Bird’s Eye Chili Pepper Plant from The Heart of Africa

Bird’s Eye Chili Pepper Plant from The Heart of Africa

Beneath the African sky, nurtured by the warm African soil, grows an exceptional spice that embodies the untamed spirit and wild heart of this beautiful continent – the Bird’s eye chili pepper plant. Let’s dive into the story of this intriguing spice and learn about its journey from the exotic New World to Africa’s vibrant heartlands and, ultimately, into the realms of contemporary global cuisine. Similar to penja pepper, it originated from far-off lands, fell in love with Africa and truly became African.

Bird's Eye Chili Pepper Plant - The History

2 - Black Penja pepper. Photo by

The tale of Bird’s eye chili begins in the age of exploration when Earth seemed infinite and filled with mysteries waiting to be unveiled. After the discovery of the New World, Christopher Columbus and all other explorers were amazed by its natural riches. One of the wonders of the new continent were chili peppers. Native to South America, they have been cultivated for thousands of years and widely used by its inhabitants. European explorers were fascinated by them, admiring their ability to transform plain food into extraordinary delights.

The Bird’s eye chili pepper came to Africa with the Portuguese colonialists who brought it and planted it in their colonies along the coastline. As a drought-resistant lover of warm climates, this pepper thrived in a new environment. Its vibrant, spicy flavor quickly became popular in African communities. It has seamlessly integrated into various African dishes and medicinal practices. The fiery essence of Bird’s eye chili beautifully blended into African cuisine and culture, ultimately leading it to global fame.

What Is Bird's Eye Chili?

3 - Penja Pepper in hand. Photo by WTO

The African Bird’s eye chili pepper belongs to the Capsicum frutescens species and is known under various names – Piri Piri, Peri Peri, Pili Pili, African Devil, and Rocket Chili. It’s a small, 2.5 to 5cm long, pointed, bright red pepper with a shiny surface and thin flesh.

It is green when unripe but it can be eaten at every stage of its maturity. Bird’s eye chili red or green is a small but mighty pepper ready to transform your dishes with its exciting taste, green being on the bitter, grassier side.

What is a Bird’s eye chili plant and how to grow it? The Bird’s eye chili plant grows on a bushy, perennial plant that can be harvested for several years. After 2-3 years, the soil should be given a 1-year break from chilies and be planted with legumes, beans, soya, or sweet potato.

African Bird’s eye chili plant prefers rich, organic, slightly loamy, moist, but well-drained soils. It thrives in temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. Lower and higher temperatures can damage the buds and prevent chili fruit from developing. It also requires adequate watering. Too much water will lead to root rot and too little to destruction of the fruit.

The harvesting is generally done when the fruit is ripe and reaches the desired size, color, and firmness. Mature peppers have a vibrant red color and are firm to the touch. The peppers are typically hand-picked to avoid damaging the fruit and the plant itself. Depending on growing conditions, African bird’s eye chilies may have multiple harvests throughout the growing season. After the harvest, peppers are carefully inspected and sorted to remove those that are damaged or of a lower quality.

Bird's Eye Chili Uses

African Bird’s eye chili or piri piri has a fiery nature that offers potent, pungent heat that hits fast with great intensity. Apart from that, it has a subtle fruity undertone with hints of citrus and a peppery taste. It’s a relative of Tabasco pepper and is known for its intense heat. Bird’s eye chili Scoville heat units can range from 100,000-200,000, but green Bird’s eye chili Scoville is somewhat lower. The heat level is not overwhelming and allows the taste buds to feel the depth and complexity of its flavor. As for the aroma, the African Bird’s eye chili has a sharp scent characteristic of hot peppers in general.

The potent heat and depth of flavor have made African Bird’s eye chili popular in various cuisines around the world. Still, it is cherished the most in African and Portuguese cuisine and is commonly used in soups, stews, marinades, and sauces to add depth and complexity. Its intense heat especially gives a fiery kick to dishes with meat, but can also add some spiciness to seafood. Whether fresh, dried, or as a sauce, the Bird’s eye chili uses its heat and complex flavor to inevitably surprise your taste buds and leave a lasting impression.

