SPICE UP YOUR LIFE, ITS EASY!
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 window cill, 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.
A NOTE ON THE SPELLING
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.
DID YOU KNOW?
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.
As a result of all these tests, various varieties of Chilli Peppers can be ranked according to their heat or “pungency” level:
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. Heat scales are purely subjective. Even with a specific test as above, the hotness of a Chilli can vary in 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 heat in hot Chillies comes from Capsaicin and a closely related compound, dihydrocapsaicin. It occurs in much lower quantities in oregano, cinnamon, and cilantro (Coriander).
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHILLI
Winter foods to turn up the heat
As the weather gets colder more and more of us will come down with a cold or flu.
But did you know that food such as chillies can protect us from common winter conditions? So spice up your life and beat the cold with hot ingredients like chillies. Two hundred scientific tests on chillies are currently underway, looking at the effects of eating it and looking at the active ingredient of capsaicin separately as a treatment, often in the form of a cream. Chillies are a remarkable food that has significant medical uses. The main one is as a painkiller when used as a cream, and they have been proved to help with illnesses such as arthritis, shingles and skin complaints.
Chillies have been used for centuries in remedies designed to help conquer the common cold. Dr. Irwin Ziment, a pulmonary specialist at the University of California Los Angeles, explained about the similarities of spicy remedies to modern cold medicines. According to Ziment, “they trigger a sudden release of a wave of watery fluids in the mouth, throat and lungs.
It is not known exactly when chillies were introduced into New Mexico. Chillies may have been used by the indigenous peoples as a medicine, a practice common among the Mayans. By the time the Spanish arrived in Mexico, Aztec plant breeders had already developed dozens of varieties. According to historian Bernardino de Sahagùn, who lived in Mexico in 1529, “hot green chillies, smoked chillies, water chillies, tree chillies, beetle chillies, and sharp-pointed red chillies” existed.
WHAT ARE CHILLIES? A FRUIT? VEGETABLE? SPICE?
Chilli fruits are considered vegetables when green, a spice when red and dried, but are berries botanically. Fruit characteristics (i.e., pungency, colour, shape, flavour, size, and use) usually classify chilli types. Despite vast trait differences, nearly all chilli varieties commercially cultivated in New Mexico belong to one species, C. annuum. Other species are the tabasco (C. frutescens) and habañero (C. chinense). Several hundred chilli varieties of C. annuum are grown in New Mexico. These include bell, New Mexican, Jalapeño, Cayenne, Yellow Wax, Ancho, Pasilla, Mirasol, and De Arbol, but most of New Mexico’s commercial acreage is limited to a few varieties.
DID YOU KNOW?
New Mexican green and red chilli represent two developmental stages of the same fruit. First, the plant produces green fruits, which turn red if the pods are left on the plant. The red fruits are usually dried and ground into chilli powder (paprika if non-pungent). New Mexican green chilli is roasted and peeled for fresh consumption, canning or freezing. The flavour of green Chilli is completely different from red chilli because the pods are picked at a different age. Green chilli cannot be transported long distances for fresh consumption because its quality will be reduced during shipping. Red chilli and paprika are dehydrated and sold as whole pods or ground into powder.
Paprika is currently used as colouring in sausages, cheeses, fruit gelatines, drugs, and cosmetics, as well as for improving the feather colour of flamingos in zoos! Good-quality paprika has high red colour, which is most important, and no pungency. Because paprika is defined as a product, not a pod-type in the U.S., it may be obtained from any one of many types of C. annuum. The word “paprika” means “Chilli” in Hungarian.
A FEW CHILLI GROWING TIPS
Harvest when fruits are large, glossy, and mature when the colour changes from green and flavour is sweet and full. Ripe coloured Chillis are also the most nutritious and best for roasting and eating out of hand. When harvesting, always cut, rather than pull, peppers from the plant. Pick the ripe Chillis promptly, to encourage more to ripen.
All seed trays and pots should be cleaned before use especially if you are using old equipment or equipment from friends.
◊ Don’t water until the top of the soil is dry to avoid the dreaded fungus known as Damping Off.◊ To help prevent fungus or Damping Off you can use a copper fungicide on your seedlings, follow the simple instructions on the packet.
GROWING TIPS – HEAT, LIGHT AND MOISTURE
◊ Always water with a watering can fitted with a fine rose or a low cost misting bottle, this helps to prevent the seeds from being washed away.
◊ Some Chillis are slower to germinate than others, so don’t give up. Once the seedlings are up, remove the plastic cover, but do not let the soil dry out.
◊ If the seedlings are allowed to wilt, they may not die, but their growth will be set back. Some of these seeds take a long time to germinate, but they should do so using these instructions.
◊ Some sources recommend soaking the seeds in a solution of 10% bleach diluted in water. We have never used this method although we have tried soaking them in warm water over night but found we do just as well planting straight into the compost.