Hot Stuff at The Somerset Chilli Festival

By Monica Shaw •

The Somerset Chilli Festival runs from June 2nd - 4th, a celebration of all things spicy, with food sampling, cookery demos and a Chilli Eating Competition, which sounds both painful and curious - at least from a spectator's point of view.  Chilli lovers unite - it's going to be a hot and wonderful time. Great British Chefs blogger  Monica Shaw takes a look at what's on offer & explores chilli growth in the UK

Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

One of the great things about the  Somerset Chilli Festival is that it brings some well-deserved attention to UK chilli growers. There seems to be a boon at the moment in exotic chillis and chilli-based products, with over 100 professional chilli growers and product manufacturers in the UK (current estimates value the UK chilli industry at £14.5 million per year and growing).


In Somerset and beyond, a small but expanding community of chilli nerds are growing all kinds of chillis in their gardens and polytunnels, thus putting the UK on the chilli map. In fact, the world's hottest chilli, the Indian Bhut Jolokia, was cultivated in Lincolnshire and ranks a whopping 1,067,286 on the Scoville Scale used to measure the heat of peppers (by comparison, a jalapeno measures 2,500 to 5,000).

I'm not as hardcore as some chilli nerds out there, but I'm definitely a chilli fan and this year I've been enjoying learning about all the crazy varieties of chillis out there with beautiful names like Trinidad ScorpionPimenta Da Neude, and Aji Panca. This year, I've been growing some of these exotic varieties, as well as some more run-of-the mill chilli types like serrano and jalapeno.

Funky chillies

Herein I'm discovering the many levels of chillis bliss one can enjoy: chillis are incredibly easy to grow (my windowsill is currently cluttered with chilli sprouts) and each different variety has its own subtle, unique flavour.

I'm a particular fan of the humble jalapeno, essential in Mexican cooking, one of my favourite cuisines. And let's not forget that you can dry, roast and pickle chilli peppers to create a whole new dimension of flavour.

Munch-Inspired Raw Kale Salad

Chilli is essential to my cooking (some might say it's a bit excessive). I use it in salads, marinades, soups and even desserts.  As far as I'm concerned, homemade salsa is the ultimate condiment and can be made with all manners of chillis - I especially like this roasted tomato salsa using chipotle peppers for a smoky, spicy effect.

Smoke Tomato and Chipotle Salsa

Continuing the Mexican theme, pickled jalapenos are a staple. I use them to jazz up veggie chilli, tacos even omelets. You can now buy pickled jalapenos quite readily, but nothing beats making your own (especially if you've been growing lots of chillis yourself!). For this purpose, Purple Foodie's pickled jalapeno recipe is a winner.

Pickled Jalapenos

Chillis are also essential to Indian cooking, and this recipe for Kadhi is a new favourite, a yoghurt-based Indian soup making use of both fresh and dried chillis.

And for the true chilli fiend, there's chilli for dessert. I love mango chilli sorbet, one of the most refreshing ways to finish a meal on a hot summer's day.

Mango Chilli Sorbet

No doubt Somerset Chilli Festival will have loads more ways to inspire your chilli endeavours, be it growing them, cooking with them, or just eating them. And if all else fails, the shock factor of the Chilli Eating Competition should be well worth a watch.

Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

Are you headed to the festival? Or are you simply passionate about chillis? Tell us what you love about them and how you use them! Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page


Monica Shaw

Monica Shaw is web consultant working with chefs, restaurants & food producers, to help them make use of the internet to improve their businesses. She's also a freelance writer, her credits include The Daily Telegraph, Chef Magazine and food mag. Monica enjoys experimenting with vegetables & creating delicious & healthy dishes, a topic covered on her blog SmarterFitter.com. She is working on The Healthy Vegan Breakfast Book, due to be published in March 2013

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