Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fire in the belly...

As far as I'm concerned there is no savory dish that cannot be improved by the addition of two ingredients, one is the tang of a squeeze of lemon juice and the second is the bite of a finely sliced chilli. So that brings us to today's post, chillis.

Chilli was one of Columbus' gift to the world from the Americas, although there are suggestions of a pre-South American history of chilli in Europe. It is a member of the Solanaceae family with tomato, eggplant, capsicum, potato, etc.

The heat in the chilli is provided by 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide or capsaicin, and I reckon I can taste every one of them 6 nonenamides. Heat, or quantity of capsaicin, is measured in scoville units which I think tells you the number of sips of icy water you need after a hot one (not the best solution, try dairy). Most people erroneously believe the Habanero to be the hottest, and although it is about 100 times hotter than a Jalapeno, the Bhut Jolokia or "Ghost Chilli" is about three to five times hotter then the hottest Habanero.

Chilli seeds (left) are about 2-3mm across and need to be propagated in warm (18-21C) soil. The usual rule of thumb of planting a seed applies - bury the seed 1.5 times its width, deep in a good seed-raising mix. Once up and running, chillis need very little special attention. Apart from some water and the occasional feed, the most important variable for success is temperature; they are a very warm-season crop.

Chillis make beautiful container plants, with the added functionality of being able to move them under cover if the nights turn cold. As the plants mature and you see the first suggestion of flower buds, you may want to give them a little extra potassium. An easy way to do this is to add some rotten banana skins to the soil or potting mix before transplantation.

Setbacks may include aphid attack (left), red spider mite attack, whitefly and/or verticilium wilt - but these are nothing pyrethrum, soap/oil spray, crop rotation or companion planting won't manage.

Seed saving is easy, let the fruit ripen, open it up and voila! **BEWARE though that if you plant hot and mild together the gene for heat is dominant so the progeny of your mild chillis may yield a sharp surprise!**

Depending on your taste, one to two plants is often said to yield enough for a family. As far as I'm concerned they can stuff that advice in their Scotch Bonnet, I go for six to eight plants for Sarah and I with a mix of Thai and Jalapeno (right).


  1. i just found your blog and can't wait to have the time to go through all your archives. yes, chilli is sensational. i make chilli jam, and look forward to being able to grow enough to support that habit!
    best wishes,

  2. they look great. Don't eat them all at once.