Chilli Peppers

Chilli Peppers. Photograph by OOSP

It was while whittling far too much of the day away on Cracked.com, the wildly successful pop culture website, when I came across an article titled: The 5 Most Pointless Abilities People Love to Brag About.

The first most pointless ability is “people who brag about how much spicy food they can eat”. Now, I’m not one to brag, of course, but I think I do pretty well with the whole chilli thing. However, it felt that this guy was targeting anyone that likes a little kick to their food, so I was a little offended. Obviously nowhere near how offended the Cracked writer would be – especially when he talks to one of these bragging friends of his, who can enjoy the most delicious, fiery of meals, with his beautiful wife (obviously), whilst sitting there in a sharp suit (of course), and with a fast car outside (brand new). All the while, the Cracked writer sits there bitterly devising his latest, most passive aggressive post, while crying into a korma.

Excuse me. What I meant to say was, welcome to the first of hopefully many a column about the wonderful, versatile, taste-fest that is: the chilli pepper.

But, returning briefly to the point I was originally trying to make – a few days ago, I was eating some beef jerky and a friend asked to try some, and just before they popped a piece in their mouth they said: “Wait, is this spicy?”. I said “Well, there’s a little bit of chilli in there”, and they threw it down like they’d been holding an envelope full of fire ants (I’m not sure if that’s a recognised metaphor…)

It was at that point I realised there are three types of people in this world – those that will point blank refuse anything that’s ever even been associated with a chilli, those like the Cracked guy who gets all worked up about the idea that someone might enjoy the complexity of using chillies in food, perhaps occasionally to the extreme. And finally, the middle ground – those that understand how to use chillies, and enjoy the depth of flavour they can give to dishes, especially those that wouldn’t traditionally make use of peppers.

My aim is to try and drag, even just a few, from either of the opposition parties into the middle ground.

The Justification

People like what they like and that’s great, but I also believe in broadening your tastes and trying something different – but is there a call for it? There’s little point if everyone just thinks – who’s this asshole trying to mess with my asshole (crass visual I know, but we’re not messing around here).

It turns out there IS plenty of justification. The Independent reported back in June sales of hot sauces went up by 20% in 2010, and have grown since – and furthermore, production of hot-sauce is the eighth fastest-growing industry in the US. All this I find fascinating – as these celebrators of chilli still seem fairly rare. Until you end up online…

Thanks, The Internet

The chilli community online is huge. From the standard online sellers of sauces like the wonderful Dr Burnarium’s Hot Sauce Emporium, to the online seed sellers from the surprisingly average sounding Nicky’s Nursery, despite selling some of the most exotic seeds, to recipes over at Chilli Pepper Madness, and the catch all blogs like The Chilli King.

Special mention goes to Trailheads for their dedicated pairing of chilli and beef jerky, from the relatively mild smoked chipotle to the outrageous use of Naga pickle.

Something for everyone

Despite my first, divisive comments, I wasn’t trying to put up a wall between the ‘chilli heads’ (uncomfortable term), and the man crying into his korma (he was only trying to water it down some more), there really is something for everyone.

Whether you’re seeking the thrill of the heat, thinking about expanding your palate, or just looking to add a depth of flavour to a classic dish – there’s people up and down the country catering for you.

If you’re interested in chilli eating competitions – one is hosted at the Fiery Foods UK Chilli Festival, though I’m not sure I’d recommend it.

But this isn’t about jumping on a Man vs. Food bandwagon, as exciting as eating molten lava is, there are also chilli farms popping up all over the country that look to make innovative foods and products without any risk of death whatsoever. The likes of the Upton Cheyney Chilli Company and the South Devon Chilli farm have been experimenting with chilli chocolate, and various chutneys that add just that little kick to liven up a cheeseboard.

But there’s also evidence that even the most exotic chillies may no longer be confined to the online thrill-seekers and extreme eaters. Tesco announced 3 weeks ago that it will start selling the Super Naga. While they’ve been selling scotch bonnets as standard for awhile now (though I’d still recommend going to a decent greengrocers for these), they’ve only had limited runs of the hotter packs of chillies.

So, as you can see – the UK and indeed the whole world has opened its arms and accepted the chilli pepper into their home… have you?

Let us know down in the comments if you’re a true hot-head or whether you’re still treading carefully when it comes to the spicy side of life (I promise, no more korma jokes).

Next time – let’s look at the different kinds of chilli, their strengths, and how to use them properly, and deliciously.

Written by Andy Price
Andy Price spends far too much time in the kitchen where he likes to experiment, usually with various exotic chillies, going places others wouldn’t dare. He also writes extensively about music, and can be found loitering on the Cassette Culture website.

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