Field Notes

The Piri Piri Chili Pepper

You’re probably familiar with the name “piri piri” as it relates to chicken. The classic dish is ubiquitous in Portugal, and its popularity has spread worldwide. But “piri piri” goes way beyond poultry; the word is actually Swahili for “pepper” and refers to a specific varietal of chili that was originally cultivated in Africa.

The piri piri chili, also called the African birdseye chili, packs plenty of heat. It registers 300,000 on the Scoville scale (a jalapeño, by contrast, measures only 10,000). But its clean, bright flavor makes it one of the most exciting chilies to keep in your kitchen. The piri piri’s sharp herbal notes and citrusy underpinnings can help bring rich ingredients into balance, or amplify starchier dishes, all while adding a welcome dose of heat.


This chili isn’t widely available in the States, but it’s worth hunting down. Look for it in specialty stores or online markets, such as Kalustyans.


Piri piris are almost always sold dried. Kept in an airtight container in a dry, cool space, they’ll keep for up to one year.


  • Poultry
  • Fatty fish, such as mackerel or salmon
  • Feta or goat cheese
  • Shellfish
  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, barley or freekah
  • Avocado
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Cilantro
  • Gin


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    The Chili Pepper Field Guide is a growing knowledge base exploring the diverse flavors of chili peppers from around the world. We welcome your thoughts and content suggestions via email or social media using hashtag #chililab