Chillies are available from greengrocers and supermarkets. They are grown on a dwarf bush with small dense green leaves, white flowers and red or green finger shaped fruit. In general, the green chilli is less hot and has a rather earthy heat; the red is usually hotter and is often very fiery.
To prepare chillies, remove the cap from the stalk end and slit it from top to bottom with a small knife. Under running water, scoop out the seeds with the knife point. The fire comes from the seeds so leave them if you like food to be fiercely hot. Chillies contain volatile oil that can irritate the skin and sting the eyes, so it is best to use rubber gloves when preparing chillies, or wash hands afterwards with soap and water.
There are many different varieties of chillies. The small red and green fresh chillies are known as Thai or bird's eye chillies and are extremely hot. One of the hottest varieties is the fat and fiery Scotch Bonnet or habanero. It has a spicy smell and flavour and can be red, green, yellow or brown. There are innumerable types of chillies that are indigenous to Mexico. The most commonly used fresh green chillies are serrano, jalapeno and pohlano. These varieties are all very hot.
Dried chillies are very popular and there are numerous varieties available. The most commonly used dried chillies are ancho, which is full-flavoured and mild; chipotle, a very hot variety; mulato, which is pungent, and the hot pasilla.
Cayenne pepper is a pungent spicy powder made from a blend of small ripe red chillies.
Chilli powder is made from dried, ground chillies and is often mixed with other spices and herbs.
Chilli flakes are made from dried, crushed chillies and are used in pickles and sauces.
Chilli oil is widely used in Chinese cooking. Dried red chillies are heated with vegetable oil to make this hot, pungent condiment.
Chilli paste is a convenient way of adding fiery heat to sauces.
Hot pepper sauce is made from red chillies and vinegar and is used to sprinkle over many dishes.

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