The bird’s eye pepper is a type of medium-hot pepper from the species Capsicum frutescens. Although this pepper falls far from making it onto Guinness’s 10 Top World’s Hottest Pepper list, it still packs a powerful punch! These peppers measure between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). To put that in perspective with other peppers, the hottest bird’s eye has about the same heat level of heat as the mildest habanero. But that’s also twenty to forty times hotter than most jalapenos.
At first, you may think these peppers are petty tame. But, as you continue to eat the bird’s eye (or a dish featuring its signature heat), the spiciness will build. Even after you stop eating the peppers, you may still feel like you can taste the heat. Because bird’s eye chili peppers are on the slightly milder side, you’ll actually be able to taste some specific flavors, not just the heat. With every bird’s eye pepper, you’ll taste hints of fruit-like flavors. If you pick a bird’s eye while it’s still green, it will taste extra sour and citrusy.
A Pepper by Any Other Name
This pepper is known by several other names including the piri piri, Thai chili, bird eye chili, and bird’s chili. There are two schools of thought on how this pepper got its name. One idea is it was named for one of the prominent ways its seeds spread: through birds. Although you might think that birds would be sensitive to the heat of these chilies, that’s actually not the case. Birds can’t detect the heat from capsaicin the way people can. The other theory for how bird’s eye peppers got their name is that the stem of these peppers resembles a bird’s eye.
Sometimes people confuse this pepper with the chiltepin because both peppers share the nickname bird’s eye. But this is part of a completely different species of pepper. The shared name is merely a coincidence.
Bird’s Eye Chili at a Glance
Bird’s eye chilies come in a variety of colors, including vibrant red, green, yellow, and orange. Sometimes, you will also find black or purple varieties of these peppers. They are short and thin, usually two to three centimeters long by just half a centimeter wide. They only weigh two or three grams. The skin of these peppers is shiny and smooth to the touch, and the peppers are shaped like bullets.
The bird’s eye does bear a resemblance to the Serrano pepper. However, the Serrano is fatter and rounder. The bird’s eye is a thinner pepper. Interestingly, the Serrano and bird’s eye also have a similar taste. But any true chili head will know the difference. The bird’s eye is much hotter!
With their vibrant colors, the bird’s eye pepper can even be an innovative, eye-catching decoration. Potted bird’s eye plants definitely put other indoor plants to shame with their spectacular good looks.
Bird’s Eye Chili Pepper Origins
The bird’s eye chili pepper originated in Asia, specifically countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines. It’s no surprise that these peppers are especially popular in these areas. However, today you can find bird’s eye chilies all over the world.
In the past, the bird’s eye was used as a natural remedy for a variety of health problems, including arthritis, toothaches, and rheumatism. The bird’s eye was an easily accessible, but effective treatment for these because of the presence of capsaicin. Even today with the availability of more sophisticated medicine, hot peppers still carry many great health benefits!
Having trouble sleeping? Hot peppers can be a huge help! Not only will they help you fall asleep fast, but they will also help you get deeper sleep. You’ll wake up feeling more rested and energized, ready to start your day. So, get your daily serving of spicy peppers. Your sleeping may improve dramatically!
Hot chilies like the bird’s eye also have the remarkable ability to decrease inflammation. Study after study has revealed that inflammation commonly leads to other diseases and chronic conditions. If you regularly eat your bird’s eye chili peppers, you might be helping fight off more serious illnesses.
Cooking with the Bird’s Eye Chili
Since bird’s eye chilies are much milder than the most extreme hot chilies, you might think they are mild enough to eat raw or alone. However, these peppers are still far too hot to eat alone. Even just smelling them can be painful if you’re not careful! These peppers are especially prominent in Southeast Asian cuisine, including Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean, Lao, and Khmer. Some favorite dishes include soups, curries, and salads. You’ll have a hard time finding a cookbook for Asian recipes that omits this delightful chili pepper. If you can’t locate these peppers at your regular grocery store, you can usually find them at an Asian market. Some of the best flavors to complement the bird’s eye include cilantro, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce.
When you cook with the bird’s eye, be careful. If the capsaicin from the pepper comes into contact with your skin, you can get hurt. Keep in mind that the oil will stay on your skin for hours, even if you wash your hands. It’s a good idea to wear gloves while cooking with these peppers to avoid skin irritation or even getting chili oil in your eye later in the day. If you’d like to downplay the heat a little, try removing the seeds before cooking with the peppers. Typically, the highest concentration of capsaicin in a pepper is found in its seeds.
It’s easy to find seasonings and other food products that are derived from the bird’s eye. For example, the bird’s eye makes great marinades, seasoning blends, and salsas. Recipes will sometimes call for fermented bird’s eye chilies. Fermentation helps the peppers last even longer. They are also delicious dried and smoked. Some people even like using them to flavor vinegar. The bird’s eye chili also makes a great natural insect repellent or even a pesticide for your garden. Just mix the pepper in with some water.
Growing Bird’s Eye Chili Peppers
Growing your own bird’s eye chilies is not difficult. You won’t have to wait for very long to get bird’s eye peppers after you’ve planted—usually three to four months. Just like most other chili peppers, the bird’s eye grows best in hot, humid climates. But unlike other chili species, the bird’s eye is resilient. It can endure freezing cold temperatures that are well below zero—even down to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit.) Bird’s eye peppers also respond well to a variety of soils—any kind from sandy to rich. Usually, bushes will keep producing peppers for several years.
Bird’s eye chili houseplants are a great option for indoor growing. Their plants don’t take up much space, and they require minimal care. Usually, all you have to do is water them once a day and ensure the plants are getting plenty of sun. Once they’ve matured, these plants will usually grow up to two meters (about six and a half feet) tall. After you’ve picked your peppers, keep them in a cool, dry place to maximize their lifespan.
Although this pepper’s name origin may be a mystery, its flavor and heat are unmistakable. This isn’t a chili pepper you’ll want to miss out on!
The Popularity of Bird’s Eye Peppers Over Time
Sonoran Spice Bird’s Eye Pepper Products
Wikipedia: Bird’s Eye Chili
The Spruce Eats: What Are Bird’s Eye Chilies?
Chili Pepper Madness: BIRD’S EYE CHILI PEPPERS: ALL ABOUT THEM
growingchillies.net: Easy to Grow Chili – Birds Eye Chilis