Which local foodie hasn’t heard of chilli padi? In Malaysia, your cooking is incomplete without this hot little thing, especially with Malaysians’ palette that constantly craves spicy foods.
This article was translated from Tips untuk pastikan tanaman cili padi anda subur by Dayana Sobri.
If you don’t know it already, chilli padi is an essential cooking ingredient in a lot of cuisines. Without it, the dish just doesn’t taste as good (according to spicy food lovers). Don’t be fooled by how small they are; their spiciness is hotter than the widely known jalapeno chillies you often see on cooking shows.
In fact, according to the Scoville scale, which is a measurement of the pungency (spiciness or “heat”) of chillies as recorded in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), chilli padi’s SHU is between 50,000 to 100,000! That’s insanely hot and spicy! If you’re a hardcore fan of chilli padi, why not grow them yourself? Read on to find out how:
What are the different types of chilli plants in Malaysia?
There are a few types of chilli plants in Malaysia, which include:
1. Siam chilli
Chilli padi, or its scientific name Capsicum Frustece, comes from the Solanaceae plant family which has a high level of spiciness. If you love fatty dishes, this is the perfect ingredient that will spice them up!
2. Red hot chilli pepper
No, not that American rock-band, though you may want to enjoy your spicy meals with this chilli while the band’s song is played at full blast (to subdue your screaming in case your spicy food is too hot to handle; which is a sign that you’re not hardcore enough).
Also a type of capsicum, this red chilli is commercially grown and is often used as paste, spices, or sambal in most Malaysian cooking. For hardcore lovers of spicy food, you may not enjoy this chilli as much because its SHU is only around 15 – 16,000.
3. Green chilli
Slightly similar to its red hot cousin, only that its SHU is higher which is about 15 – 16,000,000. For lovers of sambal hijau or east coast dishes like solok lada, this chilli is one of the basic ingredients used.
A part of the Capsicum annuum category, capsicums come in red, yellow, green, and orange colours. Originally from Mexico and the Central American region, this plant is also popular in chilly places like Cameron Highland. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, capsicums are perfect for you, since its SHU is 0!
Now that you know the types of chillies commonly found in Malaysia, it’s time to learn how to grow a chilli padi plant at home for daily cooking.
Read more: 18 indoor plants you can’t kill (so easily)
How do you grow chilli in Malaysia?
Tip 1: Make sure the environment is suitable for planting chilli padi
Before you start collecting chilli padi seeds or the subsequent processes of planting them, make sure you have a suitable planting area as well as environment. Also, make sure there’s nothing blocking the sunlight (like tall trees) from the chilli plants (they’ll need enough sunlight to grow).
Tip 2: Sow the chilli seeds
Set up a sowing site (whether it’s store-bought or homemade) or a pot to sow the chilli seeds. In the sowing hole, you can use peat moss or coco peat (coir or coconut fibre). These ingredients have a high level of moisture and are able to absorb enough water for a good sowing process later on.
Now place the chilli seeds on the sowing site or pot, water it well and wait until it sprouts. With the Malaysian weather being hot and humid, chilli seeds will take up to three weeks (maximum) to start sprouting.
Tip 3: Transfer chilli padi plants into pots
This is by far the most critical stage. You will start to see the chilli padi leaves grow as early as the first 10 days. You may get super excited but hold your horses first. Allow more leaves to grow and more time for the roots to become stronger so that they won’t get damaged during transplanting.
Once you see five to 10 leaves on your chilli plant, now is the time to begin transplanting. Be extra cautious though as the chilli tree is still young and fragile. Just like babies, every part of them is very sensitive.
Do it slowly and gently. Also, make sure the shoots and roots of the tree are in good condition when you’re transplanting. After transferring the chilli padi tree into the pot, place them under a shaded spot to avoid them from withering.
Note: For the preparation of transplanting chili padi seeds, we recommend that you use a mixture of soft soil, roasted husk, compost manure and a little coco peat for adequate water absorption.
Tip 4: Best ways to care for a young chilli tree
The process of transplanting the chilli padi tree should be done using a polybag. If you don’t have a polybag, use a vase that is at least 25cm in diameter by 20cm in height or a little bigger than that.
In terms of care, chilli trees require soil that is consistently moist so that they can grow well. Make sure to water it sufficiently, because lack of water may halt the growth of your chilli tree, and it may also not be able to produce enough chillies for daily use.
Though we recommend watering your chilli padi trees twice a day, there are other ways to make sure your trees receive enough water. Here’s how: make sure water has been properly drained out through the polybag or pot hole after you water it. This indicates that the soil has absorbed all the water it needs.
Note: Avoid watering too much or the roots will be deeply submerged in water, damaging the tree quickly.
Here’s a fun fact (not really, it’s more of a precautionary tale): did you know that circa 2018, a man died from eating the extremely and insanely hot Carolina Reapers chilli during a competition? The typical chilli padi is spicy enough for most people to handle, with its SHU of 100,000. And this man was brave enough to eat the Carolina Reapers with a SHU of 2.2 million! It was so painful that he was immediately rushed to the hospital. According to the doctor in charge, the man suffered from extreme ‘thunderclap’ dizziness that led to his demise. Luckily in Malaysia, we have yet to hear of people dying from consuming chilli padi. Rule of thumb: just eat anything in moderation!
What kind of fertiliser is required for a chilli plant?
Chilli trees love compost. However, compost manure can be tedious to produce and not everyone has the time to compost. So the next best solution is to utilise the fertigation systems.
Fertigation is a method of fertilising a plant through a drip irrigation system. In other words, the fertiliser used is a water-soluble type. That said, this fertigation system is best used if you have a large number of chilli padi plants.
If you don’t have a compost fertiliser, you can also use organic fertiliser. Sprinkle a mixture of fertiliser and a little compost every two weeks. Do note that there’s a proper way to fertilise, and you can’t simply sprinkle as you like. Try to sprinkle the mixtures around the pot and avoid contact with the base of the tree.
Note: Do you know what pH value is in the concept of tree planting? A pH value determines the acidity level of the soil. A low pH value, such as 4.0, indicates that the soil is very acidic, 7 is neutral, while pH values above 7.0 are alkaline.
The lower the pH value of the soil, the more difficult it will be for your plant to receive nutrients. So to make sure the soil you use is suitable for chilli padi planting, first check the pH value of the soil. Or to make it easier for you, you can just buy medium soil sold at many plant and garden nurseries.
Read more: How to grow and care for aloe vera plants
When can you start harvesting the chilli padi?
Within 65 to 75 days, you will be able to see your chilli tree starting to produce chillies; which is a good indication that your chilli tree is growing well. However, the chilli plant will still require another four weeks before the chillies can be picked.
Typically, chilli plants can produce chillies for up to 11 months. During that period, your chilli plant will produce high-quality chillies, so remember to harvest them.
After nine months, your tree will start to age and you can see the chilli yield is decreasing while the chilli quality is also declining.
Note: When picking chilli padis on the tree, make sure you pick them together with the stalk so that the chilli padi tree knows that the chillies have been picked and will strive to produce new chillies for the next season.
Now that you have the basics of how to plant chilli padi plant at home, we hope your chilli tree will thrive and produce quality chillies.
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