The Carolina Reaper has been something of an illusive beast for me. I’ve been after trying them for some time now, well, about two years now. When Tesco recently announced that they were going to be stocking them in store I started to pay attention quickly to the news.
It’s not the first time that Tesco have surprised the Chilli Heads of the United Kingdom. Back in 2012 they introduced the Bedfordshire Super Naga, then last year they introduced the Komodo Dragon, a super hot chilli of their own (or as some claim, clever marketing) and this year they’ve of course brought us the Carolina Reaper. All of these are the product of Salvatore Genovese and his farm in Blunham, Bedfordshire, so it’s nice to know that these are all grown in Britain as well.
I tried to get hold of some Carolina Reapers last year but couldn’t. Instead I settled on getting hold of some Death At The Crimson Altar Hot Sauce which I’d heard a lot about and has been a part of my hot sauce collection since, that stuff really is delicious.
As I’d started growing chillies last year it made sense to plan to grow my own this year. As you may know already, that didn’t exactly pan out when I ended up buying some fake seeds off eBay.
Tesco announced they’d be selling the Carolina Reaper on the 19th July and word quickly spread around the chilli community, it raised more than a couple of eye brows. They are only available in a few select stores around the country which while a disappointment to some, I was lucky enough to live less than two miles from one of the stores named in Chorley.
This of course caused many Chilli Heads, including myself, to make more regular trips to Tesco than they normally would. Like, for me, every day. For whatever reason I could think of.
It’d be a week before I could claim any kind of success, well just over a week later. I found three bags left one day when I was on the way home from work. Suffice to say, they came home with me.
Now, let us just take a minute to look at that picture. There is one thing wrong, can you see what it is?
Does this help any?
Yes it does say British Komodo Dragon Chillies on the top in big letters. With Carolina Reaper being demoted to a variety of them. Not really sure how Ed Currie, the creator of the Carolina Reaper, would feel about that. It’s also not reassuring to know that I could have seen these many a time in the shop already, but because of the confusing label I didn’t know. It was actually brought to my attention on my Facebook page by one of my followers on a comment I made that I couldn’t find them and so had come home with some normal Komodo Dragon chillies.
I’m guessing that all though they claim that these chillies are commercially grown, in reality they don’t grow them in massive quantities because they’re pretty much a niche kind of product. There will be costs involved with creating a whole new label and there’d be no point if they could simply print it on with the other information they needed to get on there.
Certainly not ideal or helpful though, especially as these three bags were mixed in with a bag of regular variety of Komodo Dragon.
So, that part of things aside, the next point of concern among those that knew about the labels being potentially misleading was how the pods looked as they are known for there almost trade marked tail, or stinger.
In the three bags I’d bought, I’d come away with nine pods but there was only one that had the distinctive shape.
Others were close, but not quite. Others could have been anything. I’ve never grown Carolina Reapers so can’t say what the variation in them is normally like but this was enough to satisfy me that they were proper Carolina Reapers.
I didn’t do a ‘taste test’ of them raw. I’m not one for eating super hot chillies raw. I have done once before, I did it with a sliver of dried Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and lost all feeling in my tongue and lower jaw. I learnt to respect peppers after that 😉
So. The next job was to cook with them. This had to wait a couple of days. While I’m not scared of hot food I did want to try and make sure I tried these out properly after all the time I’d spent waiting to get hold of them. To do this I wanted to wait till the Friday night so that if there was any, repercussions, I could deal with them at home, in private. With some Imodium if necessary.
Friday came round and I got all the ingredients together for my Slow Cooked Chilli. The one thing I wasn’t sure of was, how many pods should I use?
I’m pretty much known for liking my food, hot. Not super market “hot” you understand, but, HOT. I’ve been eating chillies for years, practically on a daily basis and like most chilli heads, I’ve lost track of what can be considered “normal”.
On the rare chance I get to make food just for me, I like to kick it up a notch, or two. Most of my family have grown to accept that no matter what I make it’s going to be spicy and they’ve developed their own tolerances to heat, probably also beyond what can be considered normal.
I knew that they’d have no interest in trying anything I cooked with a Carolina Reaper in it, they won’t even try the Death at The Crimson Altar sauce, it’s a line they’re just not ready to cross, yet.
