Want to add spicy flavour to meals, without adding kilojoules? Chillies have the heat you’re after.
What are chillies?
Chillies are part of the capsicum family. They are readily available in supermarkets and fruit & veg shops in various shapes, sizes and colours.
Chillies have little aroma but they vary in heat intensity from mild to fiery-hot. Generally, the smaller the chilli, the hotter it is. Capsaicin – found mainly in the seeds and white membrane – gives chillies their kick, so remove these before cooking to turn down the heat a little.
All types of chillies are low in both kilojoules and fat. Studies show that capsaicin may increase metabolic rate, but the actual amount of energy used is generally small (20–60kJ, depending on the chilli’s heat).
Buying and storing
Choose firm, unblemished chillies and avoid wrinkled, marked or bruised ones.
Keep chilli powder and flakes in an airtight container in the pantry. Store fresh chillies in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge, or place chopped chillies into an ice-cube tray and fill with water. When ready to use, simply pop the frozen cubes into your dish.
How to use
Chillies are usually finely chopped for use in cooking. The longer a chilli is cooked, the hotter the overall dish will be. Adding chillies at the end of cooking will give more subtle heat and flavour.
Try adding finely chopped chillies to stir-fry dishes for a burst of flavour and colour.Complementary chilli flavours include coriander, basil, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin and parsley.
When handling chillies, it’s best to wear rubber or disposable gloves. If you don’t have any gloves available, be sure to wash your hands well and avoid touching your eyes or any other sensitive areas.
Clean your chopping board thoroughly after preparation to prevent chilli heat transferring to other foods.
If you discover your chillies are too hot, do not drink water – it will make the burning worse! Soothe a sore mouth and counteract the burn with plain rice, bread, milk or yoghurt. This is why yoghurt-based sauces are often served with Indian curries.
Types of chillies
Long chillies: Can be found in both supermarkets and greengrocers. They are sold as both red and green chillies, and are milder than birdseye chillies.
Jalapeno chillies: You can find this green Mexican chilli in greengrocers and some supermarkets.
Birdseye chillies: These tiny chillies are very hot and often used in Thai-style dishes.
Chilli flakes: These are made from dried, crushed chillies and can be used in place of fresh chillies – 1/2 teaspoon equals about one chopped fresh chilli.
Chilli powder: Made from ground dried chillies and can be used in place of fresh chillies – 1/2 teaspoon equals about one chopped fresh chilli.
Chilli paste: Made with dried red chillies mixed with vegetable oil and ideal for stir-frying. Two teaspoons equals about one chopped fresh chilli.
Dried chillies: These have a milder, smoky flavour. They need to be soaked in boiling water before using.
If you are looking for a particular type of chilli (for Mexican or Asian dishes), you can often buy them from online retailers.
Harissa – use this spicy paste to flavour meats, or use in salad dressings.
Ahuja K et al. 2006. Effects of chili consumption on postprandial glucose, insulin, and energy metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 84:63-9 Alevizos A. 2007. Insulin secretion and capsaicin American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 85:1165-6 Norman J. 1994. The Complete Book of Spices: A Practical Guide to Spices and Aromatic Seeds. Penguin Westerterp-Plantenga M et al. 2006. Metabolic effects of spices, teas, and caffeine. Physiology & Behavior 89: 85-91