What are datil peppers?
Florida is a state of extremes: extreme sunshine, extreme weather, and extreme heat. So it’s no surprise that the state is home to – pretty much under the radar – one of the hottest peppers in the world. Datil peppers are a variety of chili pepper that is unique to the state of Florida, specifically St. Augustine. It’s an extra-hot chili (100,000 to 300,000 Scoville heat units), similar to the spiciness of a habanero or scotch bonnet. And the datil’s conical shape and sweet, fruity flavor are similar to the habanero as well.
Datil pepper fast facts
|Scoville heat units (SHU)||100,000 – 300,000|
|Median heat (SHU)||200,000|
|Jalapeño reference point||12 to 120 times hotter|
|Size||Up to 3 1/2 inches long, conical and tapered|
|Flavor||Sweet, Fruity, Tropical|
How hot is the datil pepper?
Ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 Scoville heat units, the datil pepper is an extra-hot chili that’s on par with the more infamous habanero and scotch bonnet peppers (100,000 to 350,000 SHU). It makes sense as it’s believed the datil is a cousin to both of these bold chilies. The datil has the same floor for spiciness, but its heat ceiling is just slightly below the two.
In terms of our reference point, the jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), the datil punches well beyond the jalapeños low-medium heat. At its mildest, the datil is at least 12 times hotter than a jalapeño, but it can range up to 120 times hotter, when comparing the mildest potential jalapeño to the hottest possible datil.
Of course, some chilies deliver heat well beyond the datil, including super-hots like the ghost pepper and Carolina Reaper (among other of the world’s hottest peppers.) The datil sits at the lower end of extreme heat, making it a chili that’s more common in the kitchen than some of those scorching hot peppers.
What does it look like?
It looks like a thinner, slightly longer version of the habanero, which makes sense since the datil is a habanero-like chili, both from the chinense species of hot peppers. They grow to about 3.5 inches in length with a conical shape that tapers to a soft point. And it matures from green to a yellowish-orange or red hue. The datil is also very similar to the African fatalii pepper in terms of both looks and heat.
What does the datil taste like?
In terms of taste, the datil has a sweet, fruity flavor. It’s like a sweeter version of the habanero (which is already slightly sweet). It’s more akin to the scotch bonnet in sweetness, but even that doesn’t do it justice. The scotch bonnet is a little more earthy sweet compared to the datil.
How did the datil pepper end up in St. Augustine, Florida?
The origins of the datil pepper are a bit of a mystery. What’s believed is that indentured servants from Minorca, Spain introduced datil pepper seeds to the city in the late 1800s. How they got these seeds in the first place is up for debate, as the datil is definitely not native to Spain…or America.
There’s another theory that the chili pepper seeds came from Cuba around the same time period, but local lore holds the Minorca origin story true to heart. It’s a city-wide love of these hot peppers and the Minorcan heritage. Families of these first Minorcan settlers still grow datil chilies. Plus there’s an annual datil pepper festival, featuring a fiery foods cookoff using datils. This is a local culture that breathes (and sweats) this chili.
And that’s one of the things that makes this pepper so special. Like hatch chilies, the datil pepper is tied to its home city more than most other chilies. St. Augustine has been the main purveyor of datil chili peppers for over a century, and the crops are grown in small batches by local families. These families grow for their local businesses and restaurants.
You can find datil seeds and hot sauces online from these local sellers, but to see the real beauty behind this pepper, a little bit of culinary travel to St. Augustine is well in order.
Cooking with datil peppers
Chilies of this heat caliber are loved for hot sauces, BBQ marinades, chili powders, soups, and spicy salsas, and the fiery datil pepper certainly follows suit. Plus, there’s an entire culture around this chili which makes it a staple for all sorts of local St. Augustine dishes, from fiery fish recipes, to gator sides, flavorful tacos, and well beyond. Datil, too, is used to flavor pickles, aiolis, mustards, relishes, and all sorts of other fiery condiments that’ll knock your socks off.
Datil pepper sauce is also quite popular with seafood, particularly shellfish. The typical sauce is sweeter than you’d expect, as ketchup often acts as a base. So it makes a delicious dipper for shrimp.
But remember, the datil chili pepper is very hot. Keep the following in mind while handling them fresh:
- Use kitchen gloves and (recommended) cooking goggles while handling datil peppers. The capsaicin in datils (the chemical compound that creates a chili pepper’s heat) is very similar to that of a habanero. This level of heat can create extremely uncomfortable chili burn. The gloves and goggles protect you from it.
- Know how to combat chili burn before handling any chilies. The short of it: keep milk handy. Milk breaks down capsaicin. But if you want to know other ways, too, see our post on combating chili burn.
- Remove the white membrane from the datil to remove a decent amount of spiciness. That white pith has much of the capsaicin in it. Yes, the chili’s walls, skin, and seeds are all still spicy, but the pith removal makes a noticeable difference.
What makes a good datil substitute?
No datil? Turn to habanero or scotch bonnet as substitutes. As mentioned, they have similar levels of spiciness, similar flavors, and even similar looks.
Where can you buy datil peppers?
Outside of St. Augustine, online shopping for datil pepper products is your best bet. You won’t typically find these at your local gardening center. But datil seeds along with datil pepper sauces, salsa, jellies, and other bottled and jarred products, can be easily found.
Though, to really experience datil, it’s worth a trip to America’s oldest city, St. Augustine. This is pepper that’s much more than a simple chili – it embodies an entire way of life.
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Must-read related posts
- The Hot Pepper List: Discover the Scoville scale. We profile over 150 chilies – search them by name, heat, flavor, origin, and more.
- Minorcan Mike’s Datil Pepper Salsa Review: One of our favorite datil salsas – a deep sweet flavor that works well with the natural sweetness of the chili.
- Dat’l Do It Pepper Sauce Review: This pepper sauce uses ketchup as its base, with plenty of molasses. If you love the idea of a fiery twist on ketchup, read all about this sauce.