hands holding a bunch of red, orange, and yellow datil peppers

Discovering Datil Peppers: From Seed to Sauce

Ever heard of datil peppers? These vibrant, spicy gems have a rich history and flavor profile. Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or a hot sauce connoisseur, here’s everything you need to know about this distinctive pepper.

Facts about
Datil Peppers

Heat level:
Capsicum chinense
North America

What are datil peppers?

Datil peppers, characterized by their unique, fiery heat and vibrant orange-yellow hue, often create a buzz in the culinary world. Spanning approximately 3.5″ in length when fully matured, these peppers have an ambiguous history. 

While many believe they originated in St. Augustine, Florida, other theories suggest their introduction to Florida from places such as Minorca or Chile. Some people also use the name “datil” pepper interchangeably with cabai rawit merah, which is commonly used in Indonesia and Central and South America.

Yet, irrespective of their contested origins, datil peppers have made a name for themselves in the gastronomic world, being a beloved choice for home gardeners and a key ingredient in a select range of commercial hot sauces and chili powders.

How is datil pronounced?

A frequently posed question revolves around the pronunciation of “datil”. Typically, “datil” is pronounced as dah-til.

How hot are datil peppers?

Datil peppers pack quite a punch, ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 SHU. To put this into perspective, they easily surpass the heat of the famous jalapeño, which typically ranges between 2,500-8,000 SHU, and are on par with or even sometimes hotter than habanero peppers. 

However, they don’t come close to the extreme heat levels of peppers like the Carolina Reaper. This scale quantifies the capsaicin concentration—the compound responsible for the burning sensation—and indicates that datil peppers are not for the faint-hearted and are best approached with caution and adventurous spirit.

What do they taste like?

Datil peppers offer a distinct flavor profile encompassing heat and a delightful fruity sweetness. Comparable in spiciness to Habaneros, these peppers present an unmistakable heat, which can be too intense for those sensitive to spicy foods. Their layered complexity makes them a favored choice for spice enthusiasts looking for more than just heat.

Common culinary uses

Apart from bringing a fiery element to dishes, datil peppers are celebrated for their versatility. They blend into fresh salsas and salads when raw or add a kick to pickles and jellies. Moreover, their distinct taste enhances spicy curries and sauces. A staple in many kitchens, these peppers are the cornerstone of numerous homemade hot sauces, elevating them to a unique flavor dimension.

Where to buy Datil peppers

Datil peppers are not usually found in the aisles of mainstream supermarkets. To source them, you might need to explore specialty growers or consider growing them at home for a personal supply.

Products that use datil peppers 

While datil peppers aren’t the most widely used in commercial products, there are a few hot sauces that include this spicy pepper if you want to try them. Cowgill’s has a datil hot sauce, as does Captain Sorensen’s. Datil peppers are also popular for growing at home and can be made into homemade hot sauces or chili powders.

How to grow datil peppers 

Datil peppers require a relatively long season, maturing 100 days after transplant. I grew a few plants in 2023, and they were much slower to develop than most of the other varieties I grew.  

Unless you live in a climate with a very long and warm growing season, start your datil pepper seeds indoors about 8-12 weeks before your last frost date. I start my seeds in a tray and then transplant them into square 3.5″ pots. Peppers require warmth to germinate properly, so using heat mats is a good idea unless your growing space is particularly warm. Once the seedlings emerge, I also use grow lights for 8-12 hours daily to ensure they get enough light.

Then, about 2-4 weeks after my last frost date (which usually happens around Memorial Day in Northern Illinois, zone 5b), I begin by leaving them outside for a few hours at a time in indirect sunlight and then gradually increase the duration until they are out in the full sun and overnight. After that, pop them in the ground, a garden bed, or a 5-gallon bucket with nutritious soil, and watch them grow happily!

When are they ready to pick?

Picking datil peppers at the right time ensures you get the best flavor. Start by observing the color change. The peppers begin their life in a green hue and gradually mature to a vibrant orange. This color shift is your cue. 

Harvesting these peppers when they have mostly transitioned to orange, ideally at least around the 90% mark, is recommended. This ensures they have achieved their full flavor potential.

Where to get datil pepper seeds

For most of 2022 and 2023, Baker’s Creek gave away datil peppers as a “free seed” with some online orders. Though they’re somewhat of a rarity on standard store racks like those at Home Depot, they’re not impossible to find. 

Online retailers come to the rescue for those looking to plant their own. Websites such as Pepper Joe’s and Sandia are dependable sources, stocking these specific pepper seeds for enthusiasts and gardeners.

Datil peppers stand out with their distinctive flavor and heat. With origins shrouded in mystery and a flavor profile that surprises many, they’re a unique addition to any garden or kitchen. Whether you’re a gardener hoping to cultivate them or a culinary enthusiast eager to incorporate their heat into dishes, datil peppers offer a world of exploration.