Badj grew up in California and one of his first vivid memories was a game he used to play with his siblings. The family grew chillies in the garden and the kids used to challenge each other to eat as much raw chilli as possible before running back to the house to down glasses of milk to soothe their pain. Meanwhile, Mu grew up in rural France where spicy food was as scarce as hen’s teeth. By the time she met Badj she had only had a few hot, ‘oh my god my mouth is a volcano’ chilli experiences, and generally chilli was to be avoided at all costs. Over the years Badj has slowly introduced and upped the chilli doses and now even though we will cook a mild dish for our young boys, more often than not chillies find their way into our meals.
Chillies originated in Central and South America, where they have been eaten for at least 8,000 years. They were introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus who mistook them for black pepper and called them peppers (he also thought he had landed in India, hence the natives were called Indians). The Spanish and the Portuguese then took the chilli plant to the rest of the world where it was embraced by local cultures and cuisines. Different varieties of chilli plants were cultivated and now there are over 450 different varieties of chillies of all shapes, sizes, flavours and pungencies, from the bell pepper to the Carolina Reaper. India is currently the largest producer, exporter and also consumer of chillies worldwide.
Chilli is not a taste in the same way that sweet, sour, salty etc is, it comes from the substance capsaicin which is produced by chilli plants. Capsaicin is most concentrated on the seeds and the white pith in the chilli. When we put capsaicin into our mouths it tricks the brain into thinking it has eaten something hot, so the body reacts accordingly by increasing the heart rate, releasing endorphins and sweating. In 1912, Dr Scoville developed a scale to measure the pungency of a chilli which is based on the amount of times the chilli has to be diluted before it no longer has any heat. The bell pepper measures 0 on the Scoville scale all the way up to the Carolina Reaper which has to be diluted up to 2.2 million times before it no longer has any pungency.
Chillies have been used for all sorts of medicinal purposes, from alleviating pain to clearing headaches, psoriasys and stomach ulcers. For modern nutritionists there seems to be a lot of conflicting thoughts and little hard evidence surrounding the health benefits or harms of chillies. It is our personal view however, that if so many cultures worldwide have been eating chillies for so long, they must have something going for them. Chillies are high in vitamin C and vitamin A and have a substantial amount of minerals, particularly when they are red and at their ripest.
One very interesting study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2006 showed that chillies are very good for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The research showed that having chilli with your meal dramatically reduced the amount of insulin required by your body to balance out your blood sugar levels. After eating a chilli rich meal, the insulin levels were between 15 and 24% lower than those with a bland meal.
Chillies are grown and eaten primarily in hot climates for several reasons. Chillies act to cool the body down by making you sweat. Chillies are also often used to mask the taste of food and meats that are just on the turn, which is pretty often if you live in a hot country without refrigeration. Capsaicin is a proven appetite stimulant, so in hot weather when your appetite is suppressed, adding chilli to your diet could be a good way of making sure you eat enough.
Over the last decade the English have really taken a shine to this fiery little condiment. In England chilli farms are popping up everywhere, there are chilli festivals, you can buy chillies from your local shop either fresh or dried. In Brighton, where we live, there is even a designated chilli shop (Chilli Shop). Like all fruit and vegetables it’s important to get the freshest products, locally sourced and organic where possible. Fresh chillies are in season in the UK from mid July till December, we found that this is the best time to enjoy chillies, you can buy them out of season but they are imported and never quite as good. You should look for a good firm texture, they should be nice and shiney and with good rich colours. In recent years, we have been buying fresh chillies from The South Devon Chilli Farm where they are grown without pesticides by a passionate chilli farmer who grows chillies for their flavour as much as their heat. This year we visited the farm and had a tour around the polly tunnels tasting raw chillies grown and bred there from seeds. If you happen to be in the area, we strongly recommend the detour, it’s a chilli heaven!
Out of season, a good way to get your chilli fix is with dried chillies. When dried, chillies can take on completely new flavours, they become much earthier and are great in wintery stews and curries. You can also pick up smoked chillies like chipotle. If you are drying your own it is advisable to use thin skinned chillies and dry them whole until they are very firm then store in an air tight container.
Last year we made a this Trinidad style hot sauce and it won first prize in the Sidewinder chilli festival hot sauce competition so this year we bought 2.5 kg of mixed habanero chillies and made 30 bottles to give to our friends and family. It was such a hit that we had to make another batch a few weeks later and so now we thought we’d share the recipe with you. This is a really tasty and super spicy hot sauce that is much much better than anything you can buy in the shop and is a great way of preserving your chillies so you can have that chilli kick all year round. Watch the video here.
Trinidad Style Hot Pepper Sauce Recipe
This is enough quantity to make 15 x 150ml bottles, you can adjust it according to how much chillies you have and are likely to get through. The key to this recipe is using good quality ingredients, choose organic local vegetables whenever possible and make sure the chillies are really fresh..
- 1.5 kg of mixed habaneros (scotch bonnets)
- 100g coconut oil
- half bulb of garlic
- large chunk of fresh ginger
- 2 white onions
- 4 carrots
- 200g Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 4 tblsp raw honey
- approx 450ml white wine vinegar
- sea salt
Dice onions and carrots and saute in coconut oil in the biggest pan you can find. Cover and leave to sweat on a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile peel and finely dice the ginger and garlic and set aside. Now roughly chop all the chillies including seeds. We really recommend you put on some latex gloves for this, we didn’t do this once and our hands really burned for a couple of days! Add the garlic and ginger to the carrot and onion mixture and cook for another couple of minutes before adding all the chillies. Then add enough white wine vinegar to generously cover the chillies. Add all the remaining ingredients (mustard, sugar, honey and salt). Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. You probably want to open all your windows and turn on the extractor fan at this point. Using a blender, a stick blender or a food processor, blend the whole mixture thoroughly. Now taste it to make sure you have a good balance between the sugar and the vinegar and also taste for seasoning. Once you are happy, return to the heat for a couple of minutes to get the temperature back up. Transfer the mixture into sterilised bottles or jars. Make sure the lids are on tight. This hot sauce will keep on for at least six months. Once opened keep refrigerated. Et voila! You have just made your own kick-ass chilli sauce that will blow all the other shop bought hot sauces out the water!
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