CHILLIES are like mini time-bombs: bite into one and it bursts with heat and flavour. Most chillies have a diverse flavour profile, imparting a complexity to the dishes.

For centuries, people have harnessed the power of chillies in curries and mains, constantly testing their versatility and potential.  Now, chefs and restaurants are tossing them into everything from starters to desserts and even into drinks.

But be warned – cooking with these scorchers can be tricky. The key to using chillies is understanding how they work best. Not all chillies are created equal – some have a fruitiness to them, while others can be bitter and smoky. There are even chillies that are so hot you have to use gloves when handling them, as the heat permeates the pod’s skin.

So before you use an unknown chilli, read up on it and map out a plan on how best to maximise its flavour. For those who want to spice up a dish but wish to turn down the heat, the trick is to remove the seeds and pith.

Think you can take the heat? Bite into one of these hotties to find out.

Bhut Jolokia

Once the hottest chillis in the world, the Bhut Jolokia is also known as the “Ghost Pepper” because of the way the heat sneaks up on the unsuspecting diner. It is so potent that in its native India, the chilli is put into hand grenades made to combat terrorists! Indians also use the pepper to combat heat (from excessive sweating) and as a quick-acting laxative. Spiciness level: 4/5

Carolina Reaper

What do you get when you cross a sweet Habanero with Naga Viper chillies? The world’s hottest chilli! Late last year, the Carolina Reaper was crowned the hottest chilli in the world by the Guinness Book of Records and effectively put an end to the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion’s reign. Aside from its heat, the pepper is described as having a “fruit, sweet taste with a hint of cinnamon and chocolate undertones.” Does anyone dare to confirm this? Spiciness level: 5/5

Trinidad Moruga Scorpion

These red, crinkly, golf-ball sized fruits look pretty unassuming but don’t let that fool you. They are sweet initially, but watch out for the heat that slowly increases to dangerous levels! Spiciness level: 4/5


One of the most popular and versatile peppers in the world, Jalapenos are especially prominent in Mexican cuisine. This thick-fleshed chilli is like a green pepper with a kick, and it has a sweet undertone that makes it perfect for salsas, nachos and pizza toppings. Traditionally eaten green, mature red Jalapenos that are dried and smoked are known as chipotles. Spiciness level: 1/5

Bird’s Eye Chilli

Common in South East Asia, the bird’s eye chilli probably has as many names as it has uses. Related to the Cayenne and Tabasco chillies, these thin-fleshed varietals have a diverse taste ranging from mild to sweet. Aromatic and pungent, the small fingerlings can be tossed into any dish or be eaten raw. Spiciness level: 2.5/5


If you thought Jalapenos were hot, try the Habanero – it’s over 10 times hotter! But don’t be frightened off by that fact; when prepared correctly (deseeded and cored), Habaneros have a wonderful fruity and smoky flavour which makes them great ingredients for flavouring oils, vinegars and hot sauces. Spiciness level: 3/5


Fiery hot with a tangy and acidic flavour, this pepper is often used in salsas, soups… and in pepper sprays! But it’s best used as a potent powder to spice up a dish or sauce. Spiciness level: 2/5

If you’re looking for spicy recipes, click for a link to a deliciously spicy list.

This article was first published in Flavours magazine.

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1 thought on “Do you know your chillies?”

  1. Ramesh Kailanathan - February 28, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Thanks for the guide to chillies. The problem is, where can we buy fresh chillies listed above? Eg, bhut jolokia is only available dried in the big markets. Need fresh ones.

    Thanks and best regards.


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