The bird pepper has a few different points of origin, including Florida, Mexico, and Africa. It is one of many hot peppers that ranks in the medium-high range on the Scoville scale (ranks between 50,000 and 100,000 units). Depending on the climate, it can be an annual or short-lived perennial plant.
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Bird Pepper Aliases
From the Plantae kingdom, the Solanaceae (aka Nightshade) family, this Capsicum Annuum species of the Glabriusculum variety is commonly referred to as bird pepper.
A couple of other common names you’ll hear it referred to as include:
- Pequin pepper
- Chiltepin pepper
- Bird’s eye pepper
- African bird pepper
- Jamaican bird pepper
Why Is It Called Bird Pepper?
Believe it or not, spicy food doesn‘t seem to affect some birds. Many birds, especially mockingbirds, love to eat this unripened fruit.
Thanks to the bird’s consumption, the pepper seeds are spread near and far and this hot pepper has a unique nickname.
Is Cayenne Pepper the Same as Bird Pepper?
The two peppers are related, but not the same. Bird pepper is actually a type of cayenne pepper.
A typical cayenne pepper ranks between 30,000 and 50,000 units on the Scoville scale. A typical bird pepper ranks between 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units.
To the untrained eye, these chili peppers look very similar. However, cayenne peppers are longer and thinner with a slightly curved tip and rippled skin.
Is Bird Pepper Edible, and how spicy is it?
If you can take the heat, they are absolutely edible. As I mentioned, this pepper ranks between 50,000 and 100,000 units on the Scoville scale, however, some bird peppers have ranked up to 1,000,000 units. A bird pepper is about five to eight times hotter than a jalapeno (6,000-11,000 units).
When the pepper is green, it is not mature. The peppers are usually red when they are ripe, and occasionally they can be yellow, purple, or orange.
How to Use Bird Pepper
If you are a fan of spice, you’ll find hundreds of ways to use this pepper. If you like spicy pickled eggs or vegetables, it’s a great addition to pickling liquid.
Bird pepper is often used in Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese food. At home, you can use it to make:
- Hot sauce
- Soup and stew
- Stir fry
- Chili oil
This pepper has also been used medicinally since the 16th century in Africa. While research is still ongoing, there is information that suggests bird pepper can help to:
- Boost metabolism
- Lower blood pressure
- Regulate high blood pressure
- Boost the immune system
- Decrease stomach pain caused by gas, constipation, or cramping
- Treat arthritis
- Treat psoriasis
It contains antioxidants and includes vitamins A, C, B, E, and B9, as well as potassium, phosphorus, fiber, magnesium, and calcium.
Where Does Bird Pepper Grow?
This pepper is native to Florida, Jamaica, and Africa. Nowadays, it can be found growing in many places including Central America and South America.
Depending on the region, mid-April to October is typically the best time to harvest them.
How to Identify Bird Pepper
Learning how to differentiate between chili peppers is important. Many red peppers look similar but have varying levels of spice. First, let’s discuss the bird pepper plant and then compare it to others.
The bird pepper plant grows about 3 feet tall and has alternately arranged, dark green, elliptic leaves. The stem can be woody or herbaceous.
The small, 1/4 inch, white flower blooms year-round and has five, pointed petals that are partially fused. The center of the flower is bright green with multiple white stamens with dark purple tips.
When unripe, the fruit (pepper) is green. When it is mature, the red fruit will be hard to miss. The pepper grows to be about 3/4 of an inch to one inch in length. Bird peppers have a smooth exterior and taper down to a sharply rounded point.
Three of the most common lookalikes of the bird pepper include:
- Chile de Arbol (15,000-30,000 units): This long, pointy, red pepper grows to about two and a half inches. The exterior isn’t as smooth as the bird pepper. It almost looks like it was hit with a small hammer a few times.
- Fresno Chile (2,500-10,000 units): The fresno chile looks similar to a jalapeno but tapers to a finer point and is usually between two and three inches long. They have thick skin and a slight sweetness.
- Tabasco Chile (30,000-50,000 units): These peppers are usually just under two inches long and have a creamier red color (mixed with orange and yellow), instead of a true bright red color.
Luckily, other extremely hot peppers, like habaneros (150,000-575,000 units) and scotch bonnets (100,000 to 350,000 units), have a completely different shape than the bird pepper.
Is It Easy to Grow Bird Peppers?
These perennial pepper plants are easy to grow if they are in the correct climate. They can live up to 25 years in tropical climates. With that being said, they do not tolerate frost or freezing temperatures. However, they are drought tolerant.
They prefer full sun or partial shade with sandy, calcareous, or clay soil that is generally moist.
Growing the plant from seed to pepper only takes about 150 days. If you are growing the plant from a propagation, make sure the root system is well-developed. This plant is also usually free of pests but does attract bees.
In the end, if you are a fan of spice, this is a great plant to have in your yard. Whether you plan to use it in the kitchen or as part of your first aid kit, there are many ways to enjoy it.
As always, before using the bird pepper medicinally, it is best to speak with a doctor.