Sales of fresh chilli peppers have increased by 42 per cent over the last two years, as consumers have become increasingly adventurous in their cooking.
The small spicy vegetables have ballooned in popularity in recent years, transforming from a small niche, bought by aficionados, to becoming mainstream, according to trading figures from the research company TNS. In the twelve months to the end of April, £14.5 million of chillies were sold in Britain.
Tesco, the country’s biggest supermarket chain, is taking advantage of the trend to double the number of varieties it stocks from five to ten, selling the Dorset Naga for the first time nationwide.
The world’s hottest chilli is – as its name suggests – cultivated not in the arid heat of southern India or Mexico but in the south west of England under polytunnels.
It measures more than 900,000 units on the Scoville scale, a measure of heat developed during the early years of the twentieth century. Previously, the hottest chilli pepper in The Guinness Book of Records is a Red Savina habanero with a rating of 570,000 Scoville Heat Units.
Sam Wright, Tesco’s chilli buyer said: “Chilli pepper culture in the UK has really come on in the last few years and they are no longer thought of as a culinary novelty.
“In the past we used to primarily stock chilli peppers in areas where there was a large Afro-Caribbean or Asian community but nowadays we sell them in stores right across Britain.”
Consumers are becoming increasingly adventurous in their kitchens experimenting with dishes they have eaten in Indian, Thai and Chinese restaurants, with Anjum Anand’s “Indian Food Made Easy” one of the most successful cook books of the last five years.
A spokesman for Wealmoor, one of the country’s largest importers of chillies, said: “Culinary trends are behind the growth of chillies, but there is much further to go, if you look at how many chillies a British cook uses compared with an Asian cook. They are still poles apart.”