Vol.1, No.9

Thai chili pepper taste, cooking, and preparation

The Thai chili is one of the hottest peppers on the planet, but it is not the only pepper from Thailand.

Thai chili peppers
The term "Thai chili pepper" is a bit misleading. After all, it evokes the image that there is one pepper from Thailand. Like any other country that grows peppers, from the United States to Mexico to China to Thailand and everywhere in between, there are many peppers from hot to mild.

Prig chee fah, for example, is a Thai pepper that isn't too hot and often used for its color and spice. It comes in green and red varieties.

Prig yoorg is another fairly common pepper from Thailand. It is pale green and really isn't hot in any way.

Prig kee nu is perhaps the most famous one of the major peppers from Thailand, though, and it the pepper that you probably think of when you hear "Thai pepper." That's right, this is the hot one. This is the pepper that is so spicy that only the habeñero and scotch bonnet peppers can top it. This is one of those pepper that, if you are an average human being, can send you sky-high and straight to the nearest pitcher of water if you bite right into it (don't expect much help from the water, though, as you'll see a bit later).

Maybe that's why this pepper is often referred to as the Thai dragon pepper. To get an idea of how hot this pepper is, let's introduce you to something called Scoville units. This is how the heat in hot peppers is measured. On this scale the bell pepper sits at zero Scoville heat units, the jalapeño rates 4,000, the Thai dragon around 80,000 to 100,000 and the habañeros at between 300,000 and 550,000.

That's a lot of power for something only about an inch in length to a maximum of about 3.5 inches (smaller ones are generally hotter, by the way). Thankfully, this chili pepper isn't just about heat but also about adding zest and sweetness to dishes.

In Thai and Indian cooking, larger dried whole chilies are often used to make curry paste. The pepper is soaked and the seeds are removed to remove some of the heat (Most of the heat is in the internal membranes of a pepper, and the seeds to a lesser extent). Then the peppers are pounded along with other spices.

Chili paste is also a common use. You can find Thai chili pepper pastes in specialty stores, particularly Asian markets, or you can make your own with ground-up chili pepper, garlic, vinegar and salt. Grinding up the Thai chili into a powder isn't that hard, since these hot little treasures are often sold already dried.

If you want to make you own Thai chili pepper powder, toast the dried peppers in a hot pan for a minute or so, until you begin to smell the spicy aroma. Then use a food processor, mortar and pestle or other means to grind it up.

Do you like to do pickling at home? Throw a few of these chilies in the pickling jar for some extra zip to the final product.

Not to mention all the ways you can use it in your cooking. Minced, diced, sliced, chopped or whole, consider adding this chili pepper to any dishes that call for hot peppers.

A word of advice, though, regarding relief from the heat. The burning sensation from peppers is caused by something called capsaicin, which is fat-soluble. As such, water and other liquids do little or nothing to soothe the fire of the pepper. Instead, consume dairy products like milk or yogurt, or chew some plain bread to turn down the flames.

When handling very hot peppers like the Thai dragon, don't touch your eyes or other sensitive parts of your body with your fingers if you've handled the chilies, particularly the insides of them. Wash your hands often to get the juice residues off. Better yet, wear rubber gloves when chopping and cutting these peppers.

If you have the freezer space, consider buying a lot of these peppers fresh, let them air dry, put them in a freezer bag, and then freeze them. Take out what you need as you need them. They can keep for a year (sometimes several years) frozen.