The datil pepper has a sweet and fruity flavor with a spiciness that is easily comparable to a Scotch Bonnet or habanero. The peppers grow to about 3 inches (not quite 8cm) long and are a yellow or orange color when fully ripe.
Unripe datil peppers are green and are also edible but have a much more bitter taste so are better suited to cooking.
Almost all datil peppers are grown in Florida, but the plants can work well indoors to help add some green to a dreary room.
No matter where you are on the love-hate chili spectrum, you’re going to agree that the datil pepper is spicy.
Datil chili peppers can get a Scoville Heat Unit anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000. This is a similar level to Scotch Bonnet chilies or habanero peppers.
For the chili newbies, the jalapeno pepper tends to get a Scoville score of roughly 5,000. This means that you’d need around 60 jalapenos before you are close to the maximum hotness of a datil.
Datil Peppers Growing History
Almost all datil peppers are grown in St Augustine in Florida. There are two commonly held theories as to why their cultivation is limited to this one area of the US.
First of all, it is possible that the pepper was brought over from Minorca in the 18th century by indentured workers. Minorca is a small Mediterranean island near the Spanish coast that was historically used as a stopping point for sea voyages and trade.
Other rumors suggest that a jelly maker called SB Valls brought the pepper with him as he expanded his business from South America.
No matter the pepper’s history, it is immensely popular in the St Augustine region and features heavily in local cuisine. There is even a festival to celebrate the festival every October.
Datil Pepper Recipes
Datil peppers are definitely fiery and pack quite the flavor punch that can be used in a wide range of dishes. You will find a lot of Floridian and definitely any St Augustinian hot sauce have some sort of datil pepper in them. Try the Dat’l Do It Dat’l Pepper Sauce for some authentic hot sauce.
Outside of hot sauce, the datil pepper is used for barbecue sauces, savory jellies, savory jams, and any other dish that needs livening up with some spiciness.
You need to be careful when cooking or eating datil peppers as they are so high up on the Scoville chart but not so high that you would immediately associate them with danger. Be aware that the peppers can cause side effects of dizziness, diarrhea, numbness, heartburn, and intense burning sensations in the mouth and throat when eaten raw.
Any datil juices that come into contact with sensitive patches of skin or mucous membranes – like the eyes, ouch! – is going to cause serious irritation.
Preserving Datil Peppers
There are a few ways of preserving datil peppers and keeping them at their best for longer. You can of course dehydrate any chili, but this is a time-consuming process that can take well over 6 hours.
By far the easiest way to preserve datil peppers is to freeze them. You need to make sure that the peppers are in an airtight bag or container with as much air squeezed out as possible before putting them in the freezer.
You need to get rid of as much air as possible as the peppers are delicate and need to be protected from freezer burn as much as possible.
Once frozen, keep them in the container until you need them. They can be happily frozen for around a year. Any longer and you run the risk of harming the structural integrity of the pepper and this will alter the texture.
If you like having pepper on hand at all times, we recommend you pickle your datil peppers. They readily take on the tanginess of any pickling brine for the perfect garnish to otherwise bland dishes.
Pickled datil peppers are widely available in St Augustine so give them a try if you are in the area – you can’t beat authentic cuisine!
Growing Datil Peppers
The general consensus from gardeners is that datil pepper plants are easy to work with. The plants grow to around 5ft (150cm) when they are given enough sunshine and watered regularly enough.
Plants will reach maturity in roughly five months and bloom as green peppers that develop into orange-yellow hues when ripe. Remember that the longer you leave a pepper on the plant the spicier it becomes.
Peppers also become tougher the longer they are left on the vine so you may need to do some experimentation to get the right balance between your preferred spiciness and delicate fruit flesh.
If you find the yellow or orange peppers too spicy try the unripe green ones. They are not as sweet because they are not fully ripe, but they are still edible and far less spicy.