Bird's Eye Chili Pepper Recipes

4 - Black and white Penja pepper. Photo by Wikipedia

Some of the famous dishes that embrace the vibrant kick of African Bird’s eye chilies are:

Piri Piri Chicken – This dish is famous for its use of African Bird’s eye chili and is very much loved in Mozambique and Angola. It became widely popular through Portuguese cuisine. The chicken is marinated in a spicy sauce made of Piri Piri chilies, garlic, lemon or red wine vinegar, and herbs. After the marinade does its magic, the chicken is ready to be grilled. In many Bird’s eye chili pepper recipes chicken is the main ingredient as the vibrant heat of this chili can transform tender chicken into an extraordinary spicy delight.

Peri Peri or Bird’s Eye Chili Sauce - We don’t know much about the origin of this very popular sauce, except it was made somewhere within the Portuguese Empire, most probably in southern Africa. The recipe varies from region to region but the key ingredients are African Bird’s eye chili and garlic in an oily or acidic base. Other common ingredients are salt, pepper, onion, citrus peel, bay leaves, oregano, paprika, etc.

Peri Peri Shrimps - In this recipe, African Bird’s eye chili is used to make a seasoning or a marinade for shrimps. It’s important to be careful when using it to prevent its spiciness from overwhelming other flavors, especially the tender shrimp meat.

Thai Bird’s eye chili recipes are typical for Southeast Asian cuisine. Sliced Bird’s eye chili peppers are often served with Thai dishes in a sauce of lime juice and fish sauce. It is also used in soups, salads, and stir-fried dishes.

Birds Eye Chili Oil recipe gives you an opportunity to easily make a spicy oil which is excellent for Asian and other spicy food. Simply put them into the jar, fill the jar the jar with olive oil, and let it sit for several days.

The use of African Bird’s eye chili has become global and it has found its way to modern cuisines, inspiring new dishes, culinary fusions, and creative Bird’s eye chili pepper recipes. It has shown great ability to adapt and harmonize with other flavors and it gained popularity among Michelin star chefs and foodies, as well as fast-food lovers. In case this pepper is not available in your market, some peppers can be used as red or green Bird’s eye chili substitutes, for example, cayenne pepper, serrano pepper, jalapeño pepper, and habanero pepper.

The Health Benefits of Bird's Eye Chili

5 - Selling white penja pepper in the market. Photo by xinhua-kepseu

The African Bird’s eye chili is not only bursting with flavor – it is also packed with essential nutrients. These small peppers contain compounds that can offer a variety of health benefits:

  • Vitamins C, A, and E, along with minerals like magnesium, potassium, and iron, are extremely important for our immune system and overall wellbeing
  •  Capsaicin, known for boosting metabolism and stimulating fat burning, can enhance calorie burning and help us manage healthy weight.
  •   Capsaicin also has anti-inflammatory properties, helping with conditions like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, while also lowering blood pressure and improving blood circulation.
  • Antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and flavonoids, protect cells from oxidative stress, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.

There are many more benefits of this amazing pepper, like pain relief, mood enhancements, and digestive support. However, there may be some Bird’s eye chili pepper side effects, like stomach irritation for persons with ulcers and heartburn. Users should be cautious and be aware that further research is needed to fully uncover the benefits of this natural wonder.

In Conclusion

6 - Penja Pepper plantation. Photo by Penja Pepper - Povre de Penja fb

From the kitchens of Mozambique to the cobblestone streets of Portugal, the African Bird’s eye chili pepper plant has left its exotic mark on a multitude of delicate dishes. Not only that, it became a famous culinary superstar, bringing its fiery essence and rich cultural heritage to the tables around the world. Don’t miss out on trying this extraordinary spice, especially if you love to add a burst of heat to your culinary adventures.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How hot is African bird’s eye chili pepper?

African bird's eye chili heat units range from 100,000 to 200,000 Scoville heat units.

Are bird’s eye chilies red or green?

Bird’s eye chili peppers are red when fully ripe and green when still unripe. It is edible in both stages.

Are bird’s eye chili peppers easy to grow?

Yes, bird’s eye chili pepper is one of the easier chilies to grow. It can thrive as a container plant on a patio or a windowsill.

How much does African bird's eye chili yield?

It can yield between 1-2lb of fresh chili per plant per year.

Is there vitamin C in bird’s eye chilies?

Bird’s eye chili pepper is rich in vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant and very important for our immune system.

How long does birds eye chili live?

Bird’s eye chili is a perennial and has a life cycle of 2 years and more.

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