Indian cuisine is often considered to be incomplete without the generous use of chillies. The flavour and spices that chillies bring to each dish is incomparable to any other cuisine in the world. But did you know that chillies did not originate in India? And India is one of the largest producers of chilli in the world today!
Chilli was brought to India by Vasco-Da-Gama in the 16th Century, before which black pepper was the only source through which spices were incorporated into Indian cuisine. Black pepper was abundantly grown in Bengal and in the Malabar coast at the time. Chillies were first introduced in India by the Portuguese in Goa and from there it spread to the rest of South India. It was only later when the Maratha King Shivaji’s army moved to the north to challenge the Mughals, that chilli was introduced to the northern regions of India as well.
Although chillies may not be native to India, the country today is one of the largest producers and exporters of raw chillies, dried chillies and chilli powder. India contributes 25% to the world’s total production of chillies! Andhra Pradesh is the largest producer of chilli in the country followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
Let us have a look at some of the famous varieties of chillies grown and exported from India.
1. Bhut Jolokia, North-East Region of India
Bhut Jolokia, also known as ‘ghost pepper’ is cultivated in the North-Eastern states of the country in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. It was certified as the hottest chilli in the world by the Guinness Book in 2007. The Bhut Jolokia is consumed both as a spice and as food in the form of pickles and goes well with the combination of dried or fermented fish and pork dishes.
2. Kashmiri Chillies, Kashmir
The Kashmiri chilli is the most extensively used chilli in Indian households because of its unique characteristics. The Kashmiri chilli, is a lot less hot or spicy as compared to the other varieties of chillies found in India and imparts a deep red colour, giving the food a rich look.
3. Guntur Chilli, Andhra Pradesh
Guntur in Andhra Pradesh is the main producer and exporter of chillies and chilli powder to other parts of the world and is known for the spicy Guntur chillies like the Guntur Sannam.
4. Jwala Chilli, Gujarat
The Jwala chilli is grown in Kheda and Mehsana districts of Gujarat. The colour of the chilli is initially green which turns red once the chilli matures. The Jwala chilli is also known as ‘finger hot pepper’ and is very pungent in flavour.
5. Kanthari Chilli, Kerala
The Kanthari chilli is also known as the ‘Bird’s Eye’ chilli of Kerala. The chilli becomes white in colour when it matures and imparts a good flavour and heat to dishes. The Kanthari chilli is often soaked in yoghurt and salt and then sun-dried and had as a condiment.
6. Byadagi Chilli, Karnataka
Named after the town of Byadagi, in Karnataka, this is a very famous variety of chilli that is known for its colour and pungency. The Byadagi chilli is similar to paprika that is native to North America in the sense that they are long and slightly fat. The Byadagi chilli is used commonly in Karnataka, Goa, Kerala and Maharashtra. They are especially used by the Maharashtrians to concoct a spicier version of the traditional Goda Masala.
7. Ramnad Mundu/ Gundu, Tamil Nadu
Native to the Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu, this chilli is small and round in shape and has a thin, shiny orange-red coloured skin. The Ramnad chilli is used to flavour the famous Chettinad cuisine of Tamil Nadu.
8. Dhani, Manipur
Also known as ‘Bird’s Eye’ chilli of the North-East, this deep red coloured chilli is grown in Manipur and is sought after for its strong and pungent smell and taste. They are often dried, pickled or consumed as is by the locals.
9. Tomato Chilli, Andhra Pradesh
Grown in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, this variety of chilli is also known as Warangal Chappatta. The Tomato Chilli is short in size and deep red in colour. This chilli is milder and less pungent in flavour as compared to several of the aforementioned varieties.
10. Madras Puri, Andhra Pradesh
The Madras Puri contrary to its name is grown in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh and is a fiery red, hot and extremely pungent variety of chilli.
11. Khola Chilli, Goa
Grown in Canacona in Goa, the Khola chilli is a bright red chilli that is known for its taste and colour. It is used as a key ingredient in the home-made condiment Recheado in Goa which is fiery and tangy in taste and is often used as a stuffing for mackerels and other seafood.
12. Dalle Khursani, Sikkim
Considered to be as fiery as its cousin the Bhut Jolokia, this red-hot pepper of Sikkim is used in local food preparations. It is also had as an accompaniment, particularly with momos, as a pickle or as a sauce.
Chillies play an important part in our Indian cuisine; not just from the point of adding flavour and colour to our food, but also from a medicinal standpoint. Consuming chillies in moderation is said to have amazing health benefits viz. digestion, a healthy heart and weight loss. It is also said to relieve joint pains and alleviate migraines, reduce the risk of cancer and prevent allergies.
It is because of these medicinal benefits that chillies are also found in Ayurvedic medicines and are nowadays also being incorporated into the food items developed by FMCG companies. Chillies are often also found in ice-creams and chocolates, lending an artisanal touch to traditional recipes!
So, if you like the fiery taste of chillies and are in the mood to experiment, look out for these varieties of chillies the next time you visit your local market! Tell us which one you found the hottest and which was your favourite accompaniment for simple home-cooked meals.