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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Dried chilis retain potency and have long shelf life

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Dried chili peppers are available at Asian and Hispanic markets, and in Chinatown. Usually, the smaller peppers are hotter.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Dried chili peppers are available in bulk in Asian and Hispanic markets and in Chinatown, and packaged whole, flaked or ground in supermarkets. The whole dried peppers have an almost indefinite shelf life, although they do lose power and flavor as time passes. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place in an airtight container. Ground dried chilis are generally not as potent and have a shorter shelf life.

All chili peppers are members of the capsicum genus within the nightshade family, an immense, multi-branched genealogy that includes everything from sweet bell peppers to eggplants, tobacco and petunias. Capsicums themselves belong to about 10 species of annuals and shrubs originally from tropical America.

Unless you're a taxonomist, it's difficult to identify the small, red chilis sold whole and dried. They are among the many varieties of the Capsicum annuum species, or possibly Capsicum frutescens (from which the famous Tabasco sauce is made). The connoides group within the C. annuum species is the one from which most small, hot red chilis come.

No matter, the experts agree: Generally, the smaller the chili, the hotter it is. Drying concentrates the heat in chilis.

The hottest parts are the seeds and membranes, and the smallest chilis have the most seeds and veins, proportionately If you want less heat, these can be removed by cutting off the top of the chili, slitting it down the center and scraping with the tip of the knife. Chilis can be used whole, cut into strips or diced in soups, stews, sauces and stir-fried dishes.

When working with hot chilis, dried or fresh, wear rubber gloves, carefully wash hands and cutting board afterward and don't touch eyes or nose.