If a chilli is going to be just for me I like to use Bhut Jolokia. I normally start with 4 to 6 pods depending on the size, I chop them up small so they melt into the sauce for a rounded heat. Sometimes I’ll mix and match with Scotch Bonnets, depends what I’ve got in. Once the chilli has been cooking and everything has melted into the sauce, I’ll generally throw in some more chillies, a combination of normal “super market” ones chopped up and/or some “hot mix”.
At that point they’re for decoration more than anything else but I figure they’re going to contribute to the heat on some level.
I’d originally planned on using four Carolina Reaper pods, but, then it crossed my mind that sometimes I’d use just four Bhut Jolokia and I’d had some, hot, dishes from those. So, I bottled it a little and went with three.
I selected the three I considered to be the most Carolina Reaper like, chopped them up and added them to my slow cooking pot.
I made the chilli as normal, but didn’t use any kind of chilli powder (not counting Paprika) and left the taste testing to the very end when all sauce would be complete. By the time the chilli is finished I normally end up with just over a gallon of it. It sounds a lot, but it isn’t really, about 8 pints.
To say I’d only used three pods, it was hot. Very hot. The heat didn’t hit straight away either, when I tasted a spoonful of the sauce it was hot, don’t get me wrong, but ten seconds or so later and it really hit home. I’d heard that they were surprisingly sweet, yet, I was still surprised at how sweet it actually was.
Importantly, it was edible. To me at least. Yes, it was hot but manageable I thought. It did have a slightly bitter edge to it so I tempered it off with another spoonful of light brown sugar and a couple more blocks of chocolate.
So, I settled down to eat my tea. I was a bit nervous about it. Not scared nervous, but excited nervous. I’d been waiting to cook with these things for a long time now.
I wasn’t disappointed at all, the meal was delicious. It never got me to the point were I thought I couldn’t continue but, it did take me to the edge of my comfort zone without actually ever pushing me over it (as I’ve been known to do before). I was glad I’d let the pods do the work on their own with the flavour and the heat, they truly are as tasty a chilli as you’re likely to come across. And, yes it did make me wonder what it would have been like with four pods in it.
Maybe an adventure for another time.
The other great thing about all of this is of course, a reliable seed source! Of a kind. I’m assuming as these were commercially grown then the necessary precautions were made to try and keep the pods pure for seed harvesting, on some level at least.
I had reason to make another trip to Tesco, so, I picked up some more pods…
That my friends is £10 worth of Carolina Reaper pods. I bought so many to make sure I had some for a while, I’ll dry them out, powder some and keep some whole for if I want them.
Now, I used to think it was expensive for these things. At £1 for 15g of chilli, they’re definitely not cheap. But I said this on a few different occasions and more than once I heard back that it was worth it for the seeds.
Ignoring the eBay and Amazon sellers (which you should), the seeds for Carolina Reaper can be quite expensive. Going to the Pucker Butt Pepper Company’s website they are $6.00 for ten seeds which at todays (30/07/2016) exchange rate is about £4.50. Obviously they are the best of the best, and they can be found cheaper, but from experience I’m only going to be buying the best guaranteed quality I can from now on.
For my £10 I’d got over 30 pods. In each of those pods is seed…
A lot of seeds.
So yeah, I’d say it was worth it just for the seeds. As I was dehydrating them out I needed to half them all anyway so I got to digging the seeds out as I did.
It’s probably worth a mention that if you’re reading this and now have ideas to dig out the seeds for yourself then WEAR GLOVES when you’re doing it! Because of the shape of the pods the seeds can get tucked away inside the crevices, they’re full of oil inside of these things and if that oil gets in your hands and fingers you are going to know about it pretty quickly. I’m pretty hardy with normal chillies and it doesn’t really bother me to get it on my skin. Not realising what all the fuss was with getting the oil in your skin I once deseeded some super-hots with my bare hands.
I will never do that again, ever. It’s unbearable and there is very little in the way you can do to get the oil out of your skin once it’s in there, you have to ride it out. It took two days for the pain to go away from me, and, it is pain. There are things you can do to help with it, but, none of them seemed to make a lot of difference to me.
The good news is that once I’d pulled out the seeds from about twenty pods, I was getting quite bored of it…
I didn’t count them but I’m assuming I got my moneys worth in seed.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I’m eager to plant these now. It’s way too late in the season to get a viable plant now, last year I took some seeds out of the Komodo Dragon and planted those early, like August early. The plant took and grew slowly over the winter and by January I had quite a good looking plant.
Who am I kidding? There will be a seed in soil before the end of the weekend 😉
Did you try the Carolina Reaper yet? Speak out in the comments on your thoughts!