Thai Pepper Leaves
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Thai Pepper leaves are smooth, green leaves that grow up to 8 centimeters long. The oblong, ovate leaves grow on the Thai chili plant, which bears green or red fruit. The leaves are best harvested when they are young. Unlike the fruit, Thai Pepper leaves have little to no heat, and instead offer pepper-like, grassy flavor nuances and a mild bitterness. Depending on the cultivar, they may provide a lingering heat - not unlike the chili fruit itself.
Thai Pepper leaves are available year-round.
Thai Pepper leaves grow on the Thai chili plant, which is an herbaceous plant belonging to the genus Capsicum in the nightshade family. There is no pure or standard form of Thai chili. In general, chilis in Thailand fall under the botanical classification of either as Capsicum annuum or Capsicum frutescens, and are subcategorized in the longum group. The Thai Pepper fruit in general is notorious for its extreme spiciness, and its use in Thai, Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian, Laotian and Khmer cooking is widely known. Leaves from other nightshade plants are TOXIC, but there is little evidence to suggest that this is the case with leaves from the chili plant. Thai Pepper leaves are classified as edible, but it is suggested that they be cooked before consumption. They are sometimes used in curries, as a garnish, or as a soup green.
Like other chili leaves, Thai Pepper leaves contain a small amount of protein, and are a good source of Vitamins A and B. They also contain a small amount of capsaicin, the component in the chili pepper fruit that causes a burning sensation.
Thai Pepper leaves are mildly bitter, and may be used as a garnish or as a soup green, to be added at the end of cooking. Thai Pepper leaves should be cooked before being eaten. To use the leaves, first remove them from their stems. Some home cooks have experimented with Thai Pepper leaves in stir fries, pairing them with garlic, chicken or pork. When cooked, the Thai Pepper leaf is akin to water spinach, also known as kang kong. They can also be used in place of green chilies as a colorant for Thai green curry paste. The Thai Pepper leaves are pureed with water, strained, then added to the paste, giving it an attractive, bright green hue without adding the burning heat of the chili fruit. To store, place Thai Pepper leaves in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week. Thai Pepper leaves can also be frozen.
Chili pepper leaves have medicinal uses. Leaves from varieties found in China have been used as mouthwashes, and the juice of chili leaves in Javanese traditional medicine was useful as a counter-irritant for the skin after childbirth. The Thai Pepper leaf shows up in Thai cuisine as a garnish or potherb, although it does not share the same elevated status as the kaffir lime leaf or the galangal leaf.
Chili peppers have their origins in Mexico, South America and Central America, where they have been cultivated since around 6,000 BCE. Thai Peppers were likely brought to Asia by Portuguese traders around the 16th or 17th century. Their use in Asia grew quickly, revolutionizing cuisine thanks to the fruit’s addictive wallop of heat. The Thai chili plant prefers full sun and grows in warm, tropical climates in warm soil of around 20 degrees Celsius or higher.