What are Brazilian starfish peppers?
Describing the Brazilian starfish pepper as “uniquely shaped” may be doing it a disservice in the looks department. This is one beautiful chili with a shape much like a sea star. It’s a lovely quirkiness – sort of an unexpected, but well-appreciated twist to the typical rounded chili – and, because of that, it works very well as an ornamental pepper. But unlike many ornamentals that sacrifice nuanced taste for looks, the Brazilian starfish is simply delicious too. They are sweet, almost fruity, with a bold, but eatable level of heat (10,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units.) Packing looks and flavor makes this chili pepper well sought after by spicy foodies and gardeners alike.
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Brazilian starfish pepper fast facts
- Scoville heat units (SHU): 10,000 – 30,000 SHU
- Median heat: 20,000 SHU
- Origin: Peru (cultivated now in Brazil)
- Capsicum species: Baccatum
- Jalapeño reference scale: Near equal to 12 times hotter
- Use: Culinary, Ornamental
- Size: 1 to 2 inches long, squat
- Flavor: Sweet, Fruity
How hot are Brazilian starfish peppers?
There are discrepancies all around in terms of the Scoville heat rating (SHU) of the Brazilian starfish. Some sources say it’s a mild chili, others say it reaches the high end of cayenne pepper heat (50,000 SHU). We say it falls somewhere in-between. Brazilian starfish peppers are typically hotter than jalapeño, but they don’t tend to reach the hotter level of cayenne peppers or aji amarillos (another Peruvian native). They pack closer to a serrano pepper heat, with the chance for a little more. The heat does tend to creep up on you – more of a slow burn than a fast bite.
What do Brazilian starfish peppers look like?
Sea stars likely come right to mind when you see these chilies, even if you didn’t know their name. The pepper is squat, one to two inches across, with multiple arms descending from the body. They mature following a typical chili pepper pattern: from green to orange and finally to fiery red, with the heat increasing along the way. It’s a quirky beauty, but a beauty none-the-less.
From the chili alone, the Brazilian starfish makes an excellent ornamental pepper, but the plant itself brings much to the table, too. The Brazilian starfish plant is prolific, producing dozens of chilies on one plant. And the plant takes on a weeping shape, with the chilies hanging from extended vines. It’s very decorative, whether as landscaping or planted in a container.
What do they taste like?
For all the looks, there’s a real nuanced flavor here. Many chilies with high ornamental value are grown to sacrifice nuanced flavor for looks. The Brazilian starfish is not your typical ornamental pepper in any way. There’s a bold crisp sweetness here, fruity with apple undertones. Even the scent of the chili has a fruitiness to it.
How can you use these chilies?
This sweetness makes the Brazilian starfish a pleasure to eat raw. Try them diced in salads or salsas like you would a jalapeño or a serrano. They also work well as a pickling pepper. The fruitiness pairs well with fish dishes, so consider the Brazilian starfish whenever you are considering seafood. Sprinkled into a side salad can add quite the impact to the meal.
Where can you buy Brazilian starfish peppers?
These are not chilies that you’ll find just anywhere in North America. Look to farmer’s markets or specialty stores. If you’re in South America (particularly Brazil), you’ll find these chilies fresh much more often at local markets.
Or, if you have a green thumb, growing these chilies is always an option. Brazilian starfish seeds are readily available online (Amazon), and the plant works well in both small and large growing spaces (they work very well for container gardening, as mentioned).
Few chilies pack both unique beauty and bold taste as well as the Brazilian starfish pepper, so if (and hopefully when) you have the chance to enjoy them, make the most of the opportunity. They are an eating experience you won’t soon forget.