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11 Popular Indian Chili Peppers: Essentials for Cooking

One of the first things that come to mind about Indian cuisine is the heat and spice. An Indian dish is almost incomplete without a liberal amount of chilis in them. However, the term chili may be too generic because India has a wide variety of them, each with different tastes, flavors, heat, and aroma, but what are the most popular ones?

The most popular chili peppers in India are those that add a great depth of flavor and taste to a dish. Some of the common ones are Kashmiri chili, Bhut Jolokia, Jwala chili,Byadagi chili, Ramnad Mundu, and Guntur Sannam chili pepper.

This article will take a detailed look at each of these peppers, covering their Scoville Heat Units (SHUs), origins, appearance, and taste.

Photo of a fiery hot ripe ghost pepper on a white back drop
Photo by Don Valentine

Bhut Jolokia or Ghost Pepper

Bhut Jolokia is rated at 1,041,427 Scoville Heat Units, making it one of the world’s hottest chilies. In fact, it was recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records in 2007 as the world’s hottest chili pepper. However, it was later dethroned by the Scorpion chili in 2011 and later by the Carolina Reaper just two years later in 2013.

The literal meaning of Bhut Jolokia in the Assam language is ghost chili. This pepper has its origins in Northeastern Indian, in the states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh. Some of its species are also common in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Bhut Jolokia measures 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cms) long and 1 to 1.2 inches (2.5 to 3 cms) wide when ripe. Its color varies between red, orange, yellow, and chocolate. It also has a characteristic subconical to conical shape and weighs about 7 to 9 grams (0.25 to 0.3 oz), and has thin skin that’s easy to tear. It’s so hot that it can cause severe burns if touched with bare hands, so use with caution.

This pepper has an intense sweet chili flavor when you taste it, and you may not get the hot taste until about 30 to 40 seconds in. After the short delay, you’ll start experiencing intense burning accompanied by sweating, hiccups, watery eyes, and shortness of breath. The burning intensity usually increases after 10 to 15 minutes and finally reduces after 30 to 40 minutes.

Because of its extremely hot taste, Bhut Jolokia is rare in everyday cooking in Indian households. Its most common use is spicing hot sauces, tomato chili recipes, and hot spicy soups. Both the fresh and dried forms of Bhut Jolokia can heat up chutneys, pickles, and curries, though it can also add some zing to pork or dried or fermented fish.

Guntur Sannam Chili Pepper

Guntur Sannam chili pepper is in a range of 35,000 to 40,000 Scoville Heat Units. This heat level makes it one of the hotter peppers in the world. To put it into perspective, the heat is two levels short of the Carolina Reaper.

Guntur Sannam is widely cultivated and has its origin in Andhra Pradesh, India. The name “Guntur Sannam” is of Telugu origin; Guntur is a word commonly attached to chilis, while Sannam, in Telugu, means thin. Although widely grown in Guntur and Prakasam in the state, this chili pepper is also grown in other areas such as Khammam and Warangal.

It is usually green, long, and shiny when young. However, it becomes wrinkled as though dried out and red upon ripening. Its length ranges between 2 and 6 inches (5 to 15 cms) and usually less than 1 inch (2.5 cms) in width, and the skin is quite thick.

Guntur Sannam has a delicious taste with the characteristic hotness of chilis. However, due to its average hotness, it allows you to have a good taste of your food and does not cause any dramatic sweating or shortness of breath.

It is commonly used in many Indian dishes like Andhra chicken, Natu Kodi Kura (southern Indian chicken curry), and Mamsam Pulusu (mutton curry) to add flavor and color. It is available whole or in ground form. Other local dishes that use this chili include Chepala Pulusu (fish curry), Gongura Mansam (lamb dish), and Bongulo Chicken (bamboo chicken).

Jwala Chili Pepper

Also called the Intense Flame, Jwala chili measures at 20,000 to 30,000 SHU. It is about 3 to 12 times hotter than the common Jalapeño pepper and almost as hot as the Guntur Sannam chili pepper. With its SHU rating, it is considered medium heat and edible by those used to spicy cuisines.

Jwala chili is primarily grown and native to Gujarat. However, it is grown in many other parts of the country, such as Khammam in Telangana state. Its widespread cultivation makes it one of the most popular chilis in Indian cuisine.

