DRYING OF CHILLIES
The chilli (Capsicum annum) is native to Mexico but is now
grown and used extensively in most parts of the world. It is
the most popular spice and is used throughout the world to
flavour and add interest to bland foods. The seeds of chilli
have a long shelf life of 2-3 years which helped in their
Chillies belong to the same plant family (Solanaceae) as
potato, tomato and aubergine. There are at least 150
different types of chilli, varying in the degree of hotness.
They are rich in vitamin C, stimulate the appetite and cool
the body, especially in hot climates, by making the person
Figure 1: Chillies drying in
Sri Lanka. Photo: Zul Mukhida.
The chilli plant is a small bush that grows up to about 0.6m
tall. It has white flowers that produce fruits in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some chillies (the
cayenne pepper) are like stumpy fingers, while others such as the birds eye chilli are tiny. The
hottest chilli is the habanero which looks like a mini sweet pepper. Chilli plants grow from sea
level to altitudes of1800 meters in the tropics. Their pungency is influenced by several factors
such as high night temperatures and drought or over-watering. Green chillies are immature
fruits and red chillies have been allowed to ripen for a further four weeks. Ripened chillies can
also be orange-yellow, purple, dark brown or black.
By definition processing does not involve harvesting. However, one cannot produce a good
quality product from badly harvested materials. Correct harvesting techniques are one of the
most important factors in the production of a high quality final product.
For processing, chillies should not be picked until they are mature and start to turn red.
The crop should be cleaned before processing. The first stage is to remove dust and dirt using a
winnowing basket. This can be made locally from bamboo, palm or other leaves. Someone used
to this work can remove the dust, dirt and stones quickly and efficiently (eg they could clean
100kg of chillies in an eight hour day). Small machines are available for cleaning but they are
rarely cost effective.
After winnowing the crop needs to be washed in clean water. All that is needed are two or three
15 litre buckets. For larger quantities a small sink needs to be constructed. This can be made
out of concrete. However, the water must be changed regularly to prevent recontamination by
dirty water. Only potable water should be used. Take care not to over-wet the chillies or they
will take longer to dry.
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