Discovering a vivid, meltingly mild, chilli in Mysore
“Oh, well, I guess some like it hot. I personally prefer classical music.”Tony Curtis, in Some Like It Hot
We were part-way through the cookery demonstration being given by Yamuna Achaiah, our hostess at the Gitanjali homestay in Mysore, when Yamuna emptied a small bowl of powder into the bubbling chicken and the kitchen landscape changed out of all recognition.
The curry turned bright red and a wonderful deep musky mysterious aroma pervaded. “Hmmmm” we both murmured appreciatively, “what is that?”
“It’s Byadgi chilli” we were told, “I use it a lot with my guests, who often find the heat of our spicy Indian foods is a bit too much. It’s much milder than the normal chilli we might use. And it gives a good colour to the food”.
‘Good colour’? I should say so, it’s rollickingly, rumbustiously red, and as Yamuna said, for those used to a quieter European cuisine it doesn’t overpower, it just adds depth, complexity and richness.
What is Byadgi chilli (also known sometimes, wrongly, as Kashmiri chilli)?
Byadgi chilli is mostly grown in the southern Indian state of Karnataka – it’s named after a town there and it gained a GI (Geographic Indication) in 2011. It’s the second most popular chilli used in India today.
The more vivid the colour, the better the quality.
Although it’s often referred to as ‘Kashmiri’ chilli it doesn’t come from Kashmir. In fact another name for it is ‘kaddi’ which means stick-like. Byadgi chillies are shrivelled, pointed and deep red, whereas chillies actually grown in Kashmir are quite broad, not very red and a lot more pungent.
The Byadgi chilli-Kashmiri chilli contention
Writing this post has caused me more hours of research as well as more hours of confusion than almost any of the other 1,500 and counting on this blog.
In some parts of the world ‘kashmiri chilli’ is as much a marketing term as a particular variety of chilli
One of the reasons that Byadgi chilli is often referred to at Kashmiri chilli is because, in some countries, Kashmiri chilli is much better known. I know this sounds cavalier but this is what dealers in Europe and north America have told me.
There’s a commercial reason too. Kashmiri chillies are quite expensive.
Sometimes the required specification is a Scoville score, rather than a particular botanical type of chilli. In fact, chilli is a bit like wine or tea in that it is often blended, and none the worse, necessarily for that.
What’s marketed as ‘kashmiri chilli’ may just be a bright-red, mild, blend… which could include Byadgi chilli.
Another problem arises from the fact that not all botanical varieties have been clearly identified and distinguished. And other conditions can make a big difference: the terroir, the weather, the harvesting methods, being dried over fire or in the sun; all can make the end product, a plant of the same botanical variety, very different. The name of a plant can also be very misleading. Aleppo pepper hasn’t been grown in the close environs of that sad city for years now, but the market for it continues to flourish.
There is a difference between Byadgi and Kashmiri chilli; Byadgi is definitely hotter than Kashmiri: the question is how significant is this difference?
Nevertheless, there is a difference between a kashmiri chilli and a byadgi one.
I checked back with Yamuna for clarification and she explains:
“In my opinion the Byadgi and Kashmiri chilli are different and we never substitute one for the other in our cooking.
The Byadgi has a more earthy flavour and is used more in South Indian cooking.It is grown only in certain parts of the country but the Kashmiri has a milder flavour and is used more in North Indian food.”
So Kashmiri chilli is milder than Byadgi, but nevertheless Yamuna still introduced me to Byadgi chilli as being milder than most. This is corroborated by a rather sad article from The Deccan Herald, June 19 2005 entitled Byadagi Chilly Not Hot Anymore:
“The condition is so hard that the chilli growers of the district will neither get suitable price if they sell nor they can get fair price by storing them till good market emerge.The main reason for this is that the chillies of Andhra Pradesh much spicier than the local variety, have invaded the state market.”
Everything is relative, however, and mild is not that mild. According to Nik Sharma, in his seminal work, The Flavour Equation, the Byadgi chilli scrapes into the 50,000 Scoville level, just below the Bird’s Eye, while Kashmiri chilli scores bottom, with between 1,000 to 2,000, below even Aleppo. This chimes with what Anthony, in the comments below, says.
Sharma depicts the Byadgi chilli as thin, long, pointy, and red – just like my photo, above. He depicts the Kashmiri chilli as being more like a dark brown slightly elongated pear.
However, if you take a look at Harshad’s Sprout Monk blog, and his post all about the differences between Byadgi and Kashmiri chilli you will see that he estimates the pungency of both as ‘mild’, although he does says that Byadgi has an ‘earthy, distinct taste’; whereas the taste of Kashmiri is ‘not very distinct’.
Also, if you go to Spice Mountain’s entry for Kashmiri chillies, the photograph is not of anything looking like a dark brown, elongated pear, but of a long, thin, pointy red chilli. This is what Spice Mountain has to say about their Kashmiri chillies:
“A mild chilli that features commonly in Indian curries, Kashmiri chillies are used in dishes like rogan josh for the deep red colour they impart. They are popular both for this gorgeous colour, and also their mild heat, which brings a lovely warmth to dishes rather than the fiery character of hotter chillies.”
One possible reason for this discrepancy, and yet more confusion is the fact that there are, according to Wikipedia, two types of Byadgi chilli: Dabbi (smaller, redder, less spicy) and Kaddi (longer, more spicy). Wikipedia isn’t always right – it’s interesting to note that Sh post in the comments below considers Kaddi to a different type of chilli altogether – not a Byadgi chilli.
How to use Byadgi chilli
- Add to curries, vegetable dishes, tomato sauce, soups, stews and sambars
- Add it to onions prior to frying and then mix with tomatoes – add to all the dishes above
- Use it for making chutneys
- Use it as a rub for meat
- It gets thrown into many Southern Indian dishes such as bisi bele bath – a hearty mix of rice, lentils and vegetables
- Mix it with ordinary red chilli powder to add colour and temper spiciness
Alternatives to Byadgi chilli
Aleppo pepper is a good alternative, or a hot paprika. Don’t substitute ‘standard’ Indian chilli – the whole point of using Byadgi chilli is that it’s much milder. To give you an idea:
- Paprika is 100 – 1,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units)
- Aleppo pepper is about 15,000, although it can go up to 30,000 – it’s in the same range of heat as Byadgi
- Cayenne pepper is 30,000 – 50,000
For more on Aleppo pepper follow this link.
For information on Isot, or Urfa pepper, follow this link.
For more about paprika, follow this link.
Music to cook to
The nice thing about Byadgi chilli is that it is not that hot….nevertheless, here’s Bruce Springsteen singing I’m On Fire.