Are your chillies too ‘pedas’? Here’s how to pick them according to heat for perfect dishes
KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 — Maybe it’s just the current heat wave we are experiencing but it feels and tastes like chillies are more pedas — or hot — these days, especially during the recent Aidilfitri season.
Everything from Raya’s sambal kacang, cut chillies in soy sauce served with your morning bowl of noodles at the neighbourhood kopitiam, to the curries you are cooking at home... the heat level seems higher.
The thing is capsaicin, that pungent chemical that gives chillies their heat, varies greatly from plant to plant and even fruit to fruit, which is why you get different levels of heat and pungency depending on the variety.
People are seen buying groceries, including fresh chillies, ahead of Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration in Kuala Lumpur April 20, 2023. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Malay Mail spoke to several wholesalers and traders to find out how to select chillies, both dried and fresh, from the many different types available for their pedas levels.
It's looking spicy
So what is the difference between fresh and dried chillies? Just water.
However, this can make a difference in the flavour profile of the two commonly used chilli variants.
Did you know that Malaysia imports most of its dried chillies from India and China?
Apart from being added into stir-fries and pounded/blended to make curry pastes, dried chillies are also used to make cili boh — a paste that can be used as an ingredient in cooking or as a base for many sambals.
Chilli trader Palani Velu, 55, says dried chillies are usually sold in three categories: non-spicy, less spicy and spicy. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Palani Velu, 55, a chilli seller at the Petaling Jaya old town market in Jalan Othman, said there are mainly three different types of dried chillies — non-spicy, less spicy and spicy.
“These three different types of dried chillies can easily be differentiated just by looking at them.
“If the dried chilli is smooth and shiny then it’s spicy, and the ones that are long and wrinkly are not spicy,” he explained.
Palani advises buyers to always trust their senses when buying dried chillies to determine the heat level and freshness.
“Look for dried chillies that are soft, pliable, and deeply coloured. If you find chillies that are dry, rusty or brittle, they are probably old and will have mould inside them,” he said.
Examples of wrinkly dried chillies that are less hot sold in the SS2 Wet Market in Petaling Jaya. April 25, 2023. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Another trader, 43-year-old Wah Zhong, said where the dried chillies come from can also tell a lot about their level of spiciness.
“We usually order dried chillies from India and China from our suppliers.
“The ones from India are usually on the spicier side but we also sell Kashmiri chillies which are moderately spicy compared to the normal chillies.
“However, the chillies that are from China are less spicy or not spicy at all,” he said.
When asked about the types of chillies used for cooking, he recommends Kashmiri red chilli for daily use and the spicier dried chillies for making sambal or spicy dishes.
Really spicy ‘pedas gila meletup’ dry chillies are usually straight and shiny like the ones seen sold at the Jalan Othman Market in Petaling Jaya, April 25, 2023. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Cameron Highlands Malay Farmers Association president Datuk Syed Abdul Rahman Abdul Rashid said the fresh chillies from the cold highlands there are spicy.
“Farmers here plant hybrid chillies. The seeds come from South Korea and Taiwan which is a spicier type.
"They can harvest about six to seven kilogrammes per plant so it's much more profitable for the farmers,” he said.
Syed Abdul Rasyid suggested that shoppers ask their sellers about the origin of the red chillies if they want to gauge the heat levels.
“Just ask them where they get their supply. If it’s from Cameron Highlands or somewhere from the highlands, it should be spicy,” he said.
Just remember, a general guideline to follow is that the smaller they are, the more pedas they are; or the broader their circumference, the milder they will be.