Join us as we explore this small but mighty peri-peri pepper in detail. From their origin, flavor profile, uses in cooking, a couple of great recipes, health benefits, and more.
Curious about the fiery heat and irresistible flavor of African Bird’s Eye peppers, also known as Peri-Peri, Piri Piri, or Pili Pili (used interchangeably throughout this article)? As an avid fan of this great chilli and the delicious peri peri chicken and also my moms famous peri peri sauce recipe, I’ve explored this glorious ingredient to understand its history and unique taste.
Ready for some serious chilli pepper passion? Let’s turn up the heat!
Peri Peri Chilli Pepper Quick Facts!
- Species: Capsicum Frutescens
- SHU: 50,000 to 175,000 Scoville
- Other names: Piri Piri, Pili Pili, African Birds Eye and African Devil
- Flowers: White
- Fruit: Ripens to bright red from green
- Size: Approximately 4-5cm (1.5 to 2 inch)
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Origins of the Peri-Peri
This unique chilli pepper comes from Southeastern Africa. The name “peri-peri” comes from the Swahilli word for chilli, which is “pili” or “pili-pili.”, cultivated and enjoyed in this region for centuries.
I remember seeing them growing wild in Africa during my childhood as the chilli grows wild in its native habitat. They are resilient, and they thrive in challenging environments. This ability to adapt has led to their widespread cultivation globally.
The Peri-Peri Pepper: Heat Level
When it comes to levels of spiciness, this chilli does not hold back. It ranks relatively high on the Scoville scale (a measure of the heat of chilli peppers). Packing a powerful punch, they can range from 50,000 to 175,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), making them significantly hotter than Jalapeños, but not quite as hot as Habaneros and Scotch Bonnets. Their heat level can vary based on growing conditions and climate, leading to some delightful surprises for chilliheads.
More interesting to me however is the heat profile that makes this a favorite! The heat is quick to develop, and also quick to subside. Its great for folks who want to experience a bit more spice but don’t want it hanging about!
Is Piri Piri Sauce African or Portuguese?
Piri Piri sauce has a fascinating history that brings together African and Portuguese influences! While it’s a beloved South African staple, it was introduced by the Mozambique Portuguese. So, when you visit Southern Africa and want the ultimate Peri-Peri experience, watch for Portuguese restaurants!
The story dates back to the 15th century when Portuguese settlers encountered peri peri chillies during their African travels. They were intrigued by the spicy goodness and decided to bring the chillies back to Portugal. From there, these chillies found their way into different cuisine and gradually made their mark worldwide, reaching places like India, Southeast Asia, and even parts of the Americas!
The Peri-Peri Pepper: Flavor
The African Bird’s Eye pepper, or Piri Piri as it is often called, delivers the heat you would expect from such a vibrant chilli. This deceiving small pepper reaches about 1 inch in size and packs an intense punch.
Some even call it the African Devil, alluding to its sizzling heat factor.
Famous for its zest and spice, the Bird’s Eye pepper presents a fusion of flavors that make your taste buds dance. Many cuisines worldwide, including Portuguese and other African cuisines, have embraced this unique chilli due to its versatile usage across dishes – most notably Peri-Peri chicken – adding a tantalizing twist that food lovers find irresistible.
My Checking Out Chillies series gives you an overview of each of the peppers I grow as I taste them fresh from the garden. In this Pili Pili episode I was joined by a guest too.
Peri-Peri: Health Benefits
Aside from introducing substantial heat into meals, this bird’s eye chilli also carries healthful benefits thanks to vitamins B1, B2, and B3 and minerals like potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium packed within each pod.
Bird’s Eye chillies are also a good source of vitamins A and C.
Like many chilli peppers, peri-peri chillies boast health benefits due to one central element: their capsaicin content. Capsaicin is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and may aid in boosting metabolism and promoting heart health.
So, as we dive into foods spiced with this punchy pepper, we’re also enhancing our metabolism!
Growing Piri Piri Chilli Peppers
These compact and vibrant chillies are one pepper I find so rewarding to grow each year, so much so that I created my own variety – the CC Piri Piri. The Bird’s Eye has become increasingly popular with gardeners worldwide recently. Don’t believe me? For instance, look at some of the CC Piri Piri plants that SeedsIO users have shared with the community this year.
