There is no question that there has been a steep rise in numbers of those growing chilli peppers. As cooking programmes dominate our TV screens, chilli competitions are on the rise as growers compete to grow the hottest chilli pepper, the demand for chilli peppers is red-hot and in some cases the hotter the better. And, what better way to celebrate than with the RHS chilli pepper weekend.
As it stands the hottest chilli pepper is Carolina Reaper (Guinness Book of World Records, 2012) rating an average 1,569,300 Scoville heat units. Now, I don’t know how hot this is but I will not be first in line to find out! With the previous record holder rating 1.2 million I am sure this eye watering chilli is not for the faint hearted.
How to grow chilli peppers
January and February are the perfect months to turn up the heat and start sowing some fiery chilli peppers! When growing chillies in the UK, early sowing is the secret to give your chilli peppers plenty of time to ripen before the end of summer – although they can still be sown right up until the end of April for a successful crop.
Feel the heat
Chillies contain a chemical called capsaicin that stimulates the nerve endings in the mucous membranes, making them taste hot. Of course, some are hotter than others! The choice has never been greater with breeding taking on a distinctly competitive edge to see who can breed the hottest chilli.
Chilli Pepper ‘Poblana Ancho’ (Mild)
This exceptionally mild variety is suitable for even the most delicate of taste buds. The large, shiny, bottle-green fruits are mildly pungent with a tinge of sweetness making them ideal for stuffing and roasting. Fully ripe red fruits can be used for powders and sauces.
Chilli Pepper ‘Prairie Fire’ (Hot)
These peppers might look small, but they certainly make up for size when it comes to flavour! One Chilli Pepper ‘Prairie Fire’ plant will give you a non-stop summer crop of literally hundreds of tiny, extremely hot peppers. With a dwarf, bushy habit this RHS AGM variety makes an attractive ‘ornamental edible’ for a sunny windowsill or patio container outside.
Not only are these lovely to look at when in fruit but the chillies are hotter than expected given their size! A definite must if you like chillies all year round as they’re great to keep handy in the freezer – Claire Carolan (5 stars)
Chilli Pepper ‘Naga Jolokia’ (Very hot)
Chilli Pepper ‘Naga Jolokia’ was officially recognised in 2007 as the world’s hottest chilli pepper, measured at just over one million scoville heat units (SHU). This extraordinarily hot pepper produces pale lime green chillies, later turning an orangey red colour, which should be used sparingly and with care. Chilli ‘Naga Jolokia’ needs a long growing season so it best grown under glass, and sown early to ensure sufficient time for the fruits to ripen.
I planted these last year in a propagator and they all germinated. I gave some away and kept some in a sunny porch, a little hand pollination and they did really well – Claire Carolan (5 stars)
Growing chillies from seed
For the best and hottest chillies, start sowing indoors as early as January – the hottest varieties often need the longest growing period. Chillies need plenty of warmth to germinate so invest in a heated propagator for the windowsill or use a warm airing cupboard and cover with a plastic bag. Sow chilli pepper seeds on the surface of a moist, free-draining, seed compost and cover with a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Place seed trays in a propagator at a temperature of 18-25C (64-77F) until germination, which usually takes 7-10 days. Once germinated, chillies can be moved to a warm, sunny windowsill or a heated greenhouse. Keep the compost evenly moist but take care not to let it get soaking wet.
Do you grow chilli peppers? How do you like them, mild or hot? Do you have a scorcher of a recipe to share with us? Do get in contact and post your comments below.
For more information including how to harvest chilli pepper plants take a look at our full growing chilli pepper guide here.
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.