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What is a Datil Pepper?

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  • Last Modified Date: 17 June 2014
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A datil pepper is a fruit of the genus Capsicum, which also includes bell peppers, jalapenos, habaneros and all other fruits known as peppers. The datil in unique because it is extremely hot, similar to a habanero, but also sweet and fruity. The name is derived from the Spanish for "date," another type of fruit.

This pepper is yellow, elongated in shape, and between 1 and 3 inches (2.5 and 7.6 cm) in length. If grown outside, datil pepper must be planted when there is no frost. The plant will reach maturity in about five months. The pepper's largest natural threat is a parasite known as the pepper weevil.

The datil pepper has been cultivated by the Minorcan community living in the city of St. Augustine, Florida, since the 18th century. It has been speculated that the peppers originated in the Caribbean, although they only grow in Florida today. Fresh peppers and seeds can be very difficult to find outside of the St. Augustine area, although the plant can theoretically be grown anywhere indoors. Typically, the fruit and seeds are available only from datil gardeners. However, the bottled hot sauces made from the pepper may be found at specialty stores around the country or through online vendors.

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Most commonly, this pepper is used to make a sweet but intense hot sauce, and recipes vary widely. One popular sauce is made with tomato paste and other sweet ingredients including brown sugar and honey. Datil pepper is also used in such St. Augustine specialties as clam chowder, pepper relish, and chicken or sausage pilau.

The datil pepper is a member of the chinense species of Capsicum, which includes some of the hottest of all peppers, such as habanero and Scotch Bonnet. All of these pepper varieties have Scoville measurements between 100,000 and 300,000. Consequently, they may be dangerous if eaten raw, with such possible effects as dizziness, diarrhea, heartburn, and a numb or intense burning sensation in the mouth. Care should also be taken when preparing recipes with very peppers not to transfer any of the peppers' juices to the mucous membranes, particularly the eyes.

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Discuss this Article

anon353512
Post 29

Post no. 28 is very wrong. Planting a sweet and a hot pepper plant near each other will not cause any changes to the peppers on those plants. However, if you use the seeds from the peppers to grow more plants, they could be crossed.

anon165362
Post 28

There are sweet datil peppers and hot ones. if you have both don't plant them together because both plants will be hot. separate them one in the front of house and one in the back of house. then you will have one of both hot and sweet good luck from newberry, Florida.

anon164600
Post 27

I would LOVE a good datil pepper sauce recipe if anyone would like to share. Cassie, Tuscaloosa, AL

conklinfla
Post 26

I have been growing datil peppers for only four years. The 2010 season, I had two plants, five feet tall which produced a bounty. I found grilling them during dinner I great hot treat. Mix them in a tupperware bowl with italian dressing. Also made hot sauce from several recipes. The remaining peppers were pickled with white vinegar and pickle juice. Heating up the vinegar, 1 cup and adding details until it boils. Then remove from the heat and let cool. I have several jars of these babies and they are quite tasty.

anon131584
Post 24

I have been growing these for three years here in St Augustine Beach. They grow the best if you grow them on the northern side of a 5-6 foot fence. This way they get some sun, but not too much.

anon128672
Post 23

As a Menorcan myself, direct Capo descendant, I now live in Orlando, FL and supply a lot of family and friends with datils, plants, grounded up and dried powder, datil relish, sauce, vinegar and mayo.

They are very easy to grow, even from germinating the seed, and I regularly fertilize mine with Osmocote which they love. My peppers vary in size, but I freeze the whole ones to dry and grind, or use whole in sauces, Spanish rice, pilau, and other Menorcan dishes, varying between green and orange ones, since different people have different heat tolerances and preferences.

jas1565
Post 22

anon39137,and David Nolan: Out of respect, I too am a native of St. Augustine and my parents used to have cocktail parties with Judge Wineburge all the time, and one of the things we ate was datil peppers on the shrimp and oysters and such.

And growing up hearing that it can be only grown in st augustine, well i can prove that wrong. I took some seed with me to germany when i was in the service and had one heck of a plant. I also got to go to Minorca and what did i find? datils growing wild, and yes they were the true blue deal. I was homesick but one bite and i was in heaven.

It was a true datil. The only difference i could see was that the pepper was only 1.5-2 inches and had a more chicken heart shape, but hot and so sweet. i miss those days.

jas1565
Post 21

After the plant matures, depending on if you bought a plant from the nursery or you started a seed, from seed to bearing fruit, it should be about three months if you keep it watered.

i keep the soil moist to the touch at all times and judge by how my leaves look. You want a good rich green. If it starts to fade ease up on the water, and if the leaves are "rolling," then more water. They can only do a few hours of direct sun, and if you allow too much pressure on the plant it will delay the harvest. hope this helps.

anon106706
Post 19

you can dry them in the oven at 200 degrees and grind them in a coffee grinder. datil dust keeps for a long time. i have grown datils for 30 years and my father and grandfather before me.

saute onions and tomatoes with a little garlic. season with cumin and coriander and a couple datils (aji). I eat way too much on burgers, eggs anything. yum!

anon99108
Post 18

I've been continuously growing datils since moving from st. augustine, from a seed pod found in a flower pot when i went back home. i gave the original plant to my friend, and his plant eventually died. i took a seed pod. i have since passed plants to others.

