Chilli Fiesta 2015

20 things you didn’t know about chillies: Part 3

So here it is! The third and final installment of our 3-part series on the weird and wonderful facts about chillies. By now, your appetite should be primed for enjoying a weekend at one of the biggest and best Chilli Festivals in the country, the 20th Anniversary West Dean Chilli Fiesta! So sit back, enjoy and get another taste for just why we love chillies so much.

15. “Hey polly!…Little help?”


If you’re a keen chilli-grower and just happen to have a couple of pet budgies around the house, then you’re very much in luck! It’s been proven that our feathered friends are in fact super effective at helping our favourite chilli varieties survive and thrive. How? Overt your eyes kids because it’s about to get graphic… bird chillies

seed eating ant

Natural born enemy- a variety of seed-eating ant makes off with this chilli seed.

Unfortunately, chilli seeds are often born into a world with danger around every corner. Animals such as ants are eager to devour them while pathogens are keen to infect them. Further rubbing salt into the wounds, some species of birds swallow seeds whole and then “deposit” them miles from where they originated. But for some chilli plants, this is precisely what they would have wanted to happen.

Attracted to the fleshy fruits that encase seeds, birds consume them and then disperse the gut-processed seeds to new environments. In a study conducted around the topic, this process was shown to have hugely positive effects for the freshly pooped out seeds. Seed survival (when compared to those which had not passed through a bird’s system) increased by 370%! This remarkable figure is thought to be because of the 100-fold reduction in volatile odours omitted by the seeds that usually attract seed-eating ants. On top of this, processed seeds are significantly less infected by fungal pathogens. Top work Tweety! birds-eye_chillies_16x9

More fiery fowl trivia…

  • Bird’s eye chillies are so called because looking at one from the stem end can resemble the eye of a bird. Try it out! However some believe that this variety of Capsicum Annuum is so called because of the way they’re spread in the wild…you know…THAT way…
  • The African bird’s eye chilli is known as piri piri. Anyone else hungry for chicken all of a sudden?

16. The most popular food in the world

World-Map We know just how crucial food is to society and in most cultures, chilli is king! This is so true in fact that chillies are THE most commonly consumed food, by quantity, in the world! Beaten only by salt, but I pose the question, is salt really a food?… Regardless, the international pull of these beautiful little plants is undeniable.

17. nutritious AND delicious

chilli_sm SONY DSC

Chillies contain more vitamin C than Oranges! The average green chilli can contain up to 5 times what an orange can produce. Oranges also tend to pale in comparison when it comes to Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6, Magnesium, Iron and Potassium. Check out a full list of nutritional values here.

18. Big Jim

sumo …Of course not! I wouldn’t be talking about a big man…boring! Chillies are much more fascinating! The varieties of shape, colour and size of chilli that exist on this planet are truly vast. After all they’ve probably been here almost as long as we have! But with new specimens being created almost all of the time, the new hottest, funkiest or flat out biggest variety of chilli is only ever just around the corner. Speaking of BIG…

big jim

A handful of Big Jim chilli pods

Let me introduce you to the Big Jim! These remarkable plants, originated in New Mexico, USA, are capable of producing some of the biggest chilli pods in the world. But that’s not all of what is so remarkable about this gargantuan shrub. It’s the strange scale of the pods compared to its own stem that makes the Big Jim such a popular chilli plant in the Southern States of America. Usually, the plant itself is only 2-3ft tall but the pods can grow up to anything around 1ft, almost half the size of the whole plant and 5 times as wide. That would be like a human giving birth to a chest of draws…sorry.

birdseye chilli

A handful of Birdseye Chilies. They may be smaller than Big Jim (pictured above), but they definitely pack a bigger punch.

The average ‘Big Jim’ fruit comes in at 30.48 cm long. Compared to our old friend the bird’s eye chilli at 3-4 cm, it’s almost 10 times the size! In terms of heat however, the smaller chilli wins. The Scoville Heat Units (SHU) that a bird’s eye chilli produces is 100,000 – 225,000. This compared to Big Jim’s measly 500 to 2,500 SHU. The Big Jim is perfect however for making decorative “ristras” as well as the classic (and very tasty) chile rellenos dish. For more Big Jim cooking tips, see here

19.  Paving the way for chillies


The Doomsday Book

The very land on which I now sit behind my desk typing this blog, has been used for living and cultivation for at least a thousand years! In fact West Dean manor was noted in the Domesday Book of 1086 as a forest and hunting park.

B&A Photos West Dean Gardens (172)

An early 19th century artwork of the newly rebuilt West Dean House whilst in possession of Lord Selsey

The Earls of Arundel and Dukes of Norfolk held the land for almost 500 years before it passed into various ownerships, including the Sussex families of John Aylwin of Lewes and Richard Lewkenor, who built a Jacobean manor house on the Estate. The rest is history. But the fact still remains that every shovel, hoe and countless generation of farmer and gardener that has worked this land for over a millennium, has somehow paved the way for our stunning gardens and hugely impressive chilli collection. What a red carpet!

20. For the love of chillies


We end this series of facts on my own personal favourite. And I think in many ways it sums up how a lot of us feel about these special and spicy plants…

Jesse James (1847-1882), one of the most infamous and feared outlaws of the old American West, actually refused to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas with his gang of desperados, supposedly because it was next door to his favourite chili parlour!


Before and after – (above) Jesse James and his brother Frank with their father, Robert Sallee James. (below) The two brothers take to the lives of outlaws.


Jesse James eventually met his end when he was shot dead by one of his own gang members on April 3rd 1882. Jesse was apparently without his lucky chilli bracelet on this occasion. Consarnit!!

Well that’s it chilli fans and fanettes! It’s been a blast bringing you a little bit of chilli based factual lunacy, but never fear! You can read part one and part two in this series of 20 things you didn’t know about chillies right here and live it all over again! Don’t forget to buy your tickets for the 20th Chilli Fiesta NOW and feel the heat August 7, 8 & 9, 2015.

West Dean Gardens is part of the Edward James Foundation. Charity number 1126084. Company Number: 6689362

West Dean’s family-friendly Chilli Fiesta turns 20 this year! Join in the fun 7, 8 and 9 August 2015. Early Bird Tickets available until 31 July.

For full information and to book tickets visit

New chillifiesta_lowbeautifulsouthbronze

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