The German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who visited Brazil in early 19th century, said that “chilis are as essential to Natives as salt is for the White”. Till these days, chilis are present in every day diet of a huge portion of the country’s population and it essential to Afro-Brazilian rituals.
Of course, chili peppers are not all born the same – and their sexiness is, to large extent, related to their capacity of making one suffer. Take the hottest pepper in the world, the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T Pepper. It scores 1,463,700 in the Scoville heat unit scale, which is based on the presence of capsaicin, the active molecule of chili. In comparison, a green pepper would get a zero and the habanero chili would be somewhere between 100,000 and 350,000.
What about Brazilian peppers, so praised for their power of bringing tears to the eyes of the bravest machos? In the country, you find a variety that includes sweet, mild dedo-de-moça (girl’s finger) and heavy metal cumari, that reaches 300,000 in the Scoville scale.
Here is the basic Brazilian chili menu:
Malagueta – a variety of Capsicum frutescens, very popular in Brazil, specially in Bahia, but also appreciated in Portugal, Mozambique and Cape Verde. Somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 in Scoville scale. It is planted mainly in the states of Bahia, Minas Gerais and Goiás.
Biquinho – This Capsicum chinense scores mere 1.000 and is generally used in sauces or preserves, mainly in the state of Minas Gerais.
Cumari – It can be either the very hot variety of Capsicum baccatum, planted in the Southeast, or cumari-do-Pará, a yellow, round Capsicum chinense, way hotter than biquinho and also used in preserves.
Dedo-de-moça – Another Capsicum baccatum, long and delicate like a girl’s’ pinkie.
Pimenta-de-cheiro – A Capsicum chinense with long fruit that can be yellow or black and with varying levels of heat.
Main sources – Embrapa and a study by Raquel Zancanaro, from Universidade de Brasília.
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