Thai Peppers. They’re hot. They’re red. They are from Thailand. They go great in a curry. That’s all you need to know about them. Right? Surely that’s all there is to it.
Lots of people make that mistake when talking about these spicy little things. But there’s so much more to them than that.
This guide includes everything you could need to know about the Thai pepper: A little of their history, all the different kinds of Thai peppers, how they are eaten, how they’re used in traditional cooking, and plenty more. We’ve even included a section on how to deal with chili pepper spice if it’s getting too hot for you!
Thai Pepper’s History And Types
Although they are found in and around the country of Thailand, Thai Peppers were originally descended from Chili Peppers in Central America and Mexico. When Spanish and Portuguese colonist found the new world, the hot chilies they found in the area became an instant hit.
Traders from these countries brought peppers with them on their trading journeys, where many found their way to Southeast Asia, where they have since become very popular In Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The varieties of pepper that were grown there, eventually became recognized as their special type of chili pepper, and have since become as much an icon as their ancestors around the world.
That is another factor that people are often unaware of. Although we often generalize Thai Peppers as if there’s just one kind of pepper, the truth is that there are dozens of different varieties of this hot plant. At the last count, there were at least 79 separate peppers that have been considered as different.
With such a huge number, there’s bound to be confusion amongst those who are trying to classify and distinguish Thai Peppers from their other spicy cousins.
Quite often, many kinds of Peppers, like the ‘Banana pepper’, share a lot of things in common with others like the New Mexican Pepper, which are themselves grown in and around Asia, most notably in Northern India, where they are grown in the Kashmir region, and so are called Kashmir Peppers locally.
Funnily, if that wasn’t enough to confuse a casual observer, Kashmir peppers are also called Sriracha in the area, which is itself is a distilled chili sauce made from vinegar, garlic, salt and chili sauce, that first originated in Thailand.
Needless to say, the classification of what counts as a Thai Pepper, and what doesn’t count, are typically more than a little confusing.
For the sake of simplicity, there are a few names that we will stick to that can be considered true Thai Peppers: The Bird’s Eye Pepper, Kanthari, cili padi, and, of course, the Thai Pepper.
Thai Pepper’s Heat
Compared to many other chili peppers out their, including the classic jalapeno, the Thai Pepper is in a weight class of its own.
Heat in chilies is measure by using the Scolville scale, which is a heat-measuring system for chili peppers around the world to determine how hot they are when compared to others.
The coolest chili you can find is the normal Bell Pepper you can find in a grocery or produce store, which will be anywhere from 0 to 100 heat units at most.
Depending on the variety, a traditional jalapeño pepper will be anywhere from 2,500 heat units, all the way up to 10,000.
Compared to a Thai Pepper, that heat is nothing.
Depending on the variety of Kanthari you are measuring, most Bird’s Eye chili peppers will be anywhere from 50,000 to over 100,000 heat units. Compared to the Jalapeño, they can be anywhere from 5 times to 40 times hotter!
However, even 100,000 on the Scolville rating system is relatively low. In the most extreme cases, the hottest examples of peppers, such as the Carolina Reaper, will max out at over 3,000,000 heat units.
For some extra context, that’s comparable to some pepper sprays used by many law enforcement groups!
Cooking A Thai Chili Pepper
When used in traditional Thai cooking, Thai peppers will often be added to pastes to add a vibrant red color, usually by grinding them down from their freshly picked pod state.
They’ve also been used a bright red garnish by chefs who like to add a little extra color to their recipes. They’re also great when dried, broken up and used as chili flakes too, for a garnish that has a little extra punch to it.
Because they have been grown in several countries that surround Thailand, and they grow easily in the tropical climate, they are used in a whole range of cuisines. They add a lot of flavor to diets that might otherwise be lacking in any heat, especially those that consist of rice, fish, and vegetables.
Typically, the foods will be stuffed a chili paste, or other food stuffed with chilies, to help hide the flavors within the food, or to add that extra flavor to food that has been seasoned with salt. It’s a novel and effective way to add spice to a dish!
Health Benefits Of Thai Chilies
Despite how hot they can be in the mouth, there are quite a few health benefits to chowing down on chilies. For one, they help flush out any bad bacteria and small parasites in your stomach and gut, as the same chemical that give Thai Peppers their distinct spiciness, will help speed up the body’s metabolism by forcing the body to release endorphins.
It’s a light, healthy shock to your system, in other words. Even if it doesn’t feel like it when you are chewing and swallowing them.
What To Do If You Have Chili Burn
If you feel like you have bitten off more than you can chew when eating a Thai Pepper, and if you have, trust us, you will feel it, then there are a few things you can do to cool down those taste receptors:
- Drink a glass of yogurt and/or milk. Quite a lot of cuisines that have hot food, such as Indian cuisine, will have dairy-based dishes to go with their food, like the Lassi, to help cool the mouth down. There are a few different kinds of milk and dairy drink in Thai culture, so experiment to see what you prefer most.
- Eating a much cooler, neutral food, like rice, will help your body adjust to a different heat level quicker than just waiting around for it to naturally cool down.
- Simply drinking water is also a pretty good remedy to that burning sensation, sugary water especially. Just remember that the burning sensation you feel is likely to come back, or have moved to a different spot, once you’ve swallowed or otherwise got rid of the water, so make sure you have plenty to spare.