Jwala chili takes the shape of a finger, which is why it is also called finger-hot pepper. It is thin, growing to about 4 inches (10 cms) in length, with a curve at the bottom. Its width is usually less than 1 inch (2.5 cms), and its skin is normally green when immature. However, as it matures, its color changes from green to orange and, finally, red, with its skin wrinkling in the process.

Despite the medium level of heat the intense flame has, it has a fruity flavor that accompanies its characteristic hotness. The apple-like taste of the Jwala chili does well to mask some of the heat it possesses. However, it gives an excellent level of stimulation for individuals who love spicy food and outright burning sensation for those who do not.

Jwala chilis are commonly used in dishes all over India. This chili can either be used in its fresh state, roasted, or ground into powder. However, it is used primarily in cooking curries and is a common addition to sauces and meats.

Kanthari Chili Pepper

Kanthari chili pepper, also called Bird’s Eye Chili, is a hot pepper with a Scoville Heat Unit of 50,000 to 100,000. That means this chili is more than twenty times as pungent as the Jalapeño pepper and is one of the top ten hottest chilis in the world.

It is said to originate from South America. However, its cultivation has spread worldwide in places like Ethiopia and Southeast Asia. This pepper is also commonly grown in India in places like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Meghalaya.

The Bird’s Eye Chili pepper is a small fruit that grows to a length of about 2 inches (5 cms) and a width of about 1 inch (2.5 cms). It is usually cream or green in color when immature but begins to develop a yellow or orange color when it approaches maturation and becomes red when fully mature. This pepper’s wall is generally smooth.

Kanthari chili is spicy and has a fruity taste to its advantage. It is a hot chili, even for spicy food lovers, and is almost non-consumable by people who are not fan of spicy foods.

However, this chili, also called Thai chili, is commonly used in Thai dishes such as curries and salads. The Vietnamese also favor its use in their soups, stir-fried dishes, and salads. They are also sometimes eaten raw or roasted.

Byadagi Chili

Byadagi chili is a spicy pepper whose heat ranges between 50,000 and 100,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale. It is as intense as the Bird’s eye chili and many times hotter than the common Jalapeño pepper.

As its name suggests, Byadagi chili originates from a town called Byadgi in the Haveri district of Karnataka state in India. There are two types of Byadagi chili: dabbi and kaddi. The Kaddi chili is the more popular of the two.

Kaddi chili is usually bright red because of its Oleoresin content. It grows to about 5 inches (13 cms) and tapers to a narrow tip at the end of its length, becoming wrinkled and stick-like when dried.

This pepper possesses a characteristic aromatic and sweet taste when used in cooking. Its flavor is somewhat similar to paprika, only that it has a zing that the latter lacks. Byadagi chili is usually crushed and ground into powder before adding it to dishes such as sambar.

Ramnad Mundu

Ramnad Mundu chili, otherwise called Mundu, has a heat range of 25,000 to 28,000 SHU on the Scoville scale. It is an averagely pungent chili pepper whose hotness is about ten times more than a Jalapeño.

This pepper originates from the Ramnad district of southern Tamil Nadu in India, where people cultivate it for its characteristic flavor and hotness. Its restrictive cultivation to Tamil Nadu, India, accounts for its relatively low popularity and annual yield.

Mundu chili differs from other chili peppers in appearance. It is roundish and has a yellowish-red color, but sometimes it can have a deeper reddish color. Its skin is thin and appears to be pressed in and wrinkled when dry.

The hard-to-describe uniqueness in the taste of the Mundu chili is one of its endearing qualities.

It is common in southern Indian cuisines such as Chettinad and many southern Indian dishes. Some chili experts call it the best-kept cuisine ingredient secret in India.

Naga Morich Chili

Naga Morich chili pepper, also known as the Dorset Naga Pepper, is one of the world’s hottest chili peppers. It is similar to the Ghost chili in many ways except genetically. On the Scoville scale, its hotness is greater than 1,000,000 SHU.

Naga Morich is native to northeast India and Bangladesh. It is widely cultivated in these areas, but you may also find it in the U.S., Finland, Australia, and the U.K.

Also called the serpent pepper, Naga Morich grows to a length of about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cms) and a width of about 1 inch (2.5 cms). It usually has a yellowish-red color upon ripening, and its skin is thick, convoluted, and slightly wrinkly.

Despite its intense hotness, Naga chili has a floral and fruity taste and flavor. Its aroma builds up slowly in the mouth on consumption, and after about 5 seconds, its searing heat kicks in. At 30 seconds, the heat reaches a mostly unbearable point which can last for up to 15 minutes. It is known to cause red and watery eyes, runny nose, and breathing difficulty when eaten, especially raw.

