Southeast Asian, Korean, Indian and Szechuan cooking all share an intense passion for spicy food. One of the most popular and widely used ingredients to create this spiciness is bird’s eye chili peppers. These peppers are typically harvested when they are about one inch long and range from a bright green hue to a beautiful, deep red when mature.
As with all peppers, the heat is concentrated in the seeds though this pepper packs a punch just in its skin alone. These tiny peppers are used in all types of Asian dishes from curries, stir-fries and stew. The smaller they are, typically the spicier they are. In Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore specifically, bird’s eye chili peppers are indispensable in the making of chili pastes. Known by many names such as Sambal, Nam Phrik and Mirca, each Asian country has its own unique version of chili sauce that serves as an addictive condiment to many meals.
Traditional methods of making chili pastes involve using a mortar and pestle to mash bird’s eye chili peppers with fresh garlic. Modern studies have concluded that these powerful peppers aid in speeding up the metabolism, which easily explains why many Asians eat so much and remain slim.
Another popular type of chili pepper used throughout Asia is ground red chili peppers. In Asian and Western markets, this powder of ground up form is usually packaged in either plastic containers or bags. Depending on their country of origin, this ground version may be produced by crushing dried up red bird’s eye chili peppers or cayenne peppers. The peppers are dried out under the sun, then either mashed up into the powder or ground up using more modern appliances such as a food processor. The two most common forms are the finely ground variety which appears to be a bright red powder and the other is simply the ground variety which includes the seeds.
Both are used in different types of Asian dishes and often more convenient to use for stir-fries, soups and curries rather than working with fresh chili peppers, which may be more difficult to find in certain areas.