What would the culinary world be without chillies? Chillies are a vital ingredient in providing a distinct taste to food. Various cuisines of the world depend on good quality chillies to prepare their traditional dishes.

Chillies have a chemical compound called Capsaicin, which causes the sensation of heat on the palate when the chilli is consumed. The unit to measure the hotness of the chilli is known as the Scoville heat unit, and based on it, chillies around the world are ranked to ascertain which is the hottest variety.

So, the hotter the chilli, the tastier the food? Well, this might not be true, et al. Extracting taste and flavour from the chilli and its proper application is where lies the chef’s skills in preparing dishes. And thus, we need to appreciate how the popular chillies are used and the various delicious dishes prepared using these fantastic chillies.


Chillies are believed to have originated in Mexico, and the same is the case with this famous chilli called Habanero. Habanero’s high Scoville unit measure makes it an ideal ingredient for making hot sauces. The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico produces the largest number of Habanero chillies. Thus, Yucatecan cuisine depends on this special ingredient for making the famous Mexican Salsa. Habanero is also eaten raw or pureed. Habanero’s heat, flavour and aroma make it an essential ingredient for chefs to use in their cuisine, especially for making Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. The hot profile of Habanero is ideal for the ‘Yin and Yang’ (Opposite Flavours) enthusiasts; Mango and Habanero is a classic combination to create an addictive sauce or Jam. Similarly, Habanero is used with apricots, pears, or other sweet and pulpy fruits for the perfect flavour on your palate.

Scotch Bonnet, or Caribbean Red peppers, is a relative of Habanero in the Scoville units and is used to prepare hot sauces and Jamaican jerk marinades for grills and barbeques. Like Habanero, pineapple and mangoes can be paired with the scotch bonnet, deliciously sweet and spicy jams and sauces.

Also Read : 5 Indian Chillies With GI-Tag That Are Worth Trying

Super Hots

Habenero and Scotch bonnets were once considered the hottest chillies in the world, with Scoville measuring higher than 350000 SHU. However, the western world till then was not aware of India’s ‘Bhoot Jolokia’, or Ghost Chilli, whose Scoville heat unit comfortably crossed 1 million SHU. And in 2007, the Guinness World Records named Ghost Peppers, or ‘Bhut Jolokia’, as the world’s hottest chilli.

Then started the race to cultivate the hottest chilli in the world; with the pepper cultivators, especially in the USA and UK, there is a fight to claim the hottest chilli in the world. With the subsequent monetary gains coming from the increased sales of the chilli with the tag of the hottest chilli, this race has certain negative connotations, as cultivators argue the legitimacy of each other’s claims.

However, the current Listing as per the Guinness World record stands in favour of Carolina Reaper as the hottest chilli in the world, with a SHU of 16,41,183 as of the year 2017, Followed by ‘Trinidad Scorpion Butch’, ‘Naga Viper’, ‘Trinidad Morugo Scorpion’, ‘Infinity’, ‘Ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia)’ and ‘Red Savina’.

Other contenders not yet verified by the Guinness World Records are ‘Pepper X’, with over 3 million SHU, ‘Dragon’s Breadth’, with SHU reaching up to 3 million, and ‘Chocolate 7- Pot’, With 1,8 million SHU.

Chillies with such high SHUs are seldom used for culinary purposes, and if et al., these are used in minute quantities to a large batch of ingredients or to prepare super-hot sauces; however, handling these chillies carries the danger of hurting one’s self, and it must be handled with care and gloves. Possible usage of super-hot chillies is also in defence and riot control.

Paprika powder | Unsplash

Chillies of the world

‘Bird’s eye chilli’, also known as Thai Chilli, has extensive usage in Southeast Asian cuisines; a delicious Indonesian Sambal, Thai red curries and salads, and many Asian Stir-fried dishes make good use of the Bird’s eye chilli. Similarly, the ‘African bird’s eye chilli’, also known as ‘Piri-Piri’ or ‘Peri-Peri’, is a hot and delicious chilli grown in Africa and used worldwide to make the famous Peri-Peri sauce, dips and marinades.

‘Tabasco’ is a notable chilli pepper used in gastronomy. Sauce made out of this famous Mexican pepper called ‘Tabasco Sauce’ is popular worldwide as a table condiment. On the lower end of the Scoville Heat Unit, ‘Bell peppers’ (Zero SHU) with zero capsaicin, ‘Jalapeno’ (2500-8000 SHU), and ‘Piquante’ (1000-2000 SHU) are mild peppers with numerous culinary usages. ‘Chipotle’, a famous Mexican Chilli, is a smoked and dried form of a ripe Jalapeno and is loved for its use in Mexican and Tex-Mex Cuisine. A popular chain of restaurants called ‘Chipotle’ stands as testimony to the popularity of this chilli pepper.

Indian Chillies

Although chillies were brought to India much later, India has grown a great penchant for using chillies in food. Delicious dishes are prepared across the length and breadth of India to prepare dishes loved by one and all.

Kashmiri chillies from North India are not hot chilli by any standard; however, it’s acclaimed for providing a beautiful red colour to dishes. For their low heat and bright colour, ‘Kashmiri chillies’ are used in every cuisine across India. They are not just used in cooking the delicate dishes of Kashmir but are widespread across different states of India and exported worldwide.

Indian cuisine has extensive use of red chilli powder | Unsplash

In Rajasthan, a peculiar chilli called the ‘Mathania Mirchi’ is grown, an essential ingredient in preparing a deep red and hot meat dish called the ‘Laal Maans’. As we move southward, ‘Jwala Chilli’ of Gujarat, ‘Mundu Chilli’, ‘Bydagi chilli’, ‘Kanthari chilli’ and the hot chilly from Guntur are some of the prominent chillies from South India; their culinary usage is indispensable in the beautiful cuisines of India. And then, of course, there is the king of chillies, the Raja Mirchi, or The Bhut Jolokia.

Chilli’s immense contribution to global gastronomy is indisputable. On the one hand, the quest to cultivate the hottest chilli in the world pursues; on the other hand, top chefs continue to use the many beautiful chillies we already have. However, one thing is certain, whenever we discuss how beautifully chillies are incorporated into the cuisine, mention of Indian cuisines will remain inevitable.

Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant.