Chilis - Thailand & Southeast Asia
- [C. frutescens and C. annuum]
This page deals directly with chilis used in Thailand, because Thai usage is so familiar here in Southern California, but the page has been expanded with information regarding other regions of mainland Southeast Asia.
Many kinds of chilis (Prik or Phrik) are grown in Thailand, and terminology, by time it's translated to English, is very confusing and sometimes just plain wrong. Much less information is available from other Southeast Asian countries. Details of size and hotness are difficult to find for those not available in California. Asian sources don't bother with these details because "everyone already knows". Several of the smallest chilis are called "Bird Peppers", but this name is not at all unique to Thailand. Here you will find my descriptions as best I could gather from a multitude of sources.
While all chilis, from the tiniest beads to the big bell peppers, originated in Central and South America, chilis are so variable that unique varieties have been developed in many countries for local use. While more than 75 varieties are grown in Thailand alone, I list here the most important.
Unfortunately, of the Thai chilis only prik ki nu is readily available in Los Angeles. Even in Thai Town (Hollywood Blvd east of Western) they have only prik ki nu, serranos, jalapenos and maybe Fresnos, so substitutions have to be made - unless you grow them yourself (seeds are readily available on-line).
More on Chili Peppers.
Prik Ki Nu - [Rat Turd
Chili; Mak Pet Ki Nuu (Laos); Scuds (some chefs);
C. frutescens (some say C. annuum).]
This is the chili we most think of as "Thai Chili", and the only one
commonly sold in North America. It is small, often less than 1-3/4 inches
long as grown in Thailand, but there are many varieties and those grown
in California are often up to 2-3/4 inches (more efficient to grow and
harvest large sizes). They are narrow, pointy and start growing point
up, but turn downward as they reach full size. They turn from green to
red when ripe (they may be somewhat orange in between). Red ripe they
are called prik ki nu daeng. They are very hot
(H8 to H9), slightly less hot when red
ripe, and a little less than that when dried. Fully red ripe prik ki nu
dry very well into fine dried red chilis, called prik ki nu daeng
haeng. Those imported from Thailand tend to be hotter than if you
dried those grown in California. Some minor varieties are black if in
full sun, turning bright orange when ripe.
Prik Chee Fah - [Spur Chili;
Mak Pet Nyai (Laos); C. annuum]
These are pointy like the prik ki nu, but are much larger, up to nearly
6 inches long, and not as hot. They also grow point up, in fact the name
means "pointing to the sky". In Thailand they are sold green, red and
dried, but I haven't seen them in Southern California. Holland red would
probably be closest to fresh red ones, though around here Red Fresnos
are the standard medium hot red chili used by every ethnic group. The
photo specimens are actually Holland Red, which look exactly like
photos of Prik Chee Fah I've seen taken in Thailand, and they fit the
Prik Kariang -
[Karen Chilis; C. frutescens]
These are shorter than prik ki nu, proportionally wider and even hotter.
They are a classic "Bird Chili", very small, very hot
(H9) and growing point up. They may be
green, yellow, orange red or purple, and can sometimes be found from an
Asian grower in a farmer's market.
Prik Kaeng -
These chilis are used particularly in northern Thailand, and an important
roasted flake is made from them. They are not yet available in North
America, but expert opinion is that Mexican Puya chilis are a fine
substitute - about the same size, flavor and hotness
(H4-5). The photo specimens are Puya,
about 4-1/2 inches long. They are available from some markets
serving a Mexican community.
Prik Lao -
[Mac Pet (Laos); C. annum]
These are the most popular chilis in Laos, thus the name Mac Pet (Hot
Chili) with no modifier. They are plumper and longer (up to 3 inches)
than the Prik Ki Nu, and usually blunt at the end. They are also
significantly less hot (H5-6).
They are sold at several stages of ripeness, green, yellow, orange and
red. Photo borrowed from Swedish seed seller
Jalapeno.nu, but they don't
have any for sale.
Prik e Noo Kaset -
These are regular Serrano chilis now grown in Thailand for use in table
condiments and hot sauces. They were Introduced to Thailand by visitors
and returnees from California. Before Thai chilis were much grown in
Southern California we used Serranos for Thai table condiments. Now some
restaurants have gone to a 4 cup condiment tray so guests can have both
Thai chilis and the more flavorful Serranos. I understand Sriracha sauce
is now being made in Thailand from red ripe Serranos. Serranos are thick
walled and do not dry well, so are always used fresh. Their hotness is
about H6, but somewhat variable.
Prik Yuak -
[Mac Pet Nyai (Lao); C. annuum]
This is a fairly large, mild yellow-green to yellow chili, sometimes
called "Thai sweet pepper". While mild, it is not completely without
heat, but is used as a vegetable rather than as a seasoning. It is
similar to low heat Banana Peppers, which would make good substitutes.
Mild Hungarian peppers would also work, though they have a blockier
shape. Prik Yuak is used extensively in salads and stir fries, and is
also often stuffed.
Photo courtesy Susan Slater © .
This bright orange aromatic chili is fairly mild and larger than prick chee fah. They are used in salads, chili pastes and meat dishes. I have never seen one here in Southern California, but if you must have an aromatic, orange, not-too-hot chili, I recommend the Peruvian Aji Amarillo. It is available whole frozen, and in paste, sauce, dried and other forms. Authenticity? Not to worry, all chilis came originally from South and Central America.
Prik Haeng -
[Mac Pet Haeng (Laos)]
These small, very hot dried red chilis made from Prik Ki Nu, Prik
Kariang or similar. Thai recipes using them often end in "Prik Haeng".
Those in the photo I dried myself, as I do whenever one of the local
markets has a batch of really fine bright red Thai chilis. Very hot,
but not quite as hot as fresh chilis of the same type. They are easily
available imported from Thailand, and the imports are somewhat hotter
than the California grown.
Prik Pasom Sot -
[Nga yohk kaung (Burma); C. annuum var. grossum]
These are regular red, green and yellow bell peppers. Yes, they use them
in Thailand, but not to nearly the extent they are used in China. Their
hotness is H0, though
occassionally one will show a trace of heat.
Prik Fresno -
["Red Jalapeno" (U.S. supermarkets); C. annuum]
This is not a Thai chili (at least not yet), but it has been
chosen by all ethnicities in Southern California as the medium hot red
chili suitable for their cuisines. Their hotness is about
H4-5. Use it in place of
Prik Chee Fah - unless shape is an issue. If it is, you'll have
to track down Holland Reds, sometimes sold in the big chain supermarkets.
Bai Prik -
[Chili Leaf; Bai Prik (Thai); Bai Mak Pet (Laos); Dahon ng Sili
What variety of chili plant these come from is not very important as
they have no heat and little flavor. They are used mostly for color,
particularly in Thai Green Curry Paste, to make it bright green without
using so many green chilis it is too hot. In Laos They are used in soups
and stews, and similarly in the Philippines. I have most often found
them in Philippine markets, but I also get them from my own chili plants.
Shishito Chili -
This chili, common here in Southern California, is included on this
page because one of my Burmese cookbooks has a photo labeled "Mild
Green Chilis". Those chilis looked exactly like Shishitos except much
shorter, like the Spanish Padróne, from which both are probably
descended. They have almost no heat, except about 1 in 20 can surprise.
Burma has common borders with both Thailand and Laos, so these chilis
may also be seen in those countries. The longest chili in the batch
from which the photo specimens were drawn was 4-1/4 inches, not