French: Piment oiseau
Other names: bird's chili or Thai chili
Bird's eye or bird's chilis get their name not only from their small size, but because of birds' fondness for the fruit. They eat the chili and eject the seeds, leading to reseeding.
There are a number of varieties of chilis that are easily distinguished by their shape, size and color. But what truly differentiates them is their content of capsicine, an active substance found primarily in the seed cavity of the fruits and which gives them their extremely hot taste. The Scoville scale is used to rank the strength of chilis from 1 to 10. Sweet (bell) peppers are rated 0, while the habanero ranks an explosive 10. The bird's eye and pili pili are rated 8, meaning fiery. Delicate stomachs, stay away.
How do you distinguish a bird's eye chili from a pili pili? The latter have smaller fruits that are small, straight, thin and pointed, while bird's eye chilis are squatter with a rounder end. Both, however, are slim and bright red.
It seems that the first cultivar was discovered in Bolivia several thousand years ago, but it was the Aztecs who first grew chilis for food. They liked to combine them with cocoa to produce a courage-inducing beverage.
In the early 16th century, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish conquerors spread chilis throughout the globe. The pili pili cultivar remained African and the bird's eye chili became a West Indian specialty.
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