African Chillies: The Hot, Hotter and Hottest
Apr 09, 2021
When it comes to African chillies and hot sauce, there’s one burning question on everyone’s minds: “How hot is ‘hot’?” Spiciness is so relative to personal taste that it’s difficult to answer in clear-cut terms. While a bird’s eye chilli might register as a slight sizzle to one person, it could feel like a brain-searing inferno to another. Thankfully, the Scoville scale showed up to set the standard.
Curious how it works? The system ranks peppers based on their Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) which quantifies a chilli’s spice by measuring the concentration of capsaicinoids—you know, the chemical compound that gives hot peppers their zing.
The bottom line? We can’t tell you exactly how hot “hot” is, but we can tell you how today’s most popular African chillies measure up in SHU.
Jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU)
For novice spice and hot sauce addicts, jalapeños are a gateway pepper. At between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville heat units, they’re not the hardest-hitting chilli in any lineup, but they’re a tried-and-true favorite for their mild spice and approachable flavor. These good ‘ole boys are a go-to for amateur hot sauce and chilli enthusiasts craving a pleasant kick that won’t knock their teeth out.
Considered one of the world’s most popular culinary peppers, the jalapeño is a staple in Mexican cuisine, Tex-Mex, bar food and more. When it comes to ADF’s collection of authentic African sauces and seasonings, we hand-pick these African chillies, and the jalapeño takes center stage in the Jalanasco fermented jalapeño hot sauce (rated 3/10 on our heat scale) and the smoked chipotle salt (weighing in at 5/10).
Bird’s Eye Chilli (~175,000 SHU)
Sometimes known as peri-peri or piri piri, the African bird’s eye chilli is petite pepper with a pretty decent kick. As the key ingredient in traditional peri-peri sauce, it’s also one of Africa’s most iconic peppers. Sure, it’s Scoville rating is dwarfed in comparison to heavyweight champions like the African ghost pepper, but at 175,000 SHU (roughly 22 times hotter than the spiciest jalapeño) it’s nothing to roll your eyes at, either.
Given that it’s still significantly milder than the average habanero, African bird’s eye chillis make the perfect “practice” pepper for adventurous spice enthusiasts looking to test the waters without diving in head-first. Aside from their heat, these little devils deliver a slightly peppered, fruity taste that makes them shine in traditional dishes like Mozambican peri-peri chicken. They’re also the starring ingredient in our Bird’s Eye Chilli sauce (which scores a 7/10 on ADF’s heat scale).
Habanero Peppers (~225,000 SHU)
Like many other peppers, the habanero’s heat is strongly influenced by the soil and climate conditions where it grows—so Scoville ratings on these firecrackers fluctuate quite dramatically. Especially when you are growing these African chillies in the unpredictable Cape Town climate. On average, the typical habanero boasts approximately 225,000 SHU, making it around 28 times hotter than the spiciest jalapeño. It’s even recommended that you wear gloves when cooking with habaneros to avoid nasty burns on your palms and fingers.
We’ll be honest: when it comes to this one, a little bit goes a long way. Our Habanasco fermented hot sauce (measuring a hefty 8/10 on ADF’s heat scale) is the perfect example of an extra piquant sauce which balances the pepper’s hard-hitting spice with rich and tangy flavor.
African Ghost Peppers (~1,00,000 SHU)
If there’s such thing as a rockstar status in the chilli world, the ghost pepper wears the crown, being a crowd favorite amongst the African chillies Cultivated originally in India, the ghost pepper was brought to Africa generations ago, where it has been uniquely bred and cultivated into the modern African ghost pepper—a chilli boasting a taste and aroma distinct from its international counterparts. At over one million SHU, it’s a much feared and widely respected icon of the pepper world, garnering a cult following and claim to countless viral chilli-eating videos.
Called bhut jolokia (“ghost chilli” in Assamese), this searing fireball is globally known for a powerful, lingering heat that sneaks up and sticks around.
If that doesn’t have you sweating already, the African ghost pepper’s many unconventional uses just might; its intense heat has won this African chilli a reputation as a key ingredient in military grade smoke bombs and elephant deterrents.
Don’t let that scare you off, though. For true hot sauce addicts, the pepper’s flavor is worth the burn. Feeling brave? Try it out in our African Ghost Pepper sauce (topping the scale at 10+/10 on ADF’s heat rating) and our Ghost Pepper Salt (ranking 8/10).