Bird’s Eye Chili: What It Is & How To Cook It
Bird’s eye chili peppers are extensively used in Thai cuisine and many countries surrounding Thailand. These peppers may be small in size but pack a punch in flavor; just a couple of chilis can liven up a dish with fiery heat, making them ideal for hot sauces, salsas, chili pastes, powders, and chili flakes.
In this article, we’ll break down all you need to know about this essential spice of Southeast Asia cuisine.
What Is Bird’s Eye Chili?
The bird’s eye chili, also known as the Red Thai Chili, is a variety of the plant species Capsicum annuum, which also encompasses other peppers like the bell pepper and cayenne pepper.
What Does a Bird’s Eye Chili Taste Like?
Bird’s eye chili starts off green and ripens to a vibrant, red color. They can be eaten in all different stages of maturity, and they may taste different depending on their ripeness.
The red, mature peppers tend to taste a bit more fruity and sweet, while the green ones will be on the bitter, grassier side. But no matter the color, both greens and reds will pack enough heat to keep you on your toes!
How Spicy is a Bird’s Eye Chili?
Exactly how spicy is the bird's eye chili, you ask? Luckily, we have a unit of measurement for that: It’s called the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU).
Scoville Heat Units are calculated based on the concentration of capsaicinoids in chili peppers. Capsaicinoids are the component of chili peppers that cause a burning sensation. We could go further into how the calculations work, but trust us -- Wilbur Scoville knew what he was doing.
Pepper heat rankings on the Scoville scale can range from 0 SHU to over 2,000,000,000 SHU. Bird's eye chilies come in at 50,000 to 100,000 SHU. To put this in perspective -- Jalapenos are only 2,500 to 10,000 SHU while habaneros range from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. This means that the bird’s eye chili is up to 10 times hotter than jalapeno and similar to a mild habanero. Watch those eyes!
Where Do Bird’s Eye Chilies Get Their Name From?
There are a couple of theories on how this spicy pepper was named. One theory is that it was called “Bird’s Eye” due to some versions of the pepper being small and round, much like a bird’s eye. The more interesting theory is that bird's eye chilies got their name because of how their seeds are spread.
Birds eat these chilis and then spread the seeds through defecation. Surprised that birds can handle the heat? It’s because birds actually cannot taste capsaicinoid, those spicy components in the pepper!
So while most mammals will avoid these peppers due to their heat, birds get exclusive access to a chili buffet, and then spread those seeds far and wide. Ecosystems are a heck of a thing, aren’t they?
Origins of the Bird’s Eye Chili
Nowadays, bird's eye chilies grow most abundantly in Southeast Asia and Ethiopia. But, that wasn’t always the case. Like almost all chili peppers, they originate in Mexico.
Humans have been cultivating chili peppers for over 6,000 years, making it one of the oldest cultivated crops in South and Central America. And although birds were responsible for spreading chili seeds locally, it was humans who spread them throughout the world.
In fact, Christopher Columbus stumbled upon chili peppers on his first voyage to the New World while searching for the black pepper of the East Indies.
Chili peppers, including the bird's eye chili, traveled to Asia through Portuguese explorers during the spice trade of the sixteenth century. These explorers brought the chili peppers to India, spreading them throughout the continent.
Nowadays, the spiciness of the bird's eye chili is considered a signature flavor of Thai cuisine.
Is Bird’s Eye Chili Good for You?
Not only do they taste great, but bird's eye chili peppers are also healthy! Sure, your eyes may water after that first bite, but capsaicinoids add spice along with plenty of health benefits.
We know, we know: It seems too good to be true! Here are some ways that bird's eye chili peppers can benefit your health.
Capsaicin has plenty of positive effects on the digestive system. It increases the fluids in the stomach while inhibiting acid and enzyme production and improving digestion.
Consuming capsaicin helps speed up the digestion process, enabling you to digest foods that would otherwise take a long time to complete the process.
Spicy foods can increase your energy expenditure, which allows you to burn calories quicker.
According to epidemiological data, consumption of capsaicin is directly associated with lower rates of obesity. Another study found that due to the stimulation of the TRPV1 receptor, capsaicin helps reduce your appetite, which supports weight loss.
Purdue University also surveyed a group of people, where thirteen people were given red pepper with their meals, and twelve were not. The participants who ate the pepper experienced decreased hunger for fatty, salty, and sweet foods.
Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Regulation
According to a study by the American College of Cardiology, regular consumption of red chili peppers helps boost heart health. Capsaicin is also known to lower blood cholesterol levels while not affecting HDL cholesterol (aka the “good” cholesterol that absorbs the bad stuff).
Capsaicin activates TRPV1, a protein that when activated, leads to effects that may reduce blood pressure when activated.
How Should Bird’s Eye Chilies Be Stored?
Bird's eye chilies can be stored in a variety of ways, depending on how long you’ll need to store them.
To best store fresh chilis, you’ll want to first remove the stems, which helps to prolong the shelf life. Wash and dry your chilies thoroughly, and then store them in an air-tight bin or zip-locked bag with a clean paper towel to help keep them moisture-free. This should help keep your fresh chilies in great condition for up to a month.
