"THAT TEPíN PEPPER WILL BITE YOU BACK!! HOTTER THAN HABANERO!" people will tell you when you mention the tiny Bird's Eye pepper called Tepín, pronounced tay-peen. The tiny Tepín peppers were rated by pepper aficionados for decades as the reigning monarchs of the hot pepper world, but in recent years new super-hot peppers in the Habanero group have claimed the title of the World's Hottest, according to Guinness World Records.
Tepín peppers are part of a family of wild peppers known as bird's peppers, or chiltepins. In Florida they used to grow wild in the citrus groves and were called "Grove peppers"; and in Texas the wild turkeys love the fruit, and are known as Turkey peppers.
Pods are round and the size of a small pea, the Tepín pepper is our North American wild chili pepper, found in the deserts of Arizona, Texas, northern Mexico and parts of Florida.
The Tepín's oblong and milder relative, the Pequin, is popular in the cuisines of India, Africa, and Thailand. The bird peppers have found their way by trade and travelers to all parts of the world.
For the uninitiated, these peppers should be taken in small doses. Sue Dremann, the co-owner of Redwood City Seed Company relates how, "One of our customers has a restaurant in the Carolinas. He put Tepín pepper flakes in a pepper grinder and charged one dollar a grind for customers of his barbecue ribs and hot link, for the people who really want the hot, hot stuff!"
Sometimes you can find small packages of the dried Tepin whole pods in Mexican markets, or you can order them on-line. When the Tepin pods are ground and the seeds removed, the flakes are an easy method to use this pepper in cooking. "You can grind tiny flecks of it onto barbecue meat a few minutes before it comes off the grill. The flakes of Tepín cause tiny explosions of heat in your mouth," says Dremann.
For gardeners, the Tepín is a small perennial bush that can live for several years, needing some warmth year-round. In cold climates they can be grown in a container and brought indoors in the winter, and then put outside when the nights are above 50°F. in spring. Tepín is a desert plant, so sprouting seeds need a little help. " Tepín peppers have to be tricked into thinking they're in the desert," she says.
"That means the Tepin seeds like warm daytime temperatures to sprout, 80-85°F and night temperatures of at least 50°F. You can help get the seeds started faster by watering with a fertilizer solution, like Miracle Grow. Germination takes a minimum of three weeks, but the rewards are sweet, or should we say stimulating!
Here are three recipes from Dremann's own kitchen, using
the Tepin pepper. Note: for Tepin flakes,
there are eight rounded Tablespoons per ounce.
PURE Tepín SAUCE---The Gringo
Warning: This sauce is so hot that most people will not be able to use it without dilution. It should be used for the first time in 1/4 teaspoon amounts of less. DO NOT TRY IT DIRECTLY the first time!
For every Tablespoon of Tepín flakes, add 2-3 Tablespoons of lime juice and stir. Or you can use another hot sauce in the place of the lime juice. Let the mix sit 24 hours at room temperature, and then add enough lime juice or hot sauce to make it into a pourable sauce.
Put it in a blender for a minute, and it is ready to use. Dilute with more lime juice or hot sauce to taste if necessary. Kept refrigerated, it lasts indefinitely. Add small amounts at a time to any dish as you would Tabasco® sauce. About five to ten times hotter than Tabasco® brand sauce.
HOT Tepín PEANUTS
2-3 Tablespoons corn oil or peanut oil
1 cup raw peanuts
1-2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon Tepín flakes (to taste)
salt, to taste
Combine 1/4 teaspoon Tepín powder with one Tablespoon sugar. In a cast-iron or non stick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, but do not let it smoke or burn. Add peanuts and stir in oil till lightly toasted. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Add garlic to pan with only a little oil, just enough to keep from sticking. Stir one minute till lightly golden, then add Tepín/sugar mix. Stir 30 seconds, then add peanuts and salt. Stir again for 30 seconds or so...do not burn peanuts. Spread on a plate until cool. Serve in a bowl with your favorite beverage.
Caution: Cook in a well-ventilated room, as the vaporizing
Tepín oil can severely irritate your nose and throat!
HOT Tepín PICKLE DIP
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 teaspoon Tepín flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 cups shallots, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 Tablespoon cilantro
1/4 teaspoon salt, or enough to round out the taste.
Blend all ingredients well in a blender. Serve in a bowl chilled, with crunchy dill pickle spears. The cool, sour/salty taste of the pickles contrasts nicely with the fiery sweet/sour tones of the dip, creating a complex burst of flavors.
Information on Redwood City Seed Company's Catalog that
has Tepín seeds for planting, submit
your name and address here.
Update April 30, 2016