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All about chillies!


Chilli plants are ideal for the home or greenhouse.  Many are compact and decorative and all are easy to grow.  With only a little tender loving care you can grow your own hot Chilli peppers. 

If you can only spare part of a sunny windowsill,  you can grow an attractive and useful plant.  The more prolific ones can produce 50—100 Chillis on one relatively small plant to be used fresh, frozen or dried.


Nowadays, the spelling version of "chili"   identifies the dish that is a combination of meat and pungent Chilli peppers. In some recipes, beans will also be added.

Chilli terminology is confusing; pepper, Chili, Chilli, Chile, Aji, Paprika and Capsicum are used interchangeably for "Chilli Pepper" plants in the genus Capsicum. The word Capsicum comes from the Greek kapto, meaning "to bite" (a reference to pungency or heat). In Mexico a Capsicum is called a Chile Pepper. To confuse matters even more, a sweet bell pepper is often called a capsicum pepper whereas a hot pepper is often called a chilli pepper! chilli is the favoured spelling in the UK so we use that.

The genus Capsicum is a member of the Solanaceae family that includes tomato, potato, tobacco, and petunia. Chilli grows as a perennial shrub in suitable climatic conditions. A plant may live for a decade or more in tropical Central America, but it is cultivated as an annual in New Mexico. All wild chillies have small fruits that birds, the natural dispersal agent for chilli, eat with ease.


The Aztecs utilised Chilli as a remedy for a cough, in a thick atole with yellow chilli and honey; if the cough persisted, they drank an infusion of salt and chilli. The Tarahumara Indians still use it to remedy bronchitis and throat irritations. An essentially synthetic version of Capsaicin, Guafenesein, is used in many modern cough syrups.

We make our own home made cough and cold remedy by infusing dried Chillies in honey, it is very comforting, tasty and effective.

Feel The Heat
The Capsicum Frutescens family of plants spans many varieties including African chillis, Tabasco chillis, Mexican chili chillis, Jalapenos, Bell chillis, Pimentoes, Paprikas, and Bird chillis. All plants in the Capsicum family contain the active chemical (capsaicin), the ingredient that puts the "Hot" in hot chillis. While some Capsicum fruits, such as paprika produce mild heat, others such as Habaneros are extremely hot.

Scoville Heat Units

It was in 1912 whilst working for the Parke Davis pharmaceutical company that one of their chemists, Wilbur Scoville, developed a method to measure the heat level of a chilli pepper.  This test is named after him, it's called the Scoville Organoleptic Test, a dilution-taste procedure. In the original test, Scoville blended pure ground chillies with a sugar-water solution and a panel of testers then sipped the concoctions, in increasingly diluted concentrations, until they reached the point at which the liquid no longer burned the mouth.  A number was then assigned to each chilli based on how much it needed to be diluted before you could taste no heat.  The pungency of chilli peppers is measured in multiples of 100 units, from the bell pepper at zero Scoville units to the incendiary Habanero at 300,000 Scoville units! One part of chilli "heat" per 1,000,000 drops of water rates as only 1.5 Scoville Units.

The substance that makes a chilli so hot (and therefore so enjoyable to Chilli-Heads !), is Capsaicin.  Pure Capsaicin rates over 15,000,000 Scoville Units!  The validity and accuracy of the Scoville Organoleptic test have been widely criticised.  The American Spice Trade Association and the International Organisation for Standardisation have adopted a modified version.  The American Society for Testing and Materials is considering other organoleptic tests (the Gillett method) and a number of other chemical tests to assay for capsaicinoids involved in pungency. Even so, the values obtained by these various tests are often related back to Scoville Units.

As a result of all these tests, various varieties of chilli peppers can be ranked according to their heat or "pungency" level. (See table).

The following is a list of chillies, put into a scale to show the relative pungency levels and their Scoville Heat Units.

