Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Philippine Wild Chili Pepper (Siling Labuyo)

Often mistaken for bird’s eye chili pepper, the cultivar siling labuyo is a species of capsicum fructescens in the capsicum genus. The name “siling labuyo” in Filipino means wild chili although at present this plant is widely cultivated because of its culinary importance in some Philippine dishes. The frail looking but fast growing plant probably got its name because it usually grows wildly almost anywhere in soil near a house.

Siling labuyo is a small plant that grows only at about a meter in height and has acuminate leaves and small star shaped white flowers. Its tiny and slightly tapered fruit is about 2-2.5 cm in length and turns red when ripe. The plant’s peculiarity is that the fruits are usually on the stalks upside down unlike any other fruits.

The “wild” chili was once listed as the hottest chili pepper in the Guinness Book of World Records. But now, it is only ranked in the middle in the list of hottest chilis in the Scoville Heat Scale. The heat of siling labuyo is measured in the range of 50,000-100,000 which is below that of the bird’s eye chili pepper at 100,000-225,000 range. The hottest chili in the Scoville list is the Carolina Reaper which is measured in the range of 1,600,000-2,200,000 heat units.

A bite of the tiny chili will cause intense burning feeling and irritation. However, it is its hotness that makes this chili a highly sought after food commodity. For some people, the hotter it is the better. The native chili is an indispensable ingredient in some of the cuisines of Maranao, Visayan and Bicolano tribes. In the Visayas and Mindanao regions, a raw fish dish called “kinilaw” is not complete without siling labuyo in it. Siling labuyo is also used to spice up canned or bottled sardines and commercially sold vinegar. It is also added in a condiment or dip for broiled pork or fish and roasted meat for a spicy hot meal. Moreover, Siling labuyo leaves are great for a stewed chicken dish called “tinola.”

“Boodle fight” is a kind of informal dinner in the Philippines that originated from the military. It is a sort of a buffet style meal where diners by the table partake on foods with their bare hands. This type of informally serving foods has found its way outside the military, so that some civilians adapted it in gatherings where foods are served. In a military “boodle fight” foods such as boiled rice, canned sardines, fried dried fish, broiled pork and pancit are laid on the table without utensils. Handful of Siling labuyo is deliberately inserted in the cooked rice. During the meal those who have the misfortune of putting and chewing the chili in his mouth would suddenly feel the burning sensation caused by the chili. However, such discomfort is only temporary since it will be gone after a few seconds, and then the partaker’s urge to eat returns to normal.

Aside from its culinary uses siling labuyo is also used in herbal medicine. Consuming it stimulates mucous flow from sinus cavity clearing nasal congestion, and because of it, the chili is used to treat cough and stuffed nose during cold and fever.  It is also said to lower cholesterol and fight inflammation. Crushed fruits are used to help clean wound to avoid infection. Mixed with oil and massaged on joints affected by gout and rheumatism, they help ease pain and inflammation.