How To Grow Perfect Chillies

WORDS:: Chyka Keebaugh

PHOTOS:: Lisa Atkinson

Did you know there are over 300 types of chillies? I didn’t! Chillies make for a fantastic addition to many exotic meals, so it makes sense to grow your very own.

As a general rule, the bigger the chilli the milder the flavour, but don’t be fooled! The hotter the chilli, the faster your blood will circulate. This causes the body to sweat and create endorphins, and we all can benefit from more endorphins floating around our body!

I love a good kick of chilli in my meal. There are Mexican, Indian, Thai and Mediterranean Chillies, all varying in intensity and flavour, but which chilli is which? There is nothing worse than not having the perfect ingredient in your pantry and if there are so many variations on one taste how do we know what chill is what? Well, let’s get that all sorted out shall we. 

Starting clockwise we have yellow crystal peppers, red bird's eye chillies, green chillies,  red cayenne chillies, green jalepeno and red aji dulce. In the centre we have red habeneroes.

Growing chillies in your garden::

Chilli plants are so easy to grow and can be grown all year round. They need a warm sunny spot to flourish and are versatile enough to be planted in a pot or straight into the soil. These gorgeous plants need regular watering but other than that are very low maintenance. What I love about them, is that you can pick a chilli off them to eat at any point in their growth; just be sure to cut instead of pulling them off to keep the plant happy. If you want to be the ultimate green thumb try growing your chilli from the seeds, keeping them warm in an area that gets plenty of sunlight. Once they start to sprout, take the pot outside for a few hours at a time to introduce them to the outdoors. Gradually build up their outdoor time until you repot them in the soil outside. By doing this, it won’t ’shock’ the chilli plant and it is more likely to flourish.

Introducing a chilli plant into the kitchen is also another fun way to bring in some colour as well as some flavour to your cooking. I love having herbs in my kitchen to add into my food, and a chilli is no different. Cut a chilli off and slice it up for a hit of fresh spice, or leave them on the plant until they are shrivelled and dried then crush them into a dry spice. When cooking, I like to leave the seeds in for an added hit of hotness. Fresh coloured chillies are also gorgeous to use as table decorations; pops of bright colour on your guest's plates, or even attaching a name tag is a fun way to use these crazy shaped vegetables. These plants are easy to care for as well providing a good fill of lush green foliage with pops of yellow and red.

But don’t just leave them in their pots! I love to take a plant out of its usual home and create an unexpected vignette in my home. Some fun ideas using chilli plants are…

  • Take the plants out of their plastic container and plant in a glass vase, wicker basket or old tomato tin.
  • Plant a variety up in a large terracotta pot at your back door for easy access.
  • Give as a gift to a friend wrapped in brown paper and twine with a hand written recipe that uses chillies.
  • Garnish the bar with pots of chillies and create an amazing chilli martini bar for your next dinner party, try this Martini Cocktail.
  • Create a table setting using a variety of fresh herbs and chillies in pots down the centre of the table. Supply all guests with a pair of scissors so they can cut off what they need to make their salad! Perfect.