June 10th, 2009


Chili report.

Remember that I posted on Tuesday afternoon that I'd sent in a chili order to theSpiceSpecialist.com? See here if you don't remember.

My chilis arrived this afternoon. How's that for prompt? Given that they don't charge for postage within the UK, that makes it all the better. Full marks there.

The order was packed in a well-sealed padded envelope with a printed address label, and it had a clear, comprehensible and accurate invoice inside. Again, full marks!

Each spice came in its own semi-rigid resealable clear plastic pouch (much better than the flimsy, hard to reseal jiffybags in which I've had orders from other places arrive - no immediate need to find storage jars or bottles); again, clearly labelled with full details including "best by" date. Almost full marks. I say "almost", because scrupulous care hadn't been taken to ensure that none of the contents, in the case of fine powders, had lingered on the outer part of the sealed plastic opening. I'll expand later...

Now, the stuff that really matters: the contents!

Armed with oatcakes and milk, which I've found to be the best tools when chili tasting - the oatcakes are splendid palate cleansers, and the milk is good at dampening the burn from a too-enthusiastic chili - I started sampling; the mildest / least intensely flavoured first, of course.

1) Hungarian sweet paprika. A fine, deep red powder. A taste (enough to balance on the tip of a sharp kitchen knife is enough) immediately reveals the sweetness, with the bitter and earthy peppery tones following quickly enough to prevent any sense of over-sweetness. One of the best-rounded sweet paprikas I've ever tasted. At least an 8/10 - I can't improve that until I've cooked with it.

2) Hungarian smoked paprika. Again, a fine, deep red powder. A taste of this is really mouth-filling in the way that a good dark chocolate or a red wine can be. First the smoke, which I couldn't identify, but which is definitely not some cheap "smoke flavouring"; it's far too rich and subtle for that. Then, in sequence, a slightly less intense sweetness than from the sweet paprika, followed by the earthy/peppery tones from the previous tasting. That's going to be at least a 9/10, given that I use smoked paprika much more often as an uncooked garnish than as a cooking material.

3) Kashmiri chilis. Whole chilis as advertised, 8-10 cm long and about 1 cm wide, with a dark red colouring and a medium-fine wrinkling. And seeds! plenty of seeds! As hoped, there's more than enough here for me to do some germination and growing-on tests. I cut a roughly 3mm piece from the sharp end of one, removing all seeds and membrane, and chewed. Of course, it not being powder, the flavour was slower to come, but come it did. It's sweetish and relatively mild, but releases a rich bouquet after a minute or so's chewing. It's harder to judge right now, given that I haven't cooked with it, but unless I'm greatly mistaken, it's going to be at least a 7/10.

4) Powdered Naga Jolokia chilis. A fine, medium-brown/red powder. This is where the lack of attention to making sure that there was no residual powder on the filled packaging gave me a problem. I noticed, on examining the pack, that there was a slight dusting of powder on the inner side of the top of the package sealing. Given what I knew about the advertised hotness of this stuff, I should have put on disposable gloves before touching the package. Silly me. Anyway, on with the testing. For this, I sensibly used much less material than for the other chilis: as much powder as would adhere to the first couple of mm of a *dry* sharp knife blade, dipped into the powder and then tapped off to remove everything but the finest adhering film. I tasted it. Ow! Ye gods, this stuff is hot. Minute as the sample was, it filled the whole of my mouth and tongue with as sharp and clean a chili-burn as I've ever encountered, which lasted a good minute and survived a mouthful of milk and an oatcake. At that point, the knife and anything else that had been used got the hot soapy water treatment. Unfortunately, some of the powder on the packaging must have got onto my hand, and then onto my face - thank the gods, not into my eyes. Even after carefully washing my face, I can still feel the tingling 45 minutes later. This stuff is almost impossible to rate, since I can't imagine ever cooking with it. I'd be more inclined to classify it as a chemical warfare material than as a cooking ingredient. It was too hot even to detect any flavour through the fire. However, as it was sold as dramatically hot chili, I have to admit that it does what it was advertised to, and give it a (painful) 10/10.

So, in summary: this is a good company to buy from. The stuff they sell is of top quality; they pack it well (except for my owowow caveat) and they deliver promptly. I recommend them to you!