Chillies are fruits from the capsicum plant, and related to the tomato. Capsaicin is the active chemical that causes the heat in a chilli pepper, their heat is measured in ‘scoville units'.
There are over 500 types of chillies, and they can be hard to identify. The most widely-known are:
Habanero This small, round, fiercely hot chilli has a citrus-like flavour and is used in Mexican cooking.
Scotch bonnet One of the hottest chillies - small, round, and unevenly shaped, it varies in colour from green to orange and red. Fiery and fruity, it is used in Jerk flavouring and Caribbean dishes.
Bird's Eye Chillies Tiny little red or green chillies that pack a punch, used in Thai and Asian cooking.
Jalepeno chilli peppers The most popular and widely available chillies, bullet-shaped with a soft smooth skin.
Chipotle chillies Smoky and sweet, made by drying and smoking a Jalapeno chilli. Used to flavour Mexican recipes.
Padron chillies Small green peppers, very popular served as a tapas. They are mild, but the occasional hot one does appear. Fry in olive oil, drain then sprinkle with sea salt and eat with your fingers.
How to prepare
Use rubber gloves when handling chillies, as the juice is easily absorbed by the skin, causing a burning sensation - never touch your eyes or sensitive areas before you've washed your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards. The pith and seeds are the most potent part, remove them for a milder heat. Cut the chillies in half, remove the seeds and pith then slice or dice as required.
If you burn your mouth with chilli, drink milk or yoghurt, or eat ice cream, even peanut butter instead. Drinking water will do no good because capsaicin is not soluble in water.