Many iconic Malaysian dishes and condiments such as sambal belachan, sambal ikan bilis. Sambal tumis require the extensive usage of fresh chilies. Without them, these dishes would not taste the same, of course, dried chilies would do the job just fine, but their dried counterparts, after lengthy hours of dehydration under the scorching sun, when used in dishes, would impart a slight caramelized taste and darker appearance, hence many chef would blend together dried and fresh chilies for a more balance taste note.
How many times have we heard of Malaysians whom will be traveling overseas to bring along if not some freshly packed, a bottle or two of chillies products. Indeed, the assimilation is obvious even among the Chinese chefs whom were not traditionally known to embrace the heat from these peppers are now putting chilies on their must-have list, and to cite a few examples, the main ingredient for the prerequisite condiment of Hainanese chicken rice or the famous chili crab is none other than the red chilies itself.
Botanically known as Capsicum annuum L. the chilies belong to the Solanaceae family. Agriculturalists have over the years attempted to cross breed many varieties to produce chilies that tolerate diseases, yield higher crops and are more durable in the process of logistic. In Malaysia, there are a few main varieties commonly known as the Cili Merah Minyak, Cili Merah Kulai.
Nutritionally speaking our chilies are a good source of vitamin A, B, C, calcium, phosphorus and iron, making this fruit vegetable a healthy ingredient. Culinary wise, our local chilies are freshly harvested and very suitable to be used in local cuisines due to their taste and texture – moderate heat, juicy and thinned-skin. According to Chef Syafiq Shahrom, who is the ambassador of Malaysian youth chef team; our local red chilies should be widely embraced by local food operators because they are fresh and readily available.
On food preparation wise, these red chilies are relatively soft, and the skins can be easily blended into almost cream like puree even for those who prefer the traditional method of using mortar and pestle, the red chilies are readily crushed and will not leave behind bits and pieces of tough skin remnants. The Malaysian red chilies are found to be in between 50,000 – 100,000 SHU, the spiciest pepper in Malaysia is found to be at Melaka known as the Carolina Reaper, with 1.5 – 2.2 million SHU. (The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spiciness/heat of pepper) of chili peppers, or other spicy foods, as reported in Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
Malaysia produced around 50,299 metric tonnes of chilies in 2017, 60% of which were for local consumptions. Looking at the potential and market size of chilies has prompted FAMA to initiate 'Eat More Local Chilli' campaign in May 2017. Currently, FAMA is also undertaking promotional campaigns and exercises that promote the local varieties to both consumers and food services. Thanks to the premium quality of these local red chilies, the demands for oversea supply has been increasing, in 2016, the export values of chilies were around RM 25 million.
With this efforts in mind, FAMA is also conducting contract farming with the farming communities. Infrastructure facilities are made available at the farm level to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing services. Appropriate equipment has been provided according to the needs of the operational activities where one of the vegetables is the red chilies.
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