The Fiery Allure of Peri Peri Sauce
Peri peri sauce (also known as piri piri sauce) is a classic Portuguese condiment, made famous across the world through its pairing with Portuguese-style chicken — the secret ingredient which elevates the dish to fiery heights.
Piri piri is Swahili for “pepper pepper,” and is the common Portuguese Romanticisation for African birds-eye chilli. It is known by other names throughout Africa; in Congo, people call it pili pili and in Malawi it is known as peri peri, but it is the Portuguese-speaking Mozambicans who solidified piri piri into the culinary lexicon.
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Around the word, piri piri sauce is almost anything made with a base of chilli peppers, but if you’re after the authentic experience, those made with African birds-eye chilli’s are the way to go.
Archaeologists have found evidence that chilli plants were domesticated at least six thousand years ago and evidence of the use of chilli in cooking has been found in Mexico that dates back to 400 BC. Today we call chillies “peppers” because of Christopher Columbus, who likened the taste of chilli to black pepper — a flowering vine in the family Piperace (Piper = pepper).
Although spiciness is associated with a plethora of food cultures, all the chilli plants that exist in the world today are decedents of cultivars in South America, and without the imperialistic endeavours of conquistadors in the 15th and 16th centuries, spice would not exist in the global palette the way it does today.
Chillies are rated on the Scoville scale (named after American chemist Wilbur Scoville who invented it in 1912). The system measures the concentration of chemical capsaicin within the chilli to give a tangible reading of ‘heat’.
Where does peri peri sauce sit on this scale you ask? Not hugely high. Peri peri is more about flavour than heat, using that magical capsaicin to spark and elevate other elements into a fiery melange of deliciousness. The African birds-eye chilli contains around 175,000 Scoville heat units, which is milder than relative counterparts like habanero or Scotch bonnet chilies (and only a fraction of what the infamous ghost chilli serves us — 1 million units — or the hottest chilli in the world, the Carolina Reaper, with around 2 million units).
What Is In Peri Peri Sauce?
Piri piri is more subtle than these cataclysmic chillies. It works well in sauces as a companion, used to intrigue the senses rather than quell them. Nonetheless, peri peri sauce can pack a punch, and is a great way to compliment more subtle flavours like chicken and vegetables.
Chilli stimulates nerve endings between tastebuds, opening the flavour floodgates, and peri peri sauce is believed to give those who eat it a kick of endorphins which creates euphoria and invigorates the body. But what else makes peri peri sauce such a beloved favourite around the world?
Alongside the African birds-eye chilli, you’ll find peri peri sauce packed with a range of subtle flavours which work beautifully together.
Original recipes for Mozambican Peri Peri sauce will contain white vinegar, fresh lemon and lime juice, olive oil and chopped garlic, with chopped African bird’s eye chilies. Other interpretations feature Thai chillies instead or African birds-eyes, apple cider vinegar, herbs and spices like paprika and oregano, and vegetables like red onions and bell peppers.
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