This unusual chilli, the chilhuacle negro, deserves a page of its own. It is a favourite of mine for a number of reasons; firstly its strange soft, brown, leathery feel is fairly unique, and secondly it looks quite spectacular when growing because of the shape of the plant.
The fruits are about 4-5 cm cubed and ripen from green to brown, but they never firm up to that glossy, crunchy state that you would normally expect of a chilli. Instead they remain pliant and leathery with dull skin, as though they have been left on the plant too long and have started to dry out.
Linked to these characteristics is the ease with which they can be dried, in fact they already feel like half the job of drying is done before you pick them. They are naturally low in moisture, and with the matt skin, to completely dry them out is much easier compared to many other chillies.
Chilhuacle negro originate from the Oaxaca region of Mexico and are traditionally used dried, in a mole negro. They impart ‘dark flavours’, chocolate, tobacco and tannin and they aren’t that hot, maybe 2-3000 SHU, so you can safely use enough to make the most of these flavours without overdoing the heat.
The plants, which grow to about 45 cm x 45 cm make quite a spectacle, and become laden with fruit, but remain compact. The stems branch frequently, with short inter-nodal length and quite unusually the stems can grow downwards, not bending over, but actually branching with strong stems growing down beneath the top of the pot. This gives the plant the appearance of a mesh globe, which, when combined with lots of brown fruit becomes quite decorative.
If you want to have a go at growing them you can get seeds in the UK from Nicky’s Nursery they are quite hard to come by otherwise. They germinate quite well, as I have often found, with no scientific evidence at all, that many brown chillies are more erratic than their red counterparts (chocolate habs, ancho mulato for example). Once the seeds have germinated the fruit take around 16 weeks to mature to brown and they are always eager to keep producing into the autumn.
One thing I found this year, and I mentioned this in a previous blog, https://growingchilliesbook.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/the-order-of-greenfly/ is that they seem to have attracted greenfly where other plants around them did not. There were a few chilhuacle negro plants scattered randomly around the greenhouse, and yet they all seemed to get infected where the neighbours remained greenfly-free. The early greenfly which noshed into the flower parts before I noticed them, caused a lot of the first fruit to be quite deformed. Maybe this is partly due to the strange dry and leathery nature of the chilhuacle negro fruit, but some of the affected ones not only divided, but the skins split open so you could see the seeds inside. Needless to say I had to pick these and discard them as soon as they started to grow to make way for some healthy un-greenflied fruit.