Grow it yourself: chilli pepper
Did you know that Europeans only came into contact with the chilli pepper after Columbus discovered America? Since then, over 3,000 registered species have been developed. Of these, five are widely cultivated: Capsicum annum,Capsicum chinense, Capsicum baccatum, Capsicum frutescens and Capsicumpubescens. All have their own special characteristics.
Capsicum annum: Annuum means annual, but strictly speaking this is incorrect since under the right conditions, these chilli plants can be kept for years. This variety of chilli is the easiest to grow. Most common chillies belong to this variety:
Bell Pepper (paprika),
jalapeño, cayenne pepper, Serrano and all 'waxed' peppers. The flowers are
Baccatum means 'berry-like'. In South America, this variety is known as Aji. They
have quite a fruity flavour. These plants can grow very large, and a height of 150
cm can easily be reached. It may not be the most appropriate plant for indoor
growing, but it is easy to grow, so very suitable for beginners. The flowers of this
variety have spots on their petals.
Chinense means 'from China' but this is not actually true because the peppers
originated in the Amazon region in South America and the Caribbean. The chillies
that belong to this variety are of the hottest of them all: the habanero, Red Savina,
Madame Jeanette and Scotch Bonnet. The C. chinense needs a humid
environment, because they are a tropical variety. They grow rather slowly, need a
relatively long summer and can take a long time to germinate. The leaves are
rather wrinkled and multiple fruits develop at every node. Their aroma is also
slightly fruity, similar to apricots.
Frutescens means 'bushy' or 'shrubby', which describes this variety quite accurately.
The flowers of this plant are greenish. They are quite compact with many branches
and grow from 30 cm to 120 cm tall, depending on the weather conditions.
The most famous chilli belonging to this group are Tabasco and Bird's Eye chillies.
Pubescens means 'hairy', and this also describes the plant quite accurately. The
flowers of this plant are purple and the seeds black. Since they originated in the
mountains, they can withstand colder conditions quite well. The peppers
belonging to this variety are the Rocotos, which resemble sweet peppers – that’s
something to remember to avoid 'spicy' mistakes. This variety needs a long time to
grow and flower plus a great deal of light every day. Above all, the temperature
margin for growing is limited, so, all in all, this is not really an easy crop to grow.
Chillies come in a whole range of sizes, from just a few centimetres long, to up to
15 cm. They also come in many different colours: yellow, orange, red, green,
purple and brown.
Not all varieties of chillies are easy to grow. If you’re looking for quick results,
growing chillies is probably not for you.
Obviously, to grow plants, you need seeds. You can separate the good seeds from
the bad by plunging them into water. All the seeds that float can be discarded as
they will probably not germinate. Peppers need a high temperature (above 25°C),
mild nights and a lot of light. They also like to be rooted in an airy soil and need to
be fed on a regular basis. If you don’t want the different varieties to pollinate each
other, you can cover the flower bud with an empty tea bag before it opens.
Tapping it daily will help the flower to fall off. Once the flower turns into a fruit, you
can remove the tea bag.
Harvesting chilli peppers can be done in the same way as with sweet peppers: the
unripe green ones can already be used for cooking. The red ones are ripe and will
give you that fiery flavour. You can use chillies fresh or dried. When you dry them,
put them in a warm and dry place, such as in a saucer on the windowsill. As soon
as they are brittle, they are dried properly. After drying, they can be kept for as
long as a year. Another way to conserve chillies is to freeze them.
When preparing chillies, you need to take some precautions to avoid irritating your
hands or eyes.
When preparing chillies for your meal, it is better to remove the seeds. Watch out
for your hands when doing this, because it is easy to burn them! Avoid any contact
with your eyes too, as this can be very painful.
You can eat the chillies either raw or cooked, depending on your preference.
Make a salad, a sauce or a soup and enjoy.
Chillies are also good for your health. They can cure a cough, relieve toothache
and help with indigestion. They are also ideal for getting rid of a hangover! Eating
chilli sauce with garlic can act as a painkiller.
• Consuming too many chillies can cause injuries to your stomach or intestines;
• The seeds of the peppers can be poisonous;
• When you use peppers as a compress, do not leave it on your skin for too
long, otherwise you will get blisters;
• Do not allow children to put chillies in their mouth.
Hot or not?
As you may well know, the ‘heat’ in chilli peppers can actually be measured using
special units called Scoville Heat Units (SHU). These measure the capsaicin in the
peppers. It is the capsaicin that is responsible for the fiery sensation in your mouth
and/or stomach. It is measured as 1 part capsaicin per 1,000,000 drops of water
(about 1 gram per 700 litres of water). This is rated as 1.5 SHU.
Chillies can be rated as follows:
• From 0 SHU (like paprika) to 2,500 SHU (Tabasco sauce)
• From 2,500 SHU to 5,000 SHU (Jalapeño)
• From 5,000 SHU to 50,000 SHU (cayenne, tabasco, aji)
• From 50,000 SHU to 100,000 SHU (Rocoto)
• From 100,000 SHU to 500,000 SHU (Scotch Bonnet, Habanero, Red Savina)
• From 500,000 SHU to 1,000,000 SHU (Naga Jolokia, Naga Morich)
• USA Police pepper spray: 5,000,000 SHU
• Pure Capsaicin 16,000,000
Did you know…?
• Chillies are full of vitamins. One fresh medium-sized green chilli contains as
much vitamin C as 6 oranges.
• One teaspoon of dried red chilli powder contains your daily requirement of
• Hot chilli peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic burn in the
body, which speeds up your metabolism.
• Chillies are not really ‘hot’. Eating a chilli triggers the pain receptors located
in your mouth, nose and stomach. These tell your brain that you've eaten
something ‘hot’, so that it will flush your body with water. You break into a
sweat, your nose starts to run and your eyes cry.
• Chilli festivals are held all over the world. These festivals usually include chilli
• Chilli lovers are also known as Chiliheads.
• In Samoa, the pepper is one of the ingredients of Kava, a love potion for virility
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The NPK Team