Peppers are "hot" items these days. Chefs everywhere are coming up with new and exciting ways to use peppers in their cooking, and supermarkets now offer many varieties of peppers and pepper products that are unique. With peppers such as the jalapeno, Serrano, and habanero becoming more "main stream", pepper aficionados are on the lookout for more rare varieties. The datil pepper, a pepper mainly grown in family gardens in and around St. Augustine, Florida, is one such variety. This pepper can now be found in sauces, powders, and other condiments.
What is a Datil Pepper?
The datil pepper is a variety of Capsicum chinense, and is mainly found in the St. Augustine, Florida area. This pepper is known for its yellow/orange, oblong shaped fruit that is on average 3-4 inches long. Plants grow to be 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet tall, and are distinguished by the 3-5 flowers at each node and by its drooping pedicels. The peppers have a bright, fruity flavor that makes this pepper great for sauces. Datil peppers are extremely hot and are between 100,000 and 300,000 Scoville units.
This pepper can be hazardous when eaten raw, and can cause side effects such as dizziness, diarrhea, heartburn, and a numb feeling around the mouth. Anyone handling this pepper should use precautionary measures such as gloves, and extreme care should be taken not to touch the eyes or sensitive mucous membranes.
It is not certain how the datil pepper came to the St. Augustine area. Many believe that the pepper came with workers from the island of Minorca who settled in the area in the late 18th century. The other theory is that seeds for the pepper came to the St. Augustine area with a jelly maker named S.B. Valls who brought it from Cuba in 1880. However the datil pepper came to Florida, it is now an integral component in the local Minorcan cuisine, and is a source of pride for the St. Augustine community.
The datil pepper is grown mainly by locals for their own consumption. It has been difficult for growers to meet commercial production demands due to recent hurricanes, floods, and other weather issues. Growers have been successful in growing small amounts for commercial use.
Datil Pepper Products
Because the datil pepper has so many unpleasant side effects when eaten raw, the pepper is usually used in sauces and other foods. For example, the Minorcans use the pepper in chicken pirlau, Minorcan clam chowder, and other dishes. One Minorcan family, the McQuaigs, own the Minorcan Datil Pepper Products Company. This company makes a datil hot sauce, a spice mix, mustard, and BBQ sauce from local peppers.
One of the most famous datil hot sauces was created by Chris Way at his restaurant called Barnacle Bill's. The hot sauce is called Dat'l-Do-It and is made with a special combination of datil peppers, brown sugar, ketchup, tomato paste, and honey. It is available locally and on-line.
Another datil hot sauce is called Captain Sorensen's Datil Pepper Sauce. It comes in a fire hydrant shaped bottle, and is used in firehouses around the country. Made with datil peppers, onions, and tamarind, the sauce is tangy and delicious.
The datil pepper, while grown in a small area, has a big taste and a faithful following among pepper aficionados.