These pocket rocket chillies thrive in warm climates, making them ideal for African cultivation, but they can be grown elsewhere, too; you just need to plan wisely. Due to their compact nature, they can be grown in pots, in the back garden, or on a balcony if you have limited outdoor space.
You’ll need well-draining, fertile soil, some nutrients, and plenty of sunlight to grow these peppers, so choose a sunny spot in your garden or opt for a greenhouse or polytunnel for the best results.
I recommend sowing seeds in seed trays and then potting up to individual pots once your seedlings have germinated to give them the necessary space. You want to ensure they have adequate airflow and room to grow without overcrowding.
Once your seedlings are established, you need to water the plants regularly but avoid overwatering as it can cause root rot. Chilli plants need to dry out completely between waterings.
These are just a few essential tips if you choose to grow these peppers, but for more detailed information on getting the best germination rates and getting the best harvests, check out these articles:
- Pepper Seed Germination – Practical Tips for the Best Rates
- Top Tips To Get The Best Chilli Pepper Harvest
Harvesting Your Chilli Peppers
Once your African Bird’s Eye pepper plants start producing fruit and reach their intended color (usually bright red or sometimes orange-yellow, depending on the cultivar), you can begin harvesting them. While it is great to use fresh Piri Piri chillies in your sauces and cooking, they can be easily preserved by drying. This is the way I get to have Piri Piri Chicken year-round!
Using Peri-Peri Chilli Peppers
Bird’s Eye chilli peppers are versatile, and there are many ways to use your crop of hot peppers. They can be used fresh, dried, ground into powders, pickled, or infused in oils and sauces. The distinct heat and tangy flavor profile of African Bird’s Eye chillies lend themselves well to marinades, dry spice rubs, sauces, and cocktails.
Using African Bird’s Eye peppers in your recipes adds intense heat and flavor to dishes. Why not use crushed or ground-dried peppers as a spice rub for your meat or add to your marinades for an extra kick?
You can also create homemade hot sauces by blending fresh peppers with vinegar, garlic, salt, and other spices. There are a few ideas below for you to try.
These versatile chillies are not limited to savory recipes; they can also be incorporated into sweet treats such as chocolate desserts for a unique twist on traditional flavors.
By growing these vibrant chillies and experimenting with various dishes, you’ll discover taste sensations that will leave you craving more without breaking too much sweat!
I often stock hot sauces and dry rubs made from Piri Piri’s in my store. Please feel free to take a look and let me know what you think if you decide to purchase anything.
What Is Peri-Peri Sauce?
Besides a staple condiment in the ChilliChump household, this African sauce is a spicy and zesty chilli sauce originating from Africa, in Mozambique. This sauce is renowned for its intense flavors that awaken the palate. Base ingredients typically include African bird’s eye chilli, garlic, lemon juice, and vinegar. Additional spices and herbs such as paprika, ginger, and oregano are often added to enhance the sauce’s complexity.
The intense spicy flavor of peri-peri sauce makes it a versatile addition to various dishes, from grilled meats to stir-fries, and even as a dipping sauce for fries or vegetables. It has become popular globally, mainly through the franchise Nando’s, which has embraced peri-peri sauce as its signature flavor. Whether you prefer a mild or extra-hot version, peri-peri sauce is a must-try for spice lovers seeking a bold and vibrant taste experience.
This flavorful sauce has become a delightful fusion of Africa and Portugal, adding a burst of fiery goodness to dishes enjoyed by people from all over the globe. So, whether you’re savoring it in South Africa or discovering it in other parts, the magical Piri Piri sauce will always carry the spirit of its adventurous past.
Peri Peri Hot Sauce Recipes
Simple Peri Peri Hot Sauce Recipe
- 10-15 Whole Piri Piri or African Bird's Eye Chillies (adjust based on heat tolerance)
- 3 Cloves Fresh Garlic
- 1 Small Onion (roughly chopped)
- 1 Red Bell Pepper (seeded and roughly chopped)
- 1 Lemon (juiced)
- 2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar (for acidity)
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Tsp Paprika
- 1 Tsp Dried Oregano
- 1 Tsp Salt (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 Tsp Black Pepper
- 1/2 Tsp Sugar (optional)
- 1/4 Cup Water (adjust for consistency)
- Prepare your chillies by removing the stems.
- Remove the seeds from the chillies for a milder flavor or keep them for extra heat.
- Combine all the ingredients into a smooth paste in a food processor or blender.
- Add water a little at a time and blend until you get the desired consistency.
- Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning to your liking – add more salt, spices, or lemon juice until you're happy.
- Transfer the sauce to a clean, airtight jar or bottle.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks – the flavors will combine and intensify.
This versatile kind of hot sauce can be used as a marinade for grilled chicken, prawns, or vegetables, a topping for pizzas, or a dipping sauce for fries.
As Mrs ChilliChump loves a sweet chilli sauce, I created the Piri Piri Cherry hot sauce in 2020.
In Mozambique several years ago, while on holiday, the resort chef shared her piri piri sauce recipe with me. You can find my version of the hot sauce in the video: Piri Piri Puzzle. It’s not too spicy, so it works with almost any kind of food. I have cultivated the Moz Piri Piri chilli, the variety used to make the sauce.
My Mom also had a recipe she shared with me a while ago too. I call it Chisa Piri Piri. Chisa is an Ndebele and Zulu word that means Hot or Burn…and believe me, this one is a burner, but oh so delicious!
Feel free to add other flavors, such as oregano and tarragon, bay leaves, and citrus peel. But make sure you get a good base sauce first.
Another sauce I love to make with my Piri Piri chilli peppers is a sauce that is a near perfect replica of Nandos hot sauce!
Get ready to enjoy the magic of your homemade peri-peri sauce!
Peri Peri Chicken and Chicken Wings
Piri Piri chicken wings have become popular among food enthusiasts in recent years. This delectable treat originates from the southern regions of Africa, notably Mozambique and Angola. The chilli is the crucial ingredient that gives these wings their unique and fiery flavor.
The chicken is marinated in a bold mixture of peri-peri sauce, typically chilli peppers, garlic, lemon juice, and various herbs and spices. After marinating, the chicken is grilled to perfection, resulting in a crispy and flavorful exterior with tender and juicy meat on the inside. Combining the smoky grilled flavor and the spicy and tangy peri-peri sauce makes for a mouthwatering sensation.
Take a look at the below video which includes my easy recipe, Piri Piri Chicken Recipe, Nando’s style:
Conclusion to Exploring the Fiery Pili Pili Pepper
This chilli pepper’s journey from the savannas of Africa to kitchens worldwide is a testament to its fiery appeal and unique flavor. Whatever your spice level, whether you’re looking for a spicy kick in your Peri-Peri chicken or want to explore the vibrant flavors of African cuisine, this small but mighty pepper is worth discovering.
Its role in diverse culinary traditions and its numerous health benefits make it an ingredient worth exploring for seasoned chilli aficionados and adventurous cooks.
With its rich vitamin and mineral content, it not only packs a punch but also offers some health benefits. So, next time you crave a touch of heat in your dishes, remember the peri peri chilli pepper and the wealth of history and flavor it brings.
1. What is the Piri Piri, aka African Birds Eye?
The Piri Piri, scientifically known as Capsicum frutescens or African Birds Eye chilli, is one of the smaller pepper varieties with intense heat and a distinctly African flavor. It is commonly used in various cuisines worldwide to add a spicy kick to dishes.
2. Is Piri-Piri Different from Peri Peri?
There are many names and spellings for the piri-piri (Bird’s Eye) chilli, and various pronunciations of the word, each with their origins based on regions and language. Below is a summary of the different spellings and where they’re used.
Peri Peri: Typically used in parts of Africa where Portuguese is used. This is also the spelling used in English for African-style hot sauces.
Piri Piri: The Portuguese use this spelling, which I also use typically in my recipes and videos.
3. How Hot is the Peri Peri Chilli?
The heat level of the Peri Peri chilli varies depending on factors such as growing conditions and individual heat tolerance.
However, it generally ranges from 50,000 to 175,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), making it significantly hotter than Jalapeno peppers but nowhere near as fiery as some of the hottest peppers like Carolina Reaper or Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.
4. How can I use Peri Peri Chillies?
Use peri peri chillies fresh from the plant, use dried (using a dehumidifier), or use as a seasoning (dried and ground). Added in your preferred quantities to marinades, sauces, rubs, and spice blends, give recipes warmth or a spicy blast. They are so versatile you can infuse them into oils or vinegar for more flavorful dressings.
5. Are There Any Health Benefits Associated with Consuming Piri Piri’s?
The capsaicin found in chillies, including the peri peri, is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and may aid in boosting metabolism and promoting a healthy heart. Peri peri chilli peppers are a good source of vitamins A and C.