People sometimes seem confused about chilis, believing that their only purpose is to add “heat”, but cooks in every country in the world prize chilis for more than just capsaicin. Chili stimulates the nose and palate, to deepen and strengthen the aromas of any food, which in turn enhances the flavor while eating. Chili is also a vital source of nutrients, for what that’s worth, and tends to add a rich or bright color to foods.
The trick is simply in the amount used – even a pinch of chili can be used simply to add a depth and complexity to the aroma of other ingredients. Of course you can go for “five-alarm” levels of heat by using entire teaspoons or tablespoons of chili, but this is usually going to be at the expense of other flavors – many strong chilis are most effective in small amounts, as to complement food, rather than overpower it. The heat/power of the chilis are shown by their heat rating (SHU, or Scoville heat units). I’ve personally taste-tested all of these, and assure you, they are not just heat, but they are each uniquely flavorful and delicious. Yes, anything above 100,000 is pretty intense.
Many of my chilis are available both whole and ground.
160,000 SHU ◆◆◆◆◆◇◇◇◇◇
Formerly known as the Mombasa pepper, or piri piri, the African birdseye is used throughout African cuisine for its uniquely sharp, earthy, penetrating heat, and bright color and heady aroma. Hotter than its Indian or Thai relatives, the African birdseye adds bright color and pungent, pepper-like aroma to food, while its sweet-sharp heat is an excellent complement to dark meats, root vegetables, beans and starches. Very versatile, can be used to replace cayenne in any recipe for a more intense heat level while enhancing appearance and aroma.
2,000 SHU ◆◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇
Aleppo pepper is named for the city of Aleppo, Syria, where it was cultivated for centuries and became the quintessential spice in Syrian and Turkish cuisines. Aleppo pepper has a distinct hint of warm sweetness, resembling sun-dried tomatoes, with a very mild amount of heat – it complements grains, dark rich meats, and vegetables very well, and provides very well-rounded unique flavor to just about any dish.
1,250 SHU ◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇
The Anaheim is the definitive chili in southwestern American cooking, and also figures in Tex-Mex and modern fusion cuisine. This is one of my favorite ingredients, basically an “American paprika” in its ability to lend color, texture, and mild flavor enhancement to complex stews or sauces. It has a very mild warmth and the characteristic tang and hint of sweetness of a red bell pepper, and acts as a thickener and adds depth of color to soups and sauces. Extremely versatile, balances well with savory, hot, or sweet flavors, and is excellent in blends involving earthy, aromatic, or sharp spices such as cumin, oregano, thyme, mushrooms, or another chili. Use as a substitute for paprika in any recipe for a mildly sweet, smooth variation to your cooking.
5,000 SHU ◆◆◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇
The ancho is a dried poblano chili, which is used throughout Latin American cuisines for its blend of smoky, mild heat, and tangy fruit brightness. The ancho is particularly popular in Mexican cooking, and is a central ingredient in classic mole sauce. It blends very well with earthy or sweet flavors, such as chocolate, allspice, or cinnamon, and can be used in a wide variety of full-flavored complex sauces and marinades. A classic ingredient with meat or vegetables, it also blends very well with cheese and eggs. Its mild heat and full flavor make it one of the world’s most popular chilis.
35,000 SHU ◆◆◆◆◇◇◇◇◇◇
When people think of “hot chili”, the cayenne is the world’s standard. Most recipes will call for cayenne when they want heat, but any chili can be used in its place to raise or lower the heat level of a dish. Cayenne is not a single type of chili, but rather chilis that are selected for cayenne’s distinctive bright orange color, earthy sharp heat, and bracing aroma. Well-balanced to complement most ingredients, just a touch of cayenne will unlock aromas and highlight the balances of sweet and savory flavors in nearly any dish. It is particularly excellent on fish and shellfish, grains and vegetables, and of course meat and poultry. Cayenne is the definitive spice in most American and Asian cuisines, particularly spicy Indian dishes, Cajun cooking, and Tex-Mex recipes.