There are a few different ways to store chili peppers for an extended period. First, you can store the bags of chilies in the freezer. Frozen whole chilies will turn soft after defrosting, so they will be best used for curries and gravy.
Another method is to brine them. By brining, your peppers will last more than a month, rather than just a few weeks.
To brine your chilies, first, put the peppers into a sealable jar. Then, fill the jar with water, and stir in one tablespoon of salt per cup of water. Seal up the jar and place it in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to use your brined peppers, you’ll want to wash them to get rid of the salt.
The longest-lasting method is to dry your peppers. Dried bird's eye chili peppers can last up to five years. You can dry chili peppers in the oven or leave them on a plate in a dry room. In the oven, you’ll want to bake them at about 125 degrees. Once they’re dried, place them in a freezer-safe Ziploc bag and store them in the freezer.
You can re-hydrate your chilis when you’re ready to use them by soaking them in water.
How Can I Prepare Bird’s Eye Chili Peppers?
You know everything there is to know about bird's eye chili. Now it’s time to learn how to prepare them. These versatile chilies can be used in everything, from sauces and marinades to soups and salads.
So, let’s get slicing and dicing. The only tools you’ll need for this are a kitchen knife, a cutting board, and perhaps a small spoon. Here are some basic steps to preparing bird's eye chili for your next dish:
Remove the Stem
Stems aren’t usually added, or even eaten. So, the first step is to take your kitchen knife and chop that stem right off.
The next step is to take your knife and slice the pepper lengthwise. Some people prefer to slice it open like you’re performing surgery to get to the seeds. However, we think it’s easier just to slice it in half.
Take Out The Seeds - Optional
Now that you’ve sliced the bird’s eye chili open, you’ll see that each half is full of tiny white seeds. The seeds and the pith are the hottest part of the chili. Keep them in if you love the extra spice, or scoop them out with a small spoon to tame the heat.
Cut or Slice As Needed
Next, you’ll want to place the peppers skin-side down flat on the cutting board and cut them into thin strips.
If you want to chop (or dice) the pepper strips, turn them sideways, and use your knife to cut them into small, semi-uniform pieces.
To mince, take those chopped pepper chunks and push them all together. Then, using one hand on the knife handle and the other palm on the back of the knife, rock that knife back and forth so that the pieces are cut even smaller.
What Can Bird’s Eye Chilies Be Used for?
Now that you’ve prepared your bird's eye chili, it’s time to use that spicy flavor to create all kinds of delicious recipes with it.
Sauces and Marinades
Bird’s eye chili is used in various sauces and marinades, common in both Asia and Africa.
In Indonesian cuisine, these chilis are used in a variety of dishes and sambals. Meanwhile, in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, these chilis are used in soups, salads, curries, and even eaten raw – both fresh and dried.
One of the most popular is an African sauce called Peri-Peri, which simply means “Pepper Pepper” in Swahili. This sauce is hot, but sweet, and the primary ingredient is bird's eye chili.
Just add a few other ingredients like garlic, lemon, and olive oil, and you’re on your way!
Add some heat to your meats using spices and powders featuring bird's eye chili. You can make tons of variations of D.I.Y. chili seasoning using chopped peppers, chili powders, garlic powder, mushrooms, red onion, and salt.
You can also use bird's eye chilies to make your own condiments, like hot sauce. Just keep in mind that hot sauces like Tabasco only clocks in at 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, so the Bird’s Eye Hot Sauce will be quite a bit hotter. For extreme spicy lovers only!
How Can I Use Bird’s Eye Chilies for Hot Sauce?
For those who can handle the heat, making your own hot sauce with bird’s eye chili is a delicious way to customize a hot sauce to your own tastes. You can make hot sauce with bird’s eye chili at home in just a few steps. Here’s how to make your bird’s eye chili hot sauce.
Step One: Choose Your Ingredients
To make your own basic hot sauce, you only need about two base ingredients: minced chili peppers and vinegar.
Step Two : Make Your Special Style
Add on top of this your favorite herbs and spices to suit your taste, such as garlic cloves, turmeric, onion, or oregano.
Step Three: Combine
In a blender, add your ingredients along with bird’s eye chili. Add ½ cup of water and blend.
Step Four: Boil It To A Boil
Once blended, pour the mixture in a pan along with oil, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about five minutes. Allow the sauce to cool completely, and adjust the taste to your preference.
Step Five: Strain & Store
Strain the sauce through a sieve and pour about one tablespoon of the strained mixture back to the sauce. Store the sauce in an airtight container and allow the sauce to ‘age.’ This allows the flavors to blend better.
That’s it! You have homemade bird's eye chili hot sauce. Offer it to your friends, but make sure you use your knowledge of the Schofield Scale to warn them. This stuff packs a punch!
You’ve now learned everything there is to know about bird's eye chilies. It’s versatile, delicious, and hot enough for the most serious chili connoisseurs.
While it’s a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine, you can add bird's eye chili sauces to just about anything -- it’s the perfect spice to experiment with.
So, add your red or green chili peppers to your Umamicart and get cooking!