Small, but fiery….
Scoville heat units (SHU): 80,000 – 100,000
Jalapeño reference point: 10 to 40 times hotter
Products and seeds: Siling Labuyo on Amazon
The “wild chili” of the Philippines may be tiny, but – like the Thai chilies they are often mistaken for – they pack a punch well beyond their size. Their heat borders that of habanero peppers, but without the complexity of flavor. Siling Labuyo are popular in Filipino cuisine to bring a big spiciness to a meal, though they are becoming increasingly harder to source – they have been marked as an endangered heritage food by the Slow Food Ark of Taste.
What do Siling Labuyo look like?
There’s a reason Sliling Labuyo are often mistaken for bird’s eye Thai chilies (and often referenced as the “Filipino bird’s eye”) – they look quite a lot alike. They are both small, thin chili peppers, though the Siling Labuyo is the smaller of the two. Many grow to only an inch in length (max typically 1.5 inches). Siling Labuyo tend to be a little more rounded (less pointy) and a little shorter than Thai peppers. They typically mature from green to red, though there can be a wide variety of colors during their maturation journey including yellow, orange, and even a dark purple.
The physical similarities between Thai peppers and Siling Labuyo have led to a lot of mislabeling (using Thai as Siling Labuyo), even in the Philippines. That’s, to a certain extent, purposeful by grocers as Thai bird’s eye chilies tend to have a longer shelf life and they are much easier to source as a whole.
How hot are Siling Labuyo?
There’s big heat in this tiny package – in fact, even more than you get from Thai Peppers. Siling Labuyo range from 80,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units, so its heat floor is much higher than Thai bird’s eye (50,000 to 100,000 SHU). That’s near the low end of habanero heat, so this isn’t a pepper to be trifled with. In terms of our jalapeño reference point, the Siling Labuyo ranges from 10 to 40 times hotter, depending on the peppers used to compare.
What do these chilies taste like and how can you use them?
While some chilies pack a complexity of flavor in addition to high heat, that’s really not the case for Siling Labuyo. That’s not saying there isn’t a nice peppery taste (there is), but the heat is the real star here and their main use case.
While we wouldn’t go so far to say Siling Labuyo is a staple of Filipino cuisine, they (or Thai peppers in general) are often used for the country’s spicier fare. Siling Labuyo is a terrific additive to meals, soups, salads, and more to punch up the heat of a dish without changing the overall flavor profile of the recipe. It’s also used often in spicy hot pepper vinegar recipes or dried and crushed into a very fiery powder.
Where can you buy Siling Labuyo peppers?
They would be difficult to source even without the confusion with bird’s eye peppers. If you do find something labeled Siling Labuyo (whether in the native Philippines or in a specialty store), there’s a chance they are really Thai chilies. You can buy Siling Labuyo seeds online and grow them yourself, if you have a green thumb and are looking to experience this regional pepper yourself. And you can find some online sources selling dried and powdered forms of the chili.
Enjoy Siling Labuyo when you can find it, though beware its heat. This is a chili, because of its size, that can surprise the uninitiated. Use it carefully and you’ll find it’s a terrific way to add fire to Asian cuisine and many other dishes.