12,000 SHU ◆◆◆◇◇◇◇◇◇◇
The chipotle is a jalapeño that has been smoke-dried for a uniquely smoky, earthy heat with a tinge of tangy brightness. The chipotle is ubiquitously used in Mexican cuisine and has from there spread to Tex-Mex, Southwestern, and other styles – the chipotle is prized for its robust and complex flavors, healthy but not overpowering heat, and ability to complement meat, beans, and grains extremely well. A very versatile chili that pairs beautifully with sweet-sharp spices such as cumin or oregano and adds a depth of flavor and aroma to a wide variety of dishes.
450,000 SHU ◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◇
The Ghost chili, a variety of bhut jolokia, has an intense, robust, earthy heat that feels decidedly smoky. The heat is immediate and fills the entire palate with its full bold flavor, and the heat will feel like it “rises” into the head, opening the breathing and enhancing the aroma of your food. This is a very different heat than the Scorpion, without much sweetness or tang. The Ghost lends itself to intense spicy foods such as chili, curry, and stews, and is an excellent complement to robust strong-flavored foods and dishes. Invigorating and enlivening and a lot of fun.
250,000 SHU ◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◇◇◇
The habanero chili is a close relative of the Scotch Bonnet and both have a healthy balance of lively heat and fruity, tangy flavors. The habanero figures more heavily in the cuisines of Latin America and Tex-Mex, where its lighter heat and smoky, earthy undertones give it more flexibility in a wide variety of meat bean or vegetable dishes, sauces, salsa, and marinades. Has an excellent well-rounded flavor, penetrating pleasant smoky heat, and dark earthy flavors around the quintessential light tang of a good chili. Very versatile and flavorful.
8,000 SHU ◆◆◆◇◇◇◇◇◇◇
The jalapeño is an unripe green chili that is picked and dried to preserve its flavor and color – unlike other chilis, the jalapeño has a characteristic tangy, “green” flavor, somewhat less sweet than others, with a bracing pungent heat that enhances flavors and aromas of other spices and ingredients. The jalapeño is used heavily throughout Mexican and American cuisines for its bright flavor, pleasant moderate heat, and its ability to complement vegetables, seafood, and meat equally well. Substitute for cayenne in a recipe for a distinctly tangy, lively variation in flavor.
500,000+ SHU ◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◆
The Scorpion chili is basically the hottest edible chili in the world – there are some hotter, but they are primarily used for making sauces, and weapons. The Scorpion, with its powerful heat, may seem intimidating, but it actually has one of the finest flavors of any chili I’ve ever tried. The initial flavor, for 4-5 seconds, is sweet-tangy, with the distinctive mild tartness of a red bell pepper… and then the heat kicks in. The heat is focused on the center of the tongue, while the rest of the palate remains open and can enjoy the other sweet or earthy flavors of any dish. The heat is certainly intense, and sharp, but still very pleasant and flavorful. One of the world’s finest chilis and very difficult to find, I am very proud to offer it at Melange for the daring among you.
325,000 SHU ◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◆◇◇
The definitive chili of Caribbean cooking, and the central ingredient to Haitian and Jamaican jerk, the Scotch Bonnet is not only one of the cutest chilis in the world (it’s named for looking like a funny little red hat), but has a beautiful balance of lively heat and warm fruit sweetness and tangy flavor. The Scotch Bonnet is a very versatile chili, blending well with earthy, robust, or sweet flavors equally well – the flavor is intense but very lively and pleasant, and it enhances the flavors of dark meats, root vegetables, and beans. Can be used in a wide variety of dishes with a light touch for a kick of tangy strong heat.
7.500 SHU ◆◆◆◇◇◇◇◇◇◇
Urfa biber, sometimes called isot pepper, is the definitive chili of Turkish cuisine – noted for its dark purple color, it is prized for its smoky-sweet flavors reminiscent of raisin, and slow-building but moderate heat. A very difficult ingredient to find but utterly unique and irreplaceable, Melange is very proud to be Philadelphia’s premier source of this wonderful exotic chili.