Chillies: Some like them hot, some don’t!

Gail Thomas explains how to grow and cook with these tender perennials

You’ll find chillies in cuisines the world over from Mexico and Spain to Italy, Japan and the Caribbean where names such as Scotch Bonnet, Habanero, Tobago, Jalapeno, Red Cap Mushroom, Maui Purple and more are savoured for their wide-ranging flavours and heat ratings.
Chillies’ fiery characteristics are measured on the Scoville scale as Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which is related to their capsaicin concentration. However, what some consider a mild ‘chilli hit’ or a ‘blow your head off’ experience can also depend on one’s individual tolerance.
Chillies come in all shapes, sizes and colours and can be sweet and mild or light up the palate with explosive volatility. Underlying the heat there is a broad range of fruit flavours, sometimes grassy or earthy notes. The profile of Habanero is likened to tropical pawpaw and coconut while others reveal sweet, floral or tangy citrus tastes.
As a general guideline, the smaller the chilli, the hotter it will be. These colourful fiery fruits are easy to grow, be it in the garden or a pot, and will produce a prolific eye-catching crop. Some varieties resemble long hot pokers, others are reminiscent of a bauble-decorated Christmas tree.

When to sow and plant
The hotter the chilli, the higher the temperature required for successful germination. Start seeds early indoors – a heat mat is good to get them started as soil temperatures need to be 25-28°C for germination and even up to 35°C for the hottest varieties.
Seed can be planted in the cool zone from September through to November and in the warm zone from August to December. For those in the hot zone it’s best to plant from April to October and in humid subtropical areas from August to April, while in humid tropical regions planting can be year-round.
Chillies can be established in pots, then planted out into the garden after any risk of frost has passed and when the soil temperature reaches 18°C as, once established, plants will tolerate cooler soils. These tender perennials need to be spaced around 50cm apart and situated in a position with full sun. Plants grow to around 50cm in height and require moist well-drained soils rich in organic matter.
Fruit will be ready for harvest from 12-18 weeks from transplant and can be harvested once they reach full size and ripen, as this will encourage the plant to set more flowers and produce more fruit. Varieties can be picked green or when they attain full colour, though Jalapeno, Serrano and Padrón peppers tend to be harvested mainly while green.
Growing a selection of different chilli varieties opens up a broad spectrum of culinary possibilities, not just for the heat factor but also to suit your favourite cuisine. Jalapeno and Serrano are a must when you’re cooking up a Mexican feast, Paprika for drying (Hungarian goulash anyone?), tiny Bird’s Eye for Thai or maybe Scotch Bonnet for Caribbean.
Blowing your brains
For those wanting to explore the extremes, Carolina Reaper, with 2,200,00 shu, is considered the hottest chilli in the world, closely followed by Trinidad Moruga Scorpion with 2,009,231 shu. Others with evocative names such as Naga Viper, Ghost Chilli and Dragon’s Breath are also up in the top heat rankings! By comparison, the maximum for Habanero is 350,000 shu, Cayenne 50,000 shu, Jalapeno 8,000 shu while Santa Fe Grande is only 700 shu.

More

Autumn Vegie Gardening

Bernadette Brady chooses the vegetables to plant when temperatures are falling

Be Your Own Kitchen Gardener

Robyn Fox explains the secrets behind growing heirlooms for Heronswood's restaurant

Can we trust others to grow our food?

Clive Blazey talks about the destruction of our food quality

Community Food Gardening

Bernadette Brady explains how community food gardening overcomes social alienation

Creating an Edible Landscape

Bill Bampton talks about the challenges of combining beauty and functionality in the garden

Extend your life by eating lots of fibre

Clive Blazey explains why processed and fast foods are making us sick

Good Health Begins In the Gut

Heather McKern asks whether we can trust others to grow our food

Grow Your Own Garlic

Garlic expert Penny Woodward explains why it can be so tricky to grow

Grow Your Own Greens

Bernadette Brady shows us the fibre foods to plant in autumn and grow through winter

Grow Your Own Herbs

Bill Bampton's top ten points for herb growing

Growing Your Own in the Edible City

Indira Naido relates her adventures in gardening on her inner city balcony

Heirloom Fruit

Marcus Ryan explains why fruit doesn't taste as good as it used to

Heirloom Silverbeet and Beetroot

Clive Blazey explains how almost all the vegetables we eat today were available before 1900!

IT'S TOMATO TIME!

Jac Semmler tells you why spring is the time to get excited about growing heirloom tomatoes

Making a beautiful garden edible

Bill Bampton explains how to create a food border by combining the ornamental potential of edibles with the edible potential of ornamentals

Plant Based Fibre

Arabella Forge explains why you should eat more fruit and vegetables

Pumpkins Better Than Butternut

Evette Jungwirth ponders on producing the perfect pumpkin

Q&A - Cane Fruit

Cane fruit guru Phil Rowe answers your questions about berries

Q&A - Citrus

Citrus expert Ian Tolley answers your questions about citrus trees and fruit

Q&A - Fruit Trees

Julian Blackhirst answers your questions about summer pruning and general care of fruit trees

Q&A - Tomato Growing

Our experts Julie, Tim and Evette answer your questions about growing tomatoes

Start Your First Food Garden

Bernadette Brady encourages you to start your own vegie garden

The urban herbalist

Bill Bampton's top ten herbs to grow in containers

Unusual edibles

Arno King introduces southern gardeners to some northern vegetable staples that succeed down south

What’s wrong with the food forest concept?

Organic gardener Julian Blackhirst questions the ‘bare foot, lazy gardener’ idea
Back To Top
Member Exclusives
GERANIUM 'ROZANNE' 3 pack
GERANIUM 'ROZANNE' 3 pack
PLANTS: PGERO3
Bright, violet-blue flowers, each with a white central eye, adorn this cranesbill for months on end. Delicate, red veins radiate outward into each petal. Come early spring, beautiful lobed foliage emerges, forming a neat, low mound. Flowers are soon produced and will extend throughout autumn after a light trim in summer. A perfect choice for pla...
Member $25.90
Checking stock, please wait..
SOLANUM WENDLANDII
SOLANUM WENDLANDII
PLANTS: WSOW
This rare climber just loves the heat. Huge frilly heads of lavender flowers cover it for five months and are dramatically framed by glossy leaves. Plant beside a north-facing wall in the south where it's deciduous. Evergreen in the subtropics.
Member $19.95
Checking stock, please wait..
2yr membership + FREE garlic
2yr membership + FREE garlic
Membership: MNE2G
Get a free bag of Early Purple garlic, valued at $10.95. This is a great way to save and start growing your own delicious garlic. Available whilst stocks last.
Member $79.00
Non-Member $79.00
Checking stock, please wait..