African red devil peppers.jpg
Pili pili peppers (ripe red and unripe green)
SpeciesCapsicum frutescens
CultivarPili pili
Heat Very hot
Scoville scale50,000–175,000 SHU

Peri-peri (/ˌpɪri ˈpɪri/ PIRR-ee-PIRR-ee, often hyphenated or as one word, and with variant spellings piripiri or pili pili) is a cultivar of Capsicum frutescens that was originally produced in Mozambique by Portuguese explorers[citation needed] from the malagueta pepper and then spread to other Portuguese territories.


Pilipili in Swahili means "pepper". Other romanizations include pili pili in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and peri peri in Malawi, deriving from various pronunciations of the word in different parts of Bantu-speaking Africa. Peri peri is also the spelling used as a loanword in some African Portuguese-language countries, especially in the Mozambican community. The peri-peri spelling is common in English and in Portuguese, for example in reference to African-style chili sauce.[1]

The Oxford Dictionary of English records peri-peri as a foreign word meaning "a very hot sauce made with red chilli peppers", and gives its ultimate origin as the word for "pepper" (presumably in the native-African sense) in the Ronga language of southern Mozambique, where Portuguese explorers developed the homonymous cultivar from malagueta pepper.[2]

Plant characteristics[edit]

Dried piri piri chilis

Plants are usually very bushy and grow in height to 45–120 cm (18–47 in) with leaves 4–7 cm (1.6–2.8 in) long and 1.3–1.5 cm (0.51–0.59 in) wide. The fruits are generally tapered to a blunt point and measure up to 2–3 cm (0.8–1 in) long. Immature pod color is green, mature color is bright red or purple. Some Bird's eye chili varieties measure up to 175,000 Scoville heat units.[3]


Like all chili peppers, piri piri is descended from plants from the Americas, but it has grown in the wild in Africa for centuries and is now cultivated commercially in Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe,[4] and Rwanda. It grows mainly in Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Portugal. It is cultivated for both commercial food processing and the pharmaceutical industry. Cultivation of piri piri is labor-intensive.[4]

Peri-peri sauce[edit]

Piri piri sauce

Sauce made from peri-peri chilis (used as a seasoning or marinade) is Portuguese in origin and is also "especially prevalent in Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa".[5] It is made from crushed chillies, citrus peel, onion, pepper, garlic, salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, paprika, pimiento, basil, oregano, and tarragon.[6]

Recipes vary from region to region but the common ingredients are chili, lemon, oil, garlic, bay leaves and red bell peppers.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Flame-grilled peri peri chicken


  1. ^ "Peri-Peri | Definition of Peri-Peri by Lexico". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  2. ^ Stevenson, Angus, ed. (2010). "piri-piri, noun". Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ "The Scoville scale". Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Pepper Profile: African Birdseye". Fiery Foods and Barbecue SuperSite. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  5. ^ Rowley Leigh, "A Fiery Challenge for Delicate Palates", The Financial Times, London, 25 September 2004, p. 6.
  6. ^ Bender, David A., ed. (2009). "piri-piri". A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199234875.001.0001. ISBN 9780199234875. Retrieved 24 February 2013.

External links[edit]