Datil Pepper: The St. Augustine Surprise

| Last Updated: February 21, 2020 |

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Some serious Florida heat…

Datil pepper fast facts:

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 100,000 – 300,000 SHU
  • Median heat: 200,000 SHU
  • Origin: United States
  • Capsicum species: Chinense
  • Jalapeño reference scale: 12 to 120 times hotter
  • Use: Culinary
  • Size: Up to 3 1/2 inches long, tapered
  • Flavor: Sweet, Fruity, Tropical

Florida is really a state of extremes: extreme sunshine, extreme weather, and extreme heat. So it’s no surprise that the state harbors – pretty much under the radar – one of the hottest peppers in the world. The datil pepper comes from one of Florida’s most famous cities, St. Augustine. And it packs a wallop, similar to the punch of a habanero or scotch bonnet. It’s one extreme chili that’s surprising in many ways, including how it made its way to and found a home in St. Augustine. 

How hot is the datil pepper?

Ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 Scoville heat units, the datil pepper is pretty much on par with the more infamous habanero and scotch bonnet peppers. In terms of our jalapeño reference point, the datil at its mildest is at least 12 times hotter than a jalapeño, but it can range up to 120 times hotter. That’s significant heat, placing the datil up in rarified air on the Scoville scale.

What does it look like and taste like?

It looks sort of like a thinner, slightly longer version of the habanero, which makes sense since they are both from the chinense species of hot peppers. They grow to about 3.5 inches in length and mature to a yellowish-orange or red hue. It’s also very similar to the African fatalii pepper in terms of looks and heat.

datil pepper

In terms of taste, 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 quite do it justice. The scotch bonnet is a little more earthy sweet compared to the mellower datil.

If it’s an American pepper and similar to the popular habanero, why isn’t it widely available?

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 peppers for well over a century and the crops are grown in small batches by local families. These families grow for their local businesses and restaurants. Sure 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.

How did the datil pepper end up in St. Augustine?

It’s a bit of a mystery, that’s for sure. What’s believed is that indentured workers 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 great debate as the datil is definitely not native to Spain…or central Florida.

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 really a city-wide love of these hot peppers and the Minorcan heritage. Families of these first Minorcan settlers still grow datil peppers. Plus, every year, there’s a datil pepper festival cookoff. This is a local culture that breathes (and sweats) this chili.

What do people make with datil peppers?

Chilies of this heat caliber are loved for hot sauces, BBQ marinades, powdered dusts, and spicy salsas, and the 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, gator sides, and well beyond. Datil, too, is used to flavor pickles, aiolis, and all sorts of other condiments that’ll knock your socks off.

Where can you buy datil peppers?

Outside of St. Augustine, online shopping is your best bet. You won’t typically find these at your local gardening center. But datil seeds along with datil hot sauces and other bottled or jarred products can be found via Amazon and other web retailers.

Though, to really experience datil, it’s worth a trip to St. Augustine. This is a pepper that’s much more than a simple chili – it embodies an entire way of life.

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