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Chilli Culture

The obsession with chillies has evolved in the UK over recent years. Thanks to inquisitive chefs looking further and further afield for culinary
inspiration, we have started to really explore the intricate and complex flavours of chillies. No longer used purely for heat, today you are as likely
to find chefs mulling over whether the fruitiness of habaneros will work best with your sauce base, or a mix of chipotle and ancho.
Chilli culture in the UK has certainly come a long way. This year the Great Taste Awards had so many hot sauces and chilli-forward products that a
team of dedicated judges was brought into London to judge them exclusively over a whole day. Over two intense sessions we worked our way from products based around everything from the Thai birds eye, to the world’s hottest chilli, the Carolina Reaper. Yes, intensity of heat did ride high in some of these products, but what was most interesting was how deeply complex flavours were being partnered with these super-hot chillies.

Mexican cuisine is enjoying some well-deserved time in the limelight right now, which has naturally led to habaneros being used in hot sauces, and a
wider appreciation for the fruity flavours they harness. So much so that some establishments are knocking out homemade hot sauces that partner the habanero with ingredients like melon, pineapple and mango. This can be a great way to bring seasonal interest to your hotter dishes, but can also help to soften the intense heat of rather interestingly flavoured chillies. While on the subject of Mexican food, the deeply flavoured, slow cooked mole is a sauce that can take on a wide range of flavours, taking diners on a metaphorical journey. A tasting of one made with the fearsome Carolina Reaper actually proved to me just how useful hot chillies can be. As the intense heat slowly builds, lingering in the mouth, the producer was able to use the chilli to draw out and drag through all those other savoury flavours along with it.

Looking east, there are of course a lot of influences to pull from the cuisines of Vietnam, Thailand, China and Japan. Szechuan chillies and peppercorns can be combined to deliver scorching, tongue numbing flavour, which has gained the Szechuan hotpot a cult following across the globe. While Japanese booze food continues to pick up apace in UK cities, sesame oil laced with ground chilli, sesame seeds, mirin and garlic, is a condiment that while lacks that intense punch of heat, makes waves with deep umami flavours. It’s an exciting, albeit intense world out there at the moment for chilli lovers. However, one of the most promising things about chillies right now is that consumers appear to be more interested in ever in the flavours hidden behind the heat. A positive attitude that can do our trade well.