The flavour of chillies

Many of us like apples but, the variety we buy varies by the person. Some people like to buy Granny Smith apples due to their crunch, acidity and low sugars. Others may prefer Pink Lady apples for their softer texture, sweet flavour and light perfume. However, if you were blind fold and took a bite out of either all whilst not knowing which varieties you were being presented with, you would still be able to identify that you have bitten in to an apple due to the underlying flavour that makes an apple an apple! Chillies aren’t much different.

Of course, the heat of a chilli can vary by variety and family but, even if you were immune to heat or the heat was somehow removed, you would still likely be able to identify that you have a chilli in your mouth if the same blindfold experiment was repeated. However, the flavour notes would be clearly different if you were presented with a few different varieties.

In the UK, we are still a little back to front with our approach to chilli. Yes, it’s a generalised statement and doesn’t apply to all but, from our experience, we tend to find that us Brits think about heat first & flavour second (if at all). Look at almost any other culture in the world where chillies have been a used for hundreds of generations and you’ll discover that chillies are used for their flavour first and heat second. The UK’s love of spice is still fledgling in comparison to many cultures so maybe we can be forgiven for still looking at the fiery fruit as something that will primarily impart heat. We are noticing a gradual turn in the tide but we’re not there yet. With this in mind, we’ve decided to list a few of our favourite chillies along with their respective flavour notes and without discussoing their heat too much…


Source: French Guiana - South America.

Flavour notes: Sweet, red fruits & berries.

Food suggestions: Tomato and Mediterranean dishes. Condiments, marinades and pickles.

Additional: Rich in vitamin A. They also contain vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium and manganese.


Source: South America.

Flavour notes: Tropical fruit with a light citrus edge, sharp heat.

Food suggestions: Fresh salads, ceviche and salsas.

Additional: There are over 70 varieties of the Aji chilli and their individual flavours can vary. We have listed the general flavour notes for this family.


Source: Central America

Flavour notes: Citrus with stone fruit, slight tropical edge.

Food suggestions: Chutneys, marinades, condiments or use like a bay leaf by adding whole to a pot and removing before serving.

Additional: Habanero translates as “from Havana”.


Source: Mexico

Flavour notes: Green can be earthy and grass-like whereas red (ripe) can have a sweeter earthiness.

Food suggestions: Great roasted, stuffed with cheese & baked, pickled, smoked or raw in salads.

Additional: The first chilli ever to be taken in to space in 1982!


Source: Mexico.

Flavour notes: Earthy, iron, light smoke, bitter.

Food suggestions: Best roasted or cooked to reduce bitterness. Can be stuffed with rice.

Additional: When ripe (red) and dried, this chilli changes name to Ancho.


Source: Belize and the Caribbean

Flavour notes: Light smoke, stone fruit and perfume.

Food suggestions: Jerk sauce & seasoning, stews and sauces.

Additional: In Puerto Rico the peppers are made into an escabeche or vinegar based marinade and sauce for making the popular dish, escoveitch fish.


Source: India

Flavour notes: Rich red fruits.

Food suggestions: Curries, sauces or as a seasoning in stews (removed whole after cooking).

Additional: The word ‘Bhut’ gets translated to ‘Ghost’ however, the more accurate meaning is “an especially malevolent spirit”.


Source: Trinidad and Tobago.

Flavour notes: Sweet, tender fruits.

Food suggestions: Light curry dishes, marinades, condiments and jams.

Additional: Based on a 1980 study that calculated the lethal dosage of capsaicin, it has been estimated that 2.7 pounds (1.2 kilograms) of Moruga Scorpion would cause enough stomach and intestinal tissue inflammation to kill a 150-pound (68-kg) person if eaten in one sitting.


Source: South Carolina, USA

Flavour notes: Perfumed with light red berries, hint of cinnamon

Food suggestions: Middle eastern dishes, meat dishes with fruit, condiments.

Additional: Currently the world’s hottest chilli measuring 1,569,300 SHU (2013)

                    Retested/submitted in 11 Aug 2017 and now average of 1,641,183 SHU 

                    Independant Abasto article with history.