The Hottest Chillies

August 30, 2010 8:34 am by
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Chillies have become synonymous with Indian cuisine today, though it’s rather unbelievable that they entered the subcontinent only 500 years ago. (And for this, we can thank the Portuguese). Most people usually blend together a few different types of chilli to get a balance of heat and colour. According to one of the shopkeepers in the Lalbaug spice market, the Bor chilli (the cute-looking round chillies, usually seen floating in Gujarati dals and yoghurt based curries) is pretty “useless” because it doesn’t have too much heat; it just looks pretty. The Reshampatti chilli has neither heat nor colour—the two main things people consider when buying chillies. Here’s a guide to the most popular chillies available at the market:

Guntur Teja
As the name suggests—teja or tez means sharp—this is the fieriest chilli on offer. The Guntur teja is from the Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh. This region houses the second largest chilli market in the world, the largest being in Mexico. The Guntur Teja is a long chilli with a shiny, blood-red skin. It is commonly used to make Indian pickles. Price: Rs120/kg.

This is one of the most popular chillies used across regional Indian cuisines, and is an especially important part of Andhra cuisine. What makes it so popular is that it is rich in both colour and flavour. The Bedgi is a long chilli with a leathery, wrinkled skin that is deep-red in colour. It has a strong, pungent flavor and is a common ingredient of Kolhapuri masala, known for its tear-inducing hotness. Price: Rs140/kg.

The Pandi is a medium-spicy chilli that grows across Southern India. It isn’t as popular as the other chillies, but comes at a relatively cheaper price. The Pandi, also known as Gavti, is a short chilli with a shiny skin. It is spicier than the fiery Bedgi, although it’s not very high on the colour scale. It is used to make mutton and fish masalas. Price: Rs90/kg.

The Kashmiri is a mild chilli that can be easily identified by its deep red, almost brown colour, and very wrinkled skin (more wrinkled than the Bedgi). The Kashmiri chilli is valued for imparting a bright crimson colour to food, without making it intolerably hot. For instance, it can be added to a harissa sauce to make it flaming red, without rendering it extra spicy. Price: Rs200/kg.

Chavan Brothers Masala Stores
Shop No5, opposite Narayan Udhyog Bhavan, Sri Ganesh Nagar, Lalbaug New Market. 2471 1749, 98203 10035. Tuesday to Sunday, 7.30am–8pm. Monday closed.
You can find chillies and spices aplenty is Chavan Brothers Masala Stores. They stock a large range of freshly ground spice mixes—from the ubiquitous garam masala to house-blended spices like Kolhapuri Masala, fish masala and mutton masala. They take the term “freshly ground” very seriously; for Rs30 a kilo, they will grind any spice into a fresh powder right in front of you, using a mill in the store. It is always a pretty sight to watch these experts dry-roast the chillies and begin the process of converting large chillies and assorted spices into a delicate powder. Local families have their own spice concoctions blended and ground at the mill.

Between the main chilli season, which runs from April to June, this shop, and all the others in the Lalbaug spice market, are chock-a-block with shoppers waiting their turn to get their annual supply of the latest crop. You will also find many more varieties of chillies on offer then. Chavan is one of the larger stores in the area, with a very good range of spices and even friendlier staff. This is where I do most of my chilli shopping.

Shaheen Peerbhai is the author of the popular food blog The Purple Foodie, and loves writing, photography, baking and the colour purple.