I've found that freezing the whole peppers works great, and they seem to gain heat. i chop one pepper, sometimes with, sometimes without seeds and saute it in an iron egg pan with some chopped garlic, then break a couple of eggs and serve that up for breakfast on saturdays. i miss jimmy dean's datil relish. He would use it with hard cooking pears.

Frequently, my datils will fade a bit in the fall, but flourish throughout the winter, even offering a second crop. lost several when we had severe freezes, but i just start over! first time i had a datil was from a jar in a fridge at desco marine! -craw

anon97191
Post 17

they freeze very well for later use.

amypollick
Post 16

@Anon89473: You should be able to freeze your peppers. My mom used to freeze cayennes for a long time, for later use. You have to cook them, though, after you freeze them. You can't thaw them and use them raw--the texture is affected.

My mom always just put the whole peppers, stem and all, into a freezer bag, wrote the date on it and put them into the freezer. I know they will keep six months or so in the freezer. Good luck!

anon89473
Post 15

We are fortunate enough to have really good producers, so much that we want to store some for much later use. I can't seem to find any information on how to store datils aside from leaving them in the fridge for a week and then use--how do you do it for longer term use (month, year?)

anon85268
Post 14

I've been growing Datils in pots on and off in the North Florida area for the past seven years (since 2003).

In my experience, true datils do not sweeten as they turn yellow orange. They're still hot as Hades but I do think that lovely earthy flavor intensifies just a mite. I ripen mine because I prefer the bright yellowy-orange color in sauces and salsa.

There is a pepper plant that is sometimes sold as a "Sweet Datil". I've tried them; they are still quite hot but have very, very little flavor. Heat is not the main point, the unique flavor is the point, so I have little use for them.

"Sweet Datils" tend to be about twice as large, and the plants have larger leaves. You can tell by crushing the first pepper that appears: The real Datil will have a pungent, earthy scent, while the Sweet will just smell like a not-very-flavorful bell pepper.

Do not touch your eyes after handling hot peppers including datils. If you are crushing or grinding a fair number of them, do not inhale the fumes! If you are mincing or grinding more than a small handful, use a good fan to blow over your work. If you inhale too much of the fumes, you can damage your lungs.

Mr. Nolan's comments about the apocryphal stories should be heeded. He is a respected historian of Floridiana.

anon72632
Post 13

I purchased datil pepper seeds in Saint augustine last week. what is the best way to start the plants.

Sherry Fort Walton Beach, fl.

anon64570
Post 12

If properly tended you can expect your plan to grow in excess of 4'. Whoever said the the peppers begin to lose their heat as they ripen and turn orange is very misinformed. The flavor does change, but they get hotter.

They are great just as they start to turn yellow and still retain a slight green flavor. The mild flavor and intense heat continue to strengthen as the pepper ripens.

An easy tasty way to use up an excess of peppers is to make datil ketchup, just add them to your favorite ketchup and put in the blender. If you plan on making large batch and canning, remember to bring the finished product to a boil before canning.

anon61104
Post 11

As the peppers turn orange and red, they will become sweeter much like a bell pepper. The intensity of the heat will also diminish.

anon55856
Post 10

I never ate a yellow or orange datil pepper. By that time they were ready to string up and let dry for next season.

If you put one in a pilau, don't leave it over 10-15 minutes. Then take it out. The flavor will still be there, and your guests will be able to eat it!

anon42272
Post 9

I purchased two datil pepper plants while in St. Augustine. They are bearing now (August). I live in South Carolina. Can I keep them in a greenhouse in winter? What color should they be when I pickle them for "pepper sauce?"

I am a native of St. Aug. and remember my father eating datil peppers whole. He had an asbestos mouth. --Barbara Courtney Thomas

anon39137
Post 8

I have a beautiful datil pepper plant loaded down with peppers. Now what do I do with them? Is there a sauce that I can make?

anon35339
Post 7

How tall will a datil pepper plant be at maturity?

anon18700
Post 6

And they are hotter deep orange!

anon18699
Post 5

I planted mine in March, and they started producing in about a month, but keep in mind they were potted plants in a 3" pot when I got them. I used Miracle Gro,and only had trouble from the hurricane, because the plants were so bushy they caught a lot of wind. You don't need to snip typical meristems on these plants; they bush well on there own. --- Rich in St Augustine

anon15168
Post 4

are datil peppers hotter when they are green or when they turn orange?

anon5256
Post 3

Datil Peppers should begin producing around 3-4 months after planting. It's important that they get plenty of sunlight, and a relatively large amount of phosphorus to produce well. Also, you need to prune them back so that they bush out...You don't want them growing spindly.

anon4107
Post 2

There is much mythology about the datil pepper in St. Augustine, Florida. In truth, it was brought to St. Augustine about 1880 from Chile, in South America, by a jelly manufacturer named S.B. Valls. I have never seen any reference to the pepper being in St. Augustine before that time. It was adopted by the local Minorcan residents as a part of their cuisine, but if you go to the island of Minorca and ask about datil peppers, i think you will draw a big blank. Its prominence is one of the American Minorcan contributions to cuisine, not something that was brought with them (nor picked up along the way). You will be making a contribution if you cast a skeptical eye upon most "received" versions of datil pepper history. "Datil" is not only a Spanish word for "date" (which does not at all resemble a datil pepper). It is also a word in the Quechua language from the western side of South America (the language of the Inca Empire, and the most widely spoken native language in South America).

--David Nolan, St. Augustine, Florida

angnowa
Post 1

how long before i see peppers on my datil pepper plant?

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