Growing Kashmiri chili peppers

When I encounter Indian recipes, they occasionally call for Kashmiri chilies. These are said to have a relatively mild taste and give a red color to dishes. For a long time I searched for these chilies in vain. What complicates the issue is that the authentic Kashmiri chili is actually medium hot and that the mild Kashmiri chili powder is apparently made from the Byadagi chili. That chili is grown in Karnataka, in South West India, rather than the Kashmir region of North India. Kashmiri chilies are in high demand but relatively scarce, so the confusion possibly arose from fraudulent vendors who started selling Kashmiri chilies as Byadagi chilies.

However, in some cases the names are not used interchangeably. In Rotterdam I found a shop, Remon Afro Asian Market at West-Kruiskade 87, which has the most extensive assortment of Indian food ingredients here that I know of. They sell two packages produced by MDH: one called Deggi Mirch powder and one called Kashmiri Mirch powder. The former is described as follows on their website:

Deggi Mirch is a unique, age old blend, processed from special varieties of colourful Indian red chilies. It is mild-hot and imparts glowing natural red colour to curried dishes making them attractive and more palatable.

The description of the latter is:

Exotic Kashmiri Mirch is a special blend of medium hot quality Red Pepper that is used for Tandoori (Clay oven) preparations. When used in curry it imparts bright red colour making food more appealing and palatable.

So both apparently are used for their capacity to color dishes red, but Deggi Mirch is mild hot and Kashmiri Mirch is medium hot. This still leaves a lot of questions. What kind of chili peppers are exactly used as ingredients and what are their Scoville ratings? My guess is Byadagi chilies are used for their Deggi Mirch, but considering the scarcity of authentic Kashmiri chili peppers I suspect a similar chili peper is used as a substitute for their Kashmiri Mirch.

Even though I can now simply buy the powders (if you don’t live close to a physical store which supplies it, you can easily find it at online shops), I still thought it was fun to grow them myself. In May 2014 I inquired about the seeds at various websites which sell chili seeds. I finally managed to find them at Chillies on the Web, a British shop. After discussing the uncertainty of the origins of the Kashmiri chili with them through e-mail, they told me they were not sure either. Chili cultivars are crossed so often that it is difficult to keep track of their origins, so there is no guarantee that their product is the real thing from Kashmir, or a similar chili from elsewhere in India. Even so, I was grateful for their help and got their dried Kashmiri chilies so I could harvest the seeds. After tasting, I concluded that these chilies are indeed medium hot, so they at least have some resemblance to the original.

I was warned that most seeds would be dead because the chilies were dried, so I was surprised to a see a lot of seeds germinate, at least twenty plants. However, I did not manage to harvest chilies at the end of last year’s summer. First of all, I started growing the plants relatively late, at the end of May or June. Another problem was that my garden doesn’t receive much sunlight, its does face southwest, but there’s a large apartment block which blocks out the sun during the late afternoon, especially early or late in the year. The wooden garden fences restrict sunlight as well. Vermin in my garden bumped off a few plants too after I transplanted them from their pots to full soil.

Kashmiri chilli plants

Thanks to some plant fertilizer I did manage to get chili plants which reached a height of 70 centimers, but they did not develop fruits. Fortunately I did take one plants to my parents, who have a small glass greenhouse which catches sunlight practically the whole day. During the autumn this plant had produced one green fruit. Right now the seeds of that fruit are hopefully germinating in small pots which I placed on a radiator. One small plant has shown up so far, but I don’t know if it’s a weed or a chili plant. Last year I was negligent in following the instructions for growing chili plants, so this year I should pay more attention.

Recently my interest in chili peppers drove me to completly rewrite the problematic articles on two Italian varieties, the peperoncino and the friggitello. I’d like to improve the article on the Byadagi chili and write a new article for the Kashmiri chili, but the almost complete lack of good and reliable sources is preventing me from doing this.