Chilli comes in all shapes and sizes. Photo - Linda Ross
Spice up your life with the aroma and piquancy of chilli. Measured on a rating from one to over two million, there is a chilli to suit all taste buds from the chilli-phobic to the chilli-freak.
Chilli peppers are native to South and Central America. They were introduced to South Asia in the 1500s and have come to dominate the world spice trade. Few could have imagined the impact of Columbus' discovery of a spice so pungent that it rivalled the better known black pepper native to South Asia. Red chilli is high in Vitamin C, provitamin A, potassium, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins.
As well as playing an essential role in South Asian food chillies have entered superstitions and rites, particularly in the south of India. The potency of chillies are firmly believed to have a supernatural element. It is customary to hang a few chillies with a lemon over the threshold of a residence to deter evil. Chillies are also used to ward off the evil eye. A handful of chillies together with other condiments such as curry leaves and a little ash from the hearth is waved over a person's head to create a shield against curses and bad spells. India is now the largest producer of chillies in the world. Chillies are the cheapest vegetables available in India and so are eaten across all groups of people. The daily meal of many Indian labourers commonly consists of a few chillies with Indian unleavened bread, called rotis, or rice.
Fiery hot chilli are pot friendly. Photo - Linda Ross
Espalier, potted or garden grown, growing chilli is as versatile as they are. They usually give heat to a meal but also impart a unique flavour. No matter whether you love the intense heat of chilli in your meal or just a touch, they will change your tastebuds forever, and in some, create an obsession. Not all chilli are red, they also come in yellow, green, purple, and orange.
The fruit is eaten raw or cooked for its fiery hot flavour which is concentrated along the top of the pod. The stem end of the pod has glands which produce the capsaicin, which then flows down through the pod. The white pith that surrounds the seeds contains the highest concentrations of capsaicin. Removing the seeds and inner membranes is thus effective at reducing the heat of a pod.
If you can grow tomatoes and capsicum, you can grow chilli. All you need is a frost-free site, regular watering, and a sunny position.
Dig over soil to 30cm and enrich the soil by adding manure and a complete fertiliser. Let it rest for a few weeks and plant away.
Birds eye chilli. Photo - Palo_ok/Shutterstock.com
Seedlings can be grown indoors to get a start on the season. Seeds germinate in 3 weeks or you can buy seedlings from your local nursery. Most likely they will develop into 1m high bushes throughout the growing season. Winter cold will knock them around, in warm climates you may be able to prune you bush down to 15cm and protect with straw to get it through the cold, they will re-sprout as soon as the weather warms.
You’ll need chilli seeds, zip lock bag and kitchen paper.
1. Collect your chilli seed and store until next winter.
2. Cut paper towel to fit into zip lock bag easily.
3. Wet paper towel so its damp.
4. Spread seeds so they have some room to absorb water.
5. Zip bag half closed to trap heat but allow oxygen in.
6. Place at a windowsill where there is plenty of sun.
7. Re-wet paper towel as needed to ensure it remains very damp.
8. Once the seeds germinate into little shoots, relocate them to little pots that can be placed at the windowsill.
9. When seedlings reach 10cm plant them into the garden or outside pots.
Harvesting and storing
Chilli flower from spring to summer and the chilli fruit hang on throughout autumn and sometimes into winter in warm climates. Harvesting encourages more fruit. Harvest when you need them, or harvest the glut of the crop later in the season for making sweet chilli jam.
Chilli fruit can be preserved by air-drying, oven drying, ristras or freezing. Ristras are the strands of dried peppers that hang in the kitchen. To make a simple ristra use a needle to thread the stem of each chilli pepper so that the chillies form a spiral, then hang from the ceiling. Chillies drying in ristras or on racks may take several weeks to dry completely. While using a dehydrator or oven is definitely faster, the chillies don't retain the bright colour seen in chilli peppers that are air-dried.
Pests and disease
Chillies are subject to fruit fly. In prone areas we recommend organic fruit fly controls such as the combined use of Eco-Lure Fruit Fly Trap & Eco-Naturalure. Nature's Way Fruit Fly Control is also effective.
Tips and tricks
- Grow 3 varieties in one 30cm wide pot.
- Start with growing mild chillies such as sweet peppers and paprika, Jalapeno is medium, Birdseye and - Thai red are hot, while Habanero are super hot - nearly untouchable!
- For maximum sweetness leave your chilli fruit on the bush to ripen for 3 months.
- Pinch out growing tip when young to bush out the plant.
- The hottest part of the chilli fruit is the seeds and the pith; remove these for a sweeter flavour.