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PacificEdge | December 18, 2017

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A mildly hot find

A mildly hot find
Russ Grayson


I WAS IN the Permaculture Interpretive Garden in Randwick, in Sydney’s coastal Eastern Suburbs one recent fine, mid-winter day. Emma was there too — Emma Daniell, a horticulturist and gardening educator who does some of the gardening there. Emma also leads the regular Permabees that were started to provide learning and social opportunities for local people and to maintain the garden at the same time.

“Hey… come and look at this”, she called to me. “The shrub is laden and they’re ripe”.

I went over to where Emma stood, spade in hand, in front of a bush maybe a bit over a metre in height. She was pointing to the small red fruit that decorated the shrub like brightly-coloured decorations on a christmas tree.

“They’re pretty hot, I think”, she told me.

“Yep. Eaten them before. I don’t find them all that hot, though”, I replied as I stood next to her.

“You should take some home”, she said.

“First, though, can I get a photo of them?”, I asked. “I’ll pick some and maybe you can hold them so I can get a close-up of them in your hands”.

I picked those bell peppers, squat little chillies of the shape suggested by their name. We call these ‘bell peppers’ but that is just a common name and they are likely to be known by some other common name elsewhere. That’s the thing with common names of plants — they are often regional. That’s why we use the botanical names — genus and species — because any plant will be known by the same botanic name anywhere in the world.

Those in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden are not what some guides call bell peppers. Those look more like small everyday capsicums and have little to no sensation of spicy heat as measured by the Scoville Scale that classifies the pungency or spicy heat value of chillies…\_scale).



Peppers of the World, a guidebook to these spicy little fruits, suggests those in the garden are one of the shapes that the Capsicum baccatum species takes, putting their origin around 2500 years ago in Peru.

According to archeological evidence, farmers of the pre-Inca civilisation improved the species from its wild state. Like most of the foods we eat (Australian bush foods excepted), chillies are the product of traditional farmers engaging in selective breeding over thousands of years.

Our food is not as it originally appeared in nature. It has been selected for drought, pest and disease resistance, size and taste and hardiness to specific ecological conditions. Our food is in large part a human artefact, a product of farmers working with nature to improve it for human use.

The guidebook shows another look-alike version of the chillie, same species, but one introduced to Europe by the Portuguese that is said to have a mild heat. I’ll go along with what it says about heat though I would say the variety from the Permaculture Interpretive Garden had a little more than a mild heat.

The book

It was years ago that I picked up that copy of Peppers of the World – an identification guide, by Dave DeWitt and Paul W Bosland. Maybe I found it second hand. That wouldn’t surprise me as I am a bit of a skinflint when it comes to spending money, even on books, so second hand appeals, price-wise. But it was not money wasted. I’ve made use of it over the years to identify different fruit of this amazingly diverse, wonderfully spicy and sometimes uncomfortably hot genus of plant.

…it is not at all difficult to imagine chilli aficionados finding it so much eye candy…

I don’t know the book’s current availability as it was published back in 1996. If you are a chillie aficionado you probably have a copy of it or one like it already. If you are interested in chillies and can’t find it in your local bookshop, Amazon have it listed as a print edition. There appears to be no digital version.

The book is a US publication and, unfortunately, the measurements in it are only in the imperial scale rather than the international metric system. A calculator or a conversion app should fix that for you.

Although a manual, clear colour photos make this a visually-exciting book and it is not at all difficult to imagine chilli aficionados finding it so much eye candy and leafing through the pages for their visual appeal. Chapters include:

• peppers of the world — identification and breeding
• wild species — the undomesticated capsicums
• tobascosCapsicum frutescens
• Los Ajis of South AmericaCapsicum baccatun
• the hottest of them allCapsicum chinense
• a plethora of peppersCapsicum annuum.

For each variety there is a colour photograph accompanied by its USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) assession number, botanical name, common name, centre of diversity (where the variety comes from), seed source, pod length, pod width (both the former in imperial scale only, as previously noted), immature colour, comments about the variety such as whether it is found in the wild, its heat, whether a spreading habit, colouration, flower colour, pungency and so on.

Harvesting a little overdone

You don’t need to pick many of these chillies if you plan to cook with them at home. They keep well in or out of the refrigerator and, as I said earlier, you can dry them. My partner dried a different variety and crumbled them powder-like, so as well as keeping for a long time in an airtight container they are easy to add to cooking.

Now, despite what I said I did pick too many of those chillies that day and now they sit in the refrigerator awaiting a use. Think I’ll have to dry them.

A couple questions:

Have you grown chillies like those in the photo?

On a scale 1-10, with 10 being extremely hot, how would you describe their spicy heat value?


Peppers of the World – an identification guide. Dave DeWitt, Paul W Bosland. Ten Speed Press, USA. 1996.

Amazon paper copy. No ebook.

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