Saturday, November 24, 2012

Teeny Red Hawaiian Chili Peppers

It’s kind of fun (and kind of mean) to invite someone to take a bite out of a little red Hawaiian chili pepper. Even if the victim claims to like hot things, the hot zing from this teeny innocuous pepper usually makes the victim’s head turn red with vents of steam coming out of the ears. Ok, I exaggerate, but these darn little things are hot!  Locals and long-time residents like to make hot fire pepper water with these little chili peppers, and brag about whose sauce is hotter.

By the way, this blog post is a response to MauiShopGirl's "Red" picture challenge. Check out other red-themed posts there

Little red Hawaiian chili peppers
growing on a very tall pepper bush outside my front door. 

These peppers grow easily on Maui, often without being planted. Birds eat the peppers and poop the pepper seeds all over the island, which is why some
people call the peppers, “bird peppers.” I’m not sure how the birds tolerate this heat, but maybe birds don’t have heat sensors on their tongues or in their bellies.

Cardinal eating a pepper. 

Recently, found a cardinal in the pepper bush, happily eating away. I would have loved a close up, but he was camera shy.

A Mexican friend said they are excellent to use in cooking, but it took me years before attempting to use them. I guess I was too afraid! After some trial and error and learning and learning from other people, this is how I now use little Hawaiian peppers:

In a pan, add four or five little peppers in cold olive oil or coconut oil. Heat slowly so the oil absorbs the flavor of the peppers. One can even squeeze carefully on the pepper to help it juice into the oil. But if you squeeze too hard, the seeds will squirt out too, and the seeds are very hot!  The dish won’t be hot (spicy), just very flavorful.

For a curry for four people, chop up two little peppers with seeds and all, and add to the mixture. This dish will have a little heat.

These Hawaiian peppers are small,
maybe 1/2" long, and full of seeds!

For a huge spaghetti sauce – for 10+ people, in a 2-gallon pot, about four peppers chopped up finely. Again, the heat is hardly noticeable if you have enough sauce.

As an aromatic, one or two whole peppers adds a lot of flavor to a soup broth, to beans while cooking, to any kind of dish that has liquid – chicken lu’au, paprikash, pork adobo, goulash, split pea soup. After cooking, take the peppers out. Make sure you can find them, or at least warn people!  Alternatively, just chop one pepper finely – which will be a little hotter I think than pulling out the whole peppers.

Four little red peppers in the aromatic mix for my
half-baked Thanksgiving turkey.
The turkey was not hot (spicy), but turned out well despite the mishaps. 

For roasting chicken or turkey - add four whole peppers inside a turkey or maybe just two inside a chicken. Remove after cooking.

On fish, pork, etc., chop one little whole pepper on a portion sized for two people (8 oz or bigger), add chopped onions and mayonnaise, a little bread crumbs or panko flakes, and bake. This may still be too hot for some people!

Flowering Hawaiian chili pepper bush.

Any recipe that calls for a teaspooon of little red pepper flakes – go ahead and substitute one itty-bitty red chili pepper. Or two or three. But try one pepper at a time. You don’t want to blow your mouth off.

If a recipe calls for a dash of cayenne, feel free to experiment using finely minced red chili pepper, maybe only 1/8 of a pepper, or putting in the pepper whole and then removing it. 

Add a chili pepper to pickling liquid. Remember not to bite it, unless you want to feel your tongue in entirely new ways. You can get inspiration from Maui Preserved, which makes relishes and other preserved items. 

Use these little peppers in making kim chee or another spicy dish. Hee hee. Watch out!

Don't bother trying to get the seeds out... there are too many and it takes some time. Just use the peppers whole and then remove after cooking or use very judiciously in any dish you'd like to give a flavor kick. 

Windy Springs Art says the smoked little Hawaiian chili peppers are great in any dish. 

If you are visiting Maui, and want to take back a little Maui heat, some stores sell a spice blend that includes the little chili peppers or a hot chili sauce that you can take back on the plane. 

Where to find little Hawaiian chili peppers:
Some farmers markets have them, usually in small little ziploc bags, about $5/bag. The market price is about $15/lb, but it takes a lot of peppers to make a pound, plus it takes a while to pick them. I've only seen them in the more Filipino farmers markets in Kahului. Queen Kaahumanu Farmers Market is a good place to start. They may have them in Kula, at the Upcountry Farmers Market, but I haven't looked for them there.

A volunteer baby Hawaiian chili pepper plant that
decided to grow in my container garden. 
How to grow them?
They're easy to grow, and if you have an area of the yard that's undisturbed, you may find them growing there. Plants live a long time, longer than a year, in the right location. They like sun and can tolerate some shade. They produce more with a sunny location. One of my plants, a volunteer, is almost five feet tall because it kept reaching for the sunlight. If you have better soil, you'll have bigger, though that's a relative term, peppers. These peppers also do better than larger peppers like bell peppers. They are well-suited for Hawaii's climate and the fruit flies avoid them. 

P.S. With the holidays coming, these little peppers are also beautiful in a holiday wreath. 

Update 8/18/13
P.P.S. Jason, one of the commenters below, is a crazy hot pepper eater! He shared this video that his son took, so I'll share it with you. It's 11 minutes long, showing him eating 7 Trinidad Scorpion peppers followed by 7 tiny hot Hawaiian peppers. I don't think you should try this at home. 


  1. I love the Hawaiian chili pepper. I can eat as many as five at once with no bad effects. I usually go to chinatown atleast once a week to buy this delicious and spicy pepper.

  2. Somedays I'll consume as many as fifty peppers. I am also interested in growing my own Hawaiian chili peppers along with some superhot variety(Ghost chili,Trinidad Scorpion,etc)

  3. Just so you know, this is not me, the moderator, but another person who created an acct similar to mine. Hmm. I think I need to upload a pic here.

  4. Wow! I'm impressed. 5 at once... You have a stomach of steel.
    I can't do it.
    Good luck w/ your pepper growing. These are great to grow because they are so easy... and the fruit flies don't bother them.

  5. Thanjks for sharing my video. I am a crazy hot pepper eater. lol
    Your nice. =)

  6. I have so many of these growing on a bush outside my house right now. I didn't know what to do with all of them. I googled "hawaiian chili peppers" and your site was one of the first. That's awesome! Thanks for the ideas, and if you need any peppers let me know.

  7. Would love to have some. Would you be willing to sell some?

  8. Anybody have any real Hawaiian chili peppers atm that they'd be willing to sell please???? Trying to recreate my grandpa's old Hawaiian chili pepper water recipe. Much Mahalo's & Aloha's in advance :)


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