Hot stuff: easy-to-grow chillies

Aji "Lemon Drop" chillies, essential to Peruvian cooking. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Aji "Lemon Drop" chillies, essential to Peruvian cooking. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The simplest way to grow yourself some really flavoursome heat is to plant some chillies, James Wong writes.

For a true chilli-head like me, it’s so exciting to see how the selection has absolutely exploded in recent years, from often just a single variety as a novelty, to literally hundreds on offer from across the planet.

The nature of catalogues, however, where eye-catching photography is key to the sale, is that often the heavily promoted varieties have been chosen for their photogenic quality — for their quirky shapes and colours — rather than for non-visual characteristics, such as actual good flavour.

Indeed, having personally run taste tests on hundreds of chilli varieties over the years, it does seem to me that many have been actively bred exclusively for their ornamental appeal. So if you are looking for amazing flavour, here are three that really stand out from the crowd.

Aji limon, meaning "lemon chilli", is a traditional variety essential to a whole range of Peruvian dishes, which I fell in love with while researching my master’s thesis in rural South America. With a bright, fruity flavour — as the name and intense yellow colour suggest — this variety is indeed surprisingly lemony, somehow providing spice and citrus in equal measure.

Biquinho chillies, widely used in Brazil. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Biquinho chillies, widely used in Brazil. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
They really are one of those keystone ingredients whose flavour is simply unsubstitutable. Despite the delicious fruit being incredibly hard to track down, the seeds are common in catalogues, rebranded under the English name "Lemon Drop".

Further south comes a totally different species of chilli from the tiny handful from which all other varieties descend — the Rocoto (Capsicum pubescens). Believed to originally hail from Argentina and Bolivia, this is the most cool weather-tolerant species, producing square fruit that look like regular red or green peppers. They have an intense fieriness combined with unique, grassy, melon-cucumber notes. They’re incredible if you eat them stuffed (if you can handle their heat) and they tolerate a cooler climate well.

Finally, let’s not forget Brazil, with its spectacular Biquinho. These are bright red, cherry-sized chillies with a medium spice level, matched by an incredible tropical fruit flavour. Think of a habanero with the spice level dialled right down. They are traditionally served pickled whole in a sweetened vinegar, sometimes laced with the Brazilian sugarcane spirit cachaca. I think of them as a sort of a savoury maraschino cherry.Now I know I am not supposed to focus on appearance here, but their teardrop shape, ending in a pointy tip, (biquinhomeans "little beak") adds to the whole eating experience.

The best thing about chillies is that a little goes a long way — in the kitchen and garden. Even if you only have a small spare corner of your greenhouse, or sheltered spot on a sunny patio, having a few of these plants can transform your dishes. Pick one of these unusually flavourful ones and thank me later.

— Guardian News and Media

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