Thai chilies: South American natives have gained a foothold in Asia

In today's globalized world, chilies are practically everywhere - some varieties have even been allowed to travel into space. However, all chilli varieties have their origins in South America. But why is there a variety called "Thai Chilli"? The answer is simple: how it is applied in the kitchen is how the name has been shaped. Unlike the misconception of the eponymous botanist for capsicum chinense - which does not come from China - Thai chilli is more a summary of some types of chilli varieties that combine some typical features and are mostly used in the Asian, especially the Thai cuisine. These features are above all a not particularly conspicuous taste and a very concise but not dominant heat. Also popular is a compact and firm pulp, which makes processing them in the very special Asian kitchen way, as easy as possible.

Different types with (almost) the same result

Due to their "history", Thai chilies cannot be generally assigned to a specific type, much less to a specific variety. However, the varieties used are usually limited to the species capsicum annuum and capsicum frutescens, as these are the most likely to unite the desired characteristics. Two of the most well-known varieties are known commercially as Rawit (capsicum annuum) and Piri-Piri (capsicum frutescens), which directly represent both species. While Piri-Piri is mostly available for purchase in different conserved forms, Rawit are usually available as fresh chilies. Other varieties that are often encountered in this context are elongated and usually larger variations of the Birds Eye chilli or short growing and clearly spicy capsicum annuum varieties. Thus, the common characteristic of the fruit is in any case also an elongated growth between four and eight centimeters in length, which tapers. The fruit color is usually red and the seeds sit in the fruits lined up along the longitudinal placenta, which makes it quite easy to remove during processing.

The typical Thai chilli plant does not exist - but at the same time it does exist!

If it is said that Thai chilies are actually a variety summary (and even species summary), how can there be a typical Thai chili plant? What at first sounds very abstract is reduced to quite practical features, which are very important for the way they are used and, more specifically, for the way in which they are grown. Since Thai chilies are produced in large quantities - and given the size of the population in the Asian region, which is not the only consumer of this chilli, but it is where really large quantities are enjoyed - the plants must of course withstand a mass harvest. For the typical growing regions and the cultivation method used, a type has emerged which, on the one hand, favors a rather undemanding plant that produces a high yield in a small space requirement and is easy to harvest.

The result of this summary: compact bushy growing plants that barely exceed one meter in height and carry many rather small, upward-looking fruits and also tend to have small leaves.

These are the characteristics of the Thai chilli plants - and typical for the Asian region, where the tradition of bonsai breeding is also very popular - you can grow an excellent plant for a bonchi (bonsai + chili = bonchi). Undemanding like no other

Thai chilies are true survival artists.

The plants, with their already rather small growth, can easily be planted in a coffee cup for flowering and even for fruiting. Also with regard to fertilizer and water intake, Thai chilies are very frugal: although they enjoy regular "food and drink", it is also quite clear when they receive too much of the good stuff - they should not be permanently wet nor should the watering be forgotten for more than a day or two. It is precisely this characteristic that is highly valued in their main growing areas, since irrigation is expensive and therefore, in outdoor cultivation, as a rule, the course of nature - and thus the weather - is trusted. Free-range cultivation is also a good keyword in this context: rooting is rather weak for Thai chilies, as with most chilies in general. That means: loamy soil is not a preferred location for Thai chilies. However, it is often enough for them when the area around the root ball is somewhat loosened up, for example by the addition of sand or pearlite. When it comes to fertilizer, Thai chilies will not make a weary face, if it is fertilized too little: the yield is ultimately significantly lower, but the plant itself will not show a deficiency (as capsicum chinense or capsicum baccatum very quickly and clearly do) - only if "nothing at all" comes, then they start showing yellow leaves.

Flowers in white and purple

The flowers of Thai chilies are, just as little as there is a single variety under this name, of course, not uniform. From pure and radiant white to a rich purple, every imaginable color variation is possible in between. For example, the flowers are white, but the wreath of the petals is surrounded by a purple stripe. Whether it is a capsicum annuum or capsicum frutescens is not always so easy to distinguish on the basis of the flowers. Here, the stamens and the foliage of the plant most likely provide a clear indication, as in both capsicum annuum, and capsicum frutescens a distinct purple color of the flowers in many varieties is possible.

Small spicy pods

Of course, "pods" cannot be talked about in the fruits of chilies, as chilies are not legumes. Colloquially, however, they are usually called so. What characterizes Thai chilli fruits is their comparatively high acuteness. Before Habaneros and Co conquered the market of Heat maker in this country, the Piri Piri, which reached as one of the first hot fruits on the German market, was considered as one of the hottest chilies ever. Of course, this assumption is outdated, we already know this for a long time - with a maximum of 100,000 Scoville and that would be a very extreme variant, normal are more likely to be 50,000 to 70,000 - the Thai Chilis are known today to be in the lower midfield. The way this heat occurs is crucial. While other varieties often cause long-lasting burning, which is especially the case with thick-bodied fruits, Thai chilies have a short, hot "kick". A definite burning, but it wears off very quickly. Exactly this "kick" is loved in the Asian, and especially the Thai cuisine. In terms of taste, Thai chilies have absolutely nothing special worth mentioning: some varieties are even more likely to be compared to green sweet peppers.

Hacked, in rings, in stripes or in the whole?

The kitchen use of Thai chilies is very individual. For example, the chilies are often cooked whole or halved (with the seeds removed) in food and removed after a certain time or just before serving. Elsewhere, Thai chilies are also cut into fine rings or juliennes (strips) - and the very sharp knives used in Asian cooking benefit the cook. This is where the high strength of the fruits is noticeable, which ensures that instead of a chilli mush, actual bite-resistant rings and stripes can arise. If the chilli is cut into rings, there is usually a reason to not remove the seeds. Should it be finer, there are stripes. These are, for example, served with soups for individual seasoning or can be found on various dishes as seasoning and decoration.

Finely chopped into the smallest cubes, Thai chilies are used in countless dishes as an energizer - but also in spice pastes. Because many "curries" contain (mostly red) Thai chilies, which are processed with ingredients such as garlic, lemongrass, coriander and others to a thick, oily paste, which are first dissolved in the oil in the wok during cooking, before, for example, meat or Vegetables are sautéed in it - to get the spice directly to the respective food.

Text by Nico Jäkel


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