder than red ones

The spiciness is not only determined by the variety – the degree of ripeness also plays a major role. Chili peppers are green when they are immature and only later turn red. After chilies have been harvested, they no longer ripen – although color changes are still possible shortly after harvesting. The fruits taste the sharpest when ripe.

Many people, therefore, believe that green chilies are generally milder than red ones. Of course, a green chili pepper of a hot variety can taste much hotter than a red pepper of a milder variety. Some varieties also do not turn red but turn yellow (Frontera Sweet), orange (Hot Orange), violet (Ecuador Purple), or even white (Habanero White) – the degree of spiciness also varies with these varieties.

Capsaicin – especially in the white skins

Capsaicin is the active ingredient responsible for the spiciness of the chili. It is a secondary plant substance with e.g. antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and metabolism-stimulating properties. Many of the health effects of chili are attributed to capsaicin, as you can read under the previous link.

The more capsaicin chili contains, the sharper it tastes. The chili seeds are often considered to be particularly hot. However, it is not the seeds that contain the most capsaicin, but rather the white skin inside the pod. It is also these membranes that produce the capsaicin in the first place. The seeds are therefore so sharp because they are attached to these skins and from there the capsaicin also reaches the seeds and the pulp in the immediate vicinity.

This is also the reason why the tip of the chili pepper is the least spicy. She is furthest from the white skins.

The differences: Chili powder, cayenne pepper, Tabasco, and Co.

In addition to fresh chili, there are numerous chili spices and chili sauces in the supermarket that you can use to flavor your dishes:

  • Cayenne pepper: Cayenne pepper is one of over 4000 types of chili worldwide. The chili is dried and ground and can then be found on the spice shelf. In comparison to the chili powder, no other ingredients are added to the cayenne pepper.
  • Chili powder: Chili powder is a spice mixture made from cayenne pepper, oregano, cumin, garlic, and sometimes other spices.
  • Chili Flakes: Chili flakes are dried, coarsely chopped chilies. Their degree of sharpness varies depending on the variety of processes.
  • Chili paste: Fresh chilies are boiled down with onions, garlic, spices, and sometimes other ingredients, pureed, and then e.g. B. be used for curries.
  • Chili Sauce: Chili sauces are made with chili, salt, vinegar, and sometimes other ingredients, such as B. our homemade fermented chili sauce or our mojo sauce.
  • Tabasco Sauce: One of the most well-known chili sauces is the American Tabasco sauce. The exact recipe for the original Tabasco sauce from McIlhenny Co. is a secret, the only thing known is that vinegar and salt are used in addition to chili. The pods are fermented in oak barrels for several years.

Compared to these products, fresh chili has the advantage that it also gives hot dishes a fruity aroma that is often lacking in spices and sauces.

Chili – Use in the kitchen

Fresh chili peppers are washed before use, separated from the stalks, and then cut into rings or finely chopped, depending on the recipe.

Prepare chili: It is best to wear gloves

When processing fresh chili peppers, it is best to wear gloves because capsaicin is not water-soluble. Even after washing your hands, there is a risk that you will still have pungent substances on your fingers. Anyone who has considered chili hands once will certainly not do so a second time.

Chili is too hot – How to neutralize chili

Chili peppers differ greatly in their degree of spiciness. To avoid surprises, you can cut off a small piece of the tip before preparing it and taste it raw. This part tastes the least pungent as it is farthest from the white skins.

If the tip already seems very sharp to you, you should definitely cut out the seeds and white skin generously. Always use less chili at first than the recipe says – you can always add more seasoning later. The longer you let the chili cook, the milder its spiciness becomes.

To soften an overly spicy dish, you can neutralize it with a dollop of cream, yogurt, or coconut milk. It is said that this is why so many Mexican dishes are topped with cheese or topped with sour cream.

You can also cook potatoes in soups and stews, as they practically absorb the hot substances. At the end of the cooking time, the potato is removed again.

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