Most Indian households use it for making sauces, soups, and marinades.

Teja Chili

Teja chili, also called Guntur Mirapakayalu in the Telugu tongue, is another very hot chili with a heat that ranges between 30,000 to 350,000 SHU. It is closely related to the Guntur Sannam chili but has more heat than it.

Teja chili is native to the Guntur and Prakasam region of India’s Andhra Pradesh. It is also primarily grown in these areas, but you can also find it in Canada, Europe, and other parts of Asia.

Mature Teja chili fruits are bright red, usually with green stalks still attached to them at the top. This pepper is a long and somewhat slender fruit that measures about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cms) in length and less than 1 inch (2.5 cms) in width.

Teja chili is a scorching pepper and has a sharp taste accompanying its hotness. Unlike other chili peppers in the Scoville scale’s upper ranges, Teja chili’s hotness kicks in almost immediately. Its intense flavor only adds to its effectiveness in dishes.

It is common in various dishes all over the world due to its popularity. Many households use it to make stews and soups. It can be used as a powder or paste and or cooked whole too!

Dalle Khursani

Dalle Khursani, or simply Dalle chili, is a very hot chili that the faint of heart should not eat. It has a heat range of 100,000 to 350,000 SHU on the Scoville scale.

Although these chilis are native to Sikkim, they are also grown in Southeast Asia and some parts of Europe.

It is round in shape, and its bright redness is evidence of the level of capsaicin it contains. Its length varies between 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cms), and its width is about 1 inch (2.5 cms).

Dalle chili is hot but also has a floral taste that makes it slightly sweet when cooked. You can feel its hotness intensely when you use it in your cooking. You’ll also feel the heat within seconds of eating it raw, which can last for as long as 5 minutes.

Dalle chili has its use in different dishes from various parts of the world. It is most common as a side dish with a rice and lentil curry in the Himalayas. But it is also a common ingredient in stews and soups that give a floral taste and hot feel.

Reshampatti Chili Pepper

Reshampatti chili pepper is a pepper with medium heat. It has a hotness rating of about 40,000 SHU on the Scoville scale. It is classified as a hot chili, and its hotness is more than the Jwala chili.

Reshampatti chili is native to India. It is widely grown in the Maharashtra and Gujarat states of India. While it is not a very common chili in other parts of the world, India does export it to other parts of Asia, the U.S., and Europe.

It is a short and broad chili, usually red when ripe but changes its color to brownish-red when dried. It grows to a length of about 2 to 5 inches (5 to 13 cms) and a width of about 1 inch (2.5 cms).

The chili has a characteristic fruity taste that accompanies its medium heat. When first bitten in to you get a fruity taste which effectively masks its hotness until the heat becomes more pronounced.

It is used mainly in dishes such as chutneys, and pickles. It is usually ground into a powder and added to stews or soups when extra spiciness is needed.

Kashmiri Chili Pepper

Kashmiri chili pepper is incredibly mild. It has a Scoville Heat Unit rating of 1,000 – 2,000, which places it among the mildest Indian chili peppers. This chili pepper is named after the region that it originates from, Kashmir. However, it is also grown in some parts of Himachal Pradesh.

The standout characteristic of the Kashmiri pepper is its color, which is a deep red. You’ll mostly find it in a dried form where it appears shriveled and wrinkled. However, the fresh fruit is vibrant red with a conical and long shape.

Kashmiri chili has a mild hot taste, but it is not exceptionally flavorful. Its SHU rating also shows that it is not grown for its spiciness but for the delicious and zingy, fruity aroma it adds to the pot.

This chili pepper is ubiquitous in many Indian and Kashmiri dishes. It is commonly found in its powdered form and is most popular in curries and stews like tandoori chicken and Rogan Josh. It adds a lot of red color to dishes to create a mouth-watering spectacle.

Final Thoughts

India is blessed with lots of chili peppers. In this article, we have considered 11 of the most popular ones. These peppers have unique characteristics like color, taste, and flavor that help create mouth-watering dishes in Indian homes.

Keep in mind that very hot chilis like the Bhut Jolokia can cause severe burns if you touch them with your bare hands. Always wear gloves when processing or handling them. Also, avoid rubbing your eyes or other parts of your body after handling hot peppers.