As peppers continue to be “hot” items and chefs everywhere look for new and exciting ways to incorporate peppers into their cooking, we’re seeing more and more supermarkets offer more varieties of peppers than ever before. The Jalapeño, Serrano and habanero are now widely available, and so us pepper aficianados are increasingly on the lookout for more hard-to-find varieties that may offer new and unique experiences in the kitchen and on the table. The Datil pepper has come to our attention as a great candidate for those of us looking for a new and exciting – and sometimes dangerous – variety of pepper.
The Datil pepper, a variety of Capsicum chinense, is mainly found in St. Augustine, Florida, where it has traditionally been grown in family gardens. Known for it’s yellow/orange oblong fruits and a bright, fruity flavor, the Datil is a common sight in family plots around St. Augustine. But don’t be fooled by this pepper’s family oriented lifestyle – the Datil packs a whallop, with most of its fruit falling into the extremely hot area of 100,000 to 300,000 Scoville units!
It’s so hot, in fact, that the Datil can actually be hazardous when eaten raw. Unsuspecting nibblers of raw Datil have reported side effects as unpleasant as dizziness, diarrhea, severe heartburn and facial numbness, so anyone handling the Datil should definitely use precautionary measures like gloves and be sure not to touch their eyes or sensitive mucuous membranes.
No one is exactly sure how the Datil pepper originally came to the St. Augustine area, but the prevailing theory is that workers from the island of Minorca brought the seeds along when they settled this part of Florida in the late 18th century. However, there is a competing origin story that has the first Datil seeds making their way to St. Augustine in the care of a Cuban jelly maker who arrived in the area around 1880. Regardless of the true backstory, the Datil pepper is a source of regional pride for the St. Augustine community and is a staple of the local cuisine.
The vast majority of Datil peppers are grown by locals for their own personal consumption, and only small amounts have ever been successfully grown for commercial use. Growers in the area have struggled to meet commercial-level production demands because of hurricanes and floods in the area in recent years, so the Datil has been a rare sight in most supermarkets not in the St. Augustine area.
Because of this built-in scarcity and the undesireable side effects associated with eating the Datil raw, what you’ll probably find when you go searching for this pepper are a variety of interesting and unique sauces that incorporate the Datil. Perhaps the two most well-known are “Dat’l-Do-It,” a small boutique hot sauce created by Barnacle Bill’s owner Chris Way, and “Captain Sorensen’s Datil Pepper Sauce,” whose fire hydrant shaped bottle is a common site in fire houses across the country. No matter where you live, you can buy both products online at hotsauceplanet.com.
Despite only being grown in a small area, the Datil’s big taste is becoming more widely available, so keep an eye out for it if you’re the type that likes your food to bite back!