Add some zing to your life - your 'Hottest' Guide to Chillies

Now be honest, what's the first thing you think of when we say spicy food? It's chillies, isn't it? If so, then you can be forgiven! It is very common for spicy food to be associated with searingly hot, chilli heat but this is only part of the story. However hot chillies are much loved and valued by a large number of those who eat spicy food and their importance cannot be ignored. As such, and because it is technically a spice (see 'Useful definitions'), we have dedicated an entire section to the worship of these glorious hot peppers.

The history of chillies is as colourful as the fruit itself and since their discovery in the Americas, they have gone global and can now be found growing in several countries and continents. They have also been so incorporated into the local cuisines that it's hard to believe that as little as 520 years ago, these fascinating fruits were unknown to most. Over time, as they spread across the world, variations began to occur in its terminology - so are they chillis, chiles or peppers?

Although there are five main species, some of these are able to cross-pollinate very easily which means there are hundreds of different varieties around the world. Similar varieties of one species may therefore be called by different names, depending on the country in which they are found. And best of all, chilli peppers also come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, colours, flavours and heat - just perfect for all your cooking needs!

There is a general rule that the smaller the chilli, the hotter it is. And whilst this can be a handy guide, a quick scan of the Scoville Scale (which measures the levels of heat or pungency) and our chilli list will soon show that this is not always the case. Thanks to the many varieties and hybrids which are available nowadays.

Chillies can be found fresh, dried, whole, crushed (flakes) or ground. The form you pick will determine the criteria for choosing and storing your products. But the form you choose will also be determined by how you intend to use them. For most chilli-heads, this means pitting your tastebuds against the some of the world's hottest specimens. For some, just a sprinkle of chilli powder on a grilled chicken breast will suffice. For us, the smell of a freshly-cut, fruity, hot scotch bonnet is enough to make our mouths water!

Know your chilli peppers from your paprika - decoding that confusing terminology!

The terminology for chilli peppers can be very confusing

How hot is your chilli? - let the Scoville scale help

Now it is possible to 'smell' how hot a chilli is, well relatively speaking at least, but at best this is just an approximation and at worst

Capsaicin and chilli heat - it's not too hot to handle

And now to the often-asked question - what makes chillies hot? Well, the short answer is... Capsaicin!

The heat of a chilli pepper is referred to as its pungency. But there are several other more common terms we use

A guide to selecting and storing chillies

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