The golden sunshine is finally pouring down on us in the UK, after a rather chilly Spring. However, according to the weather forecasts it will be getting cooler and wetter as the week progresses. So to help compensate for the heat deficit of the past few months and in anticipation of forthcoming cooler weather, I thought I would share an interesting experience that may significantly increase the heat.
On one of the hottest days of 2011, I chanced upon an unusual discovery that included fiery Trinidad Scorpions. That is, I toured a chilli farm in Bedfordshire (http://www.edibleornamentals.co.uk/tourbook/) and participated in a chilli tasting session. When I first found out about this place I was surprised – a chilli farm in the UK?!! However, there are actually several across the UK – from Devon to Cambridge to Wiltshire to Northumberland. Nonetheless, a chilli farm tour and tasting session is certainly an unusual activity in the UK…
We started with a tour around one greenhouse, during which we were told about a scale used to measure the hotness or heat of chilli. As we came across each variety of chilli we were told about its score on the scale e.g. the jalapeno scores 2500 – 5000. What was astonishing – actually – what was shocking about this was that there are chillies that score 200,000…even 300,000…even 500,000…even 800,000…even 1,000,000…even exceeding 1,500,000!!! Apparently, the hottest chilli in the world as at Summer 2011 was the Trinidad Scorpion Butch which scores between 1,400,000 – 2,000,000 depending on environmental conditions. I silently wondered what a chilli with a score of 200,000 (let alone 2,000,000!) would be like if a humble jalapeno scores only 2500! Well that certainly puts the jalapeno in its place. In fact, the Trinidad Scorpion Butch is so hot that it cannot be handled with bare hands and it has even burnt through gloves!! However, since February 2012 a new contender has been ranked the hottest chilli in the world – the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which scores over 2,000,000!!!
After this fascinating introduction to the “chilli scale” (technically referred to as the Scoville scale), we ventured outside to be slowly grilled by the flaming sun. The distinctly pungent yet smoky, musty yet earthy smell of chilli lingered in the still air. It was a dense scent that somehow managed to appear understated.
The tour guide handed each of us a clear, plastic “pick your own“ bag so that we could take home a sample of the chillies we encountered on the tour. Then we entered another greenhouse and resumed our tour. For each variety of chilli the tour guide told us about that chilli including its score on the Scoville scale and what to look out for when we pick our own (e.g. the darkest or the biggest). Then we were given a few minutes to pick our own chilli, which inevitably delighted the child within me. The tour progressed in this manner, providing an interactive way to learn some surprising facts about various variety of chilli. We moved from one greenhouse to another, each with a different temperature but all hot and humid.
The tour was followed by a tasting session, during which we were told to drink milk if we found any chilli too hot because it cools the mouth down by prying away the capsaicin (substance in chilli that gives chilli its heat) from the mouth’s taste buds. There was also an opportunity to try various chilli sauces.
This multi-sensory experience truly engaged all of my senses from the auditory learning to the taste of a “watermelon flavoured” chilli…from the different textures and physical act of picking chillies to the smoky and earthy scent…to the visual colours and shapes.
A chilli farm tour and tasting session for two people can cost between £29.50 – £35 depending on discounts available at the time (e.g. currently Virgin Experience Days is selling a chilli tour and tasting for two for a discounted price of £29.50). Contact the venue directly to find out about single tickets.
- Unless you really really love the scorching heat, don’t go on a day that is already very hot.
- Wear layers (e.g. a light cardigan or jacket over your top) so that you can remove a layer if you get too hot in a given greenhouse.
- Each individual is given one bag for chillies they pick on the tour. As quite a few chillies are covered on the tour and many look similar, it may be difficult to distinguish between them afterwards. Since the chillies can vary so much in how hot they are, it may be an idea to take along some small labels. For each chilli you can then quickly note the name of the chilli and its score on the scale and stick the label on the chilli.
- If you refrigerate the chillies you pick then they may keep for up to one week (possibly longer). Then another idea would be to have an at-home tasting session with friends and family. This is a great way to share the experience with others.
- You can have fun cooking with the different chillies by researching the dishes or recipes each variety is best suited for.
If you plan to have a mini-break in the area, then other nearby attractions you may be interested in include:
- Woburn Safari Park (less than 40 minutes away) – Includes drive-through safari.
- Go Ape! – Situated within grounds of Woburn Safari Park. Outdoor tree-top forest adventure park.
- Woburn Abbey and Gardens (less than 1 hour away) – Includes historic house (including vaults and art work), antiques centre, opportunity to enjoy a traditional English tea (apparently this tradition originated here), an open air theatre, landscaped gardens and deer park.
- Whipsnade Zoo (less than 1 hour away)
- Roman Theatre of Verulamium (less than 1 hour away)
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