How to choose the right chilli variety to suit your needs
To get the best experience in chilli growing it is important to grow varieties that best fit your needs, both in regard to where the plants will be grown and the level of your growing experience. And, of course, the chilli fruit you harvest from your plant(s) should match, in heat level and chilli type, what you like to use in the kitchen. The main issues to consider are:
• Do you want a spice-type or vegetable-type chilli?
Chillies can be divided into two types – spice and vegetable – depending on how they are used in the kitchen.
Vegetable-type chillies are relatively large-fruited and thick-fleshed, and tend to be milder than the spice-type varieties. Because of their bulk, these chillies are used mostly as a vegetable, playing virtually the same culinary role as sweet peppers – they are ideal stuffed with meat, rice or cheese; chopped into salads or salsas; and cooked in stews, stir fries and omelettes.
The spice chillies – including the habaneros and superhots – are generally small-fruited and thin-fleshed, and are usually hotter than the vegetable chillies. They are used to add heat and flavour to a dish, but contribute very little bulk. In addition, they are ideal for drying and milling into a powder. Some varieties are also very attractive and can be used as ‘edible ornamentals’, and do well as houseplants.
• How hot do you want your chillies?
The heat level in chillies is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Generally we at Sea Spring Seeds categorise heat levels according to the following formula:
Sweet: 0 SHU
Very mild: up to 2,000 SHU
Mild: 2,000 – 5,000 SHU
Medium: 5,000 – 25,000 SHU
Hot: 25,000 – 50,000 SHU
Very hot: 50,000 – 200,000 SHU
Extremely hot: 200,000 – 750,000 SHU
Superhot: over 750,000 SHU
Please note: the scale is highly subjective and depends on an individual’s tolerance to heat.
• How large do you want your plant?
Some chilli varieties will grow into large plants, e.g., Mulato Isleno and Padron. These need to be grown in the ground or very large pots. Other varieties will always be small statured, e.g., Stumpy and Prairie Fire. These are good in small pots, and can be kept as edible house plants on a windowsill.
The varieties we sell vary considerably in size, and we give an indication of growth habit in each variety description.
• How experienced a grower are you?
There are five species of domesticated chillies, and some species are easier to grow than others. Most of the chilli varieties we sell are Capsicum annuum or Capsicum chinense, but we do sell a few C. baccatum varieties, and one C. frutescens variety, the well-known Tabasco.
If you have never grown chillies before we recommend starting with a Capsicum annuum or C. baccatum variety. These are generally quicker to grow and faster to mature than C. chinense and C. frutescens varieties.
Capsicum chinense chillies generally tend to require more care than the other species. However, they have a very characteristic fruity flavour that is a firm favourite for many people. They also include some very hot varieties, including the Superhots, i.e. the world’s hottest chillies.
Habanero is the generic name given to all C. chinense chillies. Large-fruited habaneros that are vaguely shaped like a bonnet, i.e. are wider in the middle, are often called “Scotch Bonnets”. For more information please see our habanero article.