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Taste: Getting the taste for the hot stuff
1:10pm Tuesday 24th September 2013 in News
ITS effects include watering eyes and burning tastebuds.
But the world famous super-hot Dorset Naga chilli pepper has never been more in demand.
Once the preserve of hotter climates, a dazzling array of chillies are now grown in the county.
“When we decided to set up a chilli farm in Dorset, it was a crazy thing to do as people didn’t eat chillies or know how to use them,” says chilli farmer Joy Michaud, who set up the business with her husband Michael in 1994.
They now breed chillies and sell seeds and plants online via their company Sea Spring Seeds based in West Bexington and have seen the business expand over the years.
Twenty years later, Joy and Michael are celebrating their decision to set up what is thought to be the first commercial chilli farm in Britain.
The couple, who created the world famous Dorset Naga at Sea Spring Farm, are urging people to start embracing the variety of flavours they have, not just the hottest offering.
“There are some wonderful, very mild chillies and it is just a matter of finding the right chilli for each person’s individual palette,” says Joy.
The heat in chilli peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
It measures the degree of sugar water needed to dilute a chilli extract before it loses its heat.
A sweet pepper scores 0, Jalapenos measure about 5,000 and at the other end of the scale sits the Dorset Naga, which reaches more than 1,000,000 SHU.
“We started to breed the Dorset Naga around eight years before it went on sale in 2006 and to this day it is our bestseller,” Joy reveals.
She added: “It belongs to a group of chillies that are much hotter than all other chillies.”
The chilli expert explained that Dorset is a great location for growing chillies in polytunnels due to its location near the coast.
Originating in south and central America, today India and China are two of the largest chilli producers in the world.
Britain’s small-scale chilli industry appears to be thriving, with the Michauds often seen at the array of chilli festivals held across the country – including the annual Great Dorset Chilli Festival.
“The food culture of Britain has really changed in the last 10 to 20 years and this has been helped by travel and also because the British are prepared to try and experiment,” says Joy.
Increasing numbers of online orders have been pouring into the West Dorset business. For details visit seaspringseeds.co.uk
Adding piquancy and heat
CHILLIES are divided into spice and vegetable types, according to Joy Michaud.
The expert shared some of her top fiery food tips.
“The spice chillies add heat to the dish and, if it is a good variety, they add flavour as well, but they contribute very little bulk. They are good for all types of curries, sauces or any dish that you want to spice up,” she says.
An example is the Dorset Naga and all cayenne peppers.
Joy added: “Vegetable chillies tend to be less hot and certainly have a thicker flesh.
“These are used as a vegetable and add physical bulk to a dish. Any dish that uses a sweet pepper can substitute with a vegetable chilli, for example pizza topping, stuffed, in a stew or an omelette.”
EACH year chilli farmers sow their plants in January or February.
The crops have to be artificially heated and are grown inside polytunnels and greenhouses.
Harvest time is in July and August and the plants provide chillies until November or December.
Fresh chillies are picked by hand, and once they've grown, both ripe red and unripe green ones are ready for harvest.
"As they get riper, they will get hotter, and the flavour changes," explains chilli farmer Joy Michaud. This year a cold Spring delayed growth by a month but thanks to a good summer chillies have been growing in abundance.