Name Pod Type Species Scoville Units
Pure Capsicum - - 16,000,000
Bhut Jolokia Habanero C. Chinense 1,001,304
Naga Morich Habanero C. Chinense 800,000 - 900,000
Red Savina Habanero Habanero C. Chinense 580,000
Orange Habanero Habanero C. Chinense 300,000
Red Habanero Habanero C. Chinense 150,000
Tabasco Tabasco C. Frutescens 120,000
Tepin Tepin C. Annuum 75,000
Chiltepin Tepin C. Annuum 70,000
Thai Hot Asian C. Annuum 60,000
Jalapeno M Jalapeno C. Annuum 25,000
Long Slim Cayenne Cayenne C. Annuum 23,000
Mitla Jalapeno C. Annuum 22,000
Santa Fe Grande Hungarian C. Annuum 21,000
Aji Escabeche Aji C. Baccatum 17,000
Long Thick Cayenne Cayenne C. Annuum 8,500
Cayenne Cayenne C. Annuum 8,000
Pasillia Pasillia C. Annuum 5,500
Primavera Jalapeno C. Annuum 5,000
Sandia New Mexican C. Annuum 5,000
NuMex Joe E Parker New Mexican C. Annuum 4,500
Serrano Serrano C. Annuum 4,000
Mulato Ancho C. Annuum 1,000
Bell Bell C. Annuum 0

If during experimentation with hot sauces or recipes using Chilli Oil you find you have misjudged the heat, water and beer will be of little help. Tequila has a high enough ethanol content to help a little more, but by far the greatest relief comes from fatty foods and dairy products. It is no co-incidence so many curries include cream or butter, and that Mexican food is often served with soured cream or guacamole.

Capsaicin, also known as N-Vanillyl-8-methyl-6-(E)-noneamide, is the most pungent of the group of compounds called Capsaicinoids that can be isolated from chilli peppers. It is sparingly soluble in water, but very soluble in fats, oils and alcohol. Here, causing some of the "pain", is the chemical composition of two of the most common of the Capsaicinoids. Heat scales are purely subjective. Even with a specific test as above, the hotness of a chilli can vary even in the same variety from plant to plant and even on the same plant. Chilli peppers are a lot of fun. But please take them seriously and handle them with care. Most (though not all) of the hot in hot chillis comes from Capsaicin and a closely related compound, dihydrocapsaicin. It occurs in much lower quantities in oregano, cinnamon, and cilantro (corriander).

What makes Chillies Hot?
Capsaicinoids are the name given to the class of compounds found present in members of the capsicum family of plants. The most common of these compounds is Capsaicin, which is found in the white ‘ribs’ inside hot chillies. Capsaicin probably evolved in plants as a protective mechanism, to discourage certain pests. Different species of chilli contain different amounts of capsaicin, conferring different degrees of "hotness". In 1912 Wilbur Scoville proposed a scale of measurement based on the apparent hotness of extracts placed on the tongue after dilution. Thus, bell chillies have a rating of less than 1 Scoville unit, jalapeno chillies 103 units, Habanero chillies 105 units, and pure capsaicin 107 units.

A scale developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912, to measure the heat level in chillies. It was first a subjective taste test, but since, it has been refined by the use of HPLC, the unit is named in honour of its inventor.

The test officially measures the pungency level of a given chilli. There are other methods, but the Scoville Scale remains the most widely used and respected. The greater the number of Scoville units, the hotter the chilli. Of course, being a natural product, the heat can vary from chilli to chilli, so this scale is just a guide.

The greater the number of Scoville units, the hotter the chilli product!

Use our Chilli Oil With Care, it is not a condiment it is not to be used on its own!
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Prices Include VAT Where Applicable.

Compact, decorative and easy to grow. With only a little tender loving care you can grow your own hot chilli peppers from our seeds.
All Seeds are 1.75 per packet, unless stated otherwise, each packet contains an average of 15 seeds, unless stated otherwise.  A free Packet of Seeds with all chilli seed Orders Over 5 Except Seed Collections.

DEFRA Registered Seed Packer No 7292

You can also place your order over the telephone or fax with a credit card.
Tel: 0044 (0) 15395 58110
Fax : 0044 (0) 15395 59100
Email : orders@chileseeds.co.uk

VAT Registration Number 907 8844 85

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