The hilly Basque Country is probably home to the oldest variety of chilies in Europe. Legend has it that the Basque navigator Gonzalo de Percartegu brought chili seeds from the New World to his homeland. Thus, this type of chili has been grown in the Basque Country for 500 years. Historically, certain are 400 years. With the time, the chili was of course further bred by selection.
Chili Gorria you probably know under the name Piment d’Espelette. It is one of the best chili spices. Under the impact of the mild climate of the Bay of Biscay, chili plants grow on fertile fields. Handpicked harvest and careful processing tickles out the pleasant taste.
Only chili powder grown in one of the ten villages around the French town of Espelette is allowed to bear the name. Similar to champagne, which is only genuine if it comes from Champagne. Since the year 2000 the name Piment d’Espelette has been protected and may only be used for chili products from a small area at the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Gorria is the Basque word for red. When you see ripe pods of this plant for the first time, you will know the reason why. A bright red to fall in love with at first sight.
Gorria chili plants grow about one meter high. They are strong bushes that produce 10–14 cm long red pods. They remind a little of jalapeños in their shape and tip, only they are longer and slightly wrinkled. Ripe, red pods taste pleasantly intense with a mild pungency when fresh.
Ripe Gorria chilies reach a pungency of up to 4,000 Scoville. In 1912, the scientist Wilbur Scoville had developed a scale to determine the capsaicin content in the unit SHU for chilies. At that time, the chili sample was mixed with water until no burning was felt. Today the sharpness is measured in the laboratory. 4,000 SHU correspond to the imprecise and subjective sharpness level 3, which is perceived by many as pleasantly piquant.
Fresh pods are an outstanding experience for most chili growers. The piquancy with the great aroma makes you want to try the next pods. The chili spice Piment d’Espelette is of course legendary, but only the Espelette region is allowed to call itself that.
Chili powder or flakes can be ground from the dried chilies after a day in the drying machine. It has an orange to red color. It smells very pleasant, and we don’t even talk about the taste. Traditionally the Gorria chilies are air dried.
Basques love omelettes, grilled sardines, feta cheese and salad. Mild peppers are eaten with everything. A local specialty is piperade, a delicious vegetarian paprika omelette. Absolutely delicious and recommended for cooking.
The chili plants are usually one meter high when fully grown. Depending on growing conditions and seeds, they can be between 60 cm and 150 cm high. The plants are first brought forward and planted in fields in May.
In the Espelette area, about 25,000 chili plants are planted in an area of 100 by 100 meters.
The arrival of the Gulf Stream on the coast of the Bay of Biscay provides a pleasant climate for the chilies. Both during the growing phase and later when drying the fruits. These special climatic conditions make Chili Gorria the unique Piment d’Espelette in only one region.
Chili Espelette is sown in greenhouses in the Basque Country in mid-February. Six weeks after sowing, the seedlings are about 4 cm high and are then separated manually. It is not sown outdoors until mid-May, as frost can still be expected before then. Chilies die at the slightest frost. This variety does not grow below 9 °C.
For a high germination rate of chili seeds, a heated indoor greenhouse is recommended. Ideal germination temperatures are around 25 °C. At lower temperatures fewer seeds will germinate. Below 20 °C the germination process is similar to a lottery.
We like to use coconut swelling tabs as growing substrate. Their pH value is slightly acidic and thus a good basis for the germination process. With other soils, you should make sure that they are not overfertilized. Nutritive salts can make germination difficult or even prevent it.
After 10 to 14 days, small plants will hatch out of the beige chili seeds. Initially, the plants have two cotyledons. Three weeks later, normal leaves have formed. Then it would also be time to repot the chilies or to prickle them when sowing areas.
A good substrate for chili plants is important. It is virtually the basis for healthy growth. It must have a loose structure, be moderately rich in nutrients and have a slightly acidic pH value. The soil should be permeable so that no stagnant moisture can develop. Chilies dislike wet feet. The roots start rotting quickly in waterlogged conditions, which leads to the death of the plant.
Only water when necessary. A slightly moist soil is perfectly sufficient. In the cultivation area on the coast of France and Spain, the geographical location causes high rainfall. Probably Chili Gorria can pack a little more water than other chili varieties.
Protect the plant from pests. Mostly it causes other problems like diseases. In the apartment we prophylactically apply yellow stickers to the flower pot. If aphids and spider mites are suspected, we will gladly use neem oil.
In the field, nature regulates itself. A healthy plant rarely dies of a few pests that are inevitable. In the nature garden, insects that are harmful to plants are kept in check by beneficial insects.
The area around Espelette is rural. Therefore we assume that mainly organic fertilizer from livestock farming is used. For us, guano is a good alternative to fertilization.
Tomato fertilizer is usually the easiest way to fertilize your chilies. Paprika and chili fertilizers are usually only available from specialized chili shops. Since this is exactly adjusted to the needs of Capsicum plants, its purchase is worthwhile.
We ourselves use guano fertilizer for this variety in the open field. On the balcony or in the house a long-term fertilizer for vegetables.
From one Gorria chili plant you can harvest about one kilo of the delicious pods. In the past, chili growers used to hang them up to dry on their facades. Today the greenhouses are used in which new chilies will be grown next year.
The chilies to be harvested are hand-picked. When the Espelette chilies change to a beautiful red after about 70 days after flowering, they are left to ripen for another 15 days. Then it is time to separate the chilies from the plant. Use a sharp knife to cut the style so that more of it sticks to the pod. This makes it easier to thread the chilies for drying.
One kilo of the Pimento d’Espelette powder costs up to €150 or $170. For this, probably 8 kilos of fresh chilies are dried and ground. This should make the Chili Gorria one of the more valuable chili varieties.
There is no frost-proof chili. Although this is not quite true. Rocotos (Capsicum pubescens) can survive even slight minus temperatures. But Espelette chili is much more sensitive. Below 10 °C, the chili will feel so uncomfortable that it will stop growing altogether. At 0 °C it will die.
As a rule, you should bring your Capsicum annuum plants into the house in the last weeks of September. Repot the Gorria plants in flower pots of about 15 cm and cut the branches back to 10 cm. Annuum actually means annual. But this is a mistake and you can usually let chili plants of this species overwinter 2–3 times.
In the beginning, our chili plants were destroyed by spider mites several years ago, but now they get a Neem cure. Neem is a natural pesticide which helps against sucking pests.
If you invest a few euros in bright plant light, you can harvest chilies even in winter. But then please use a 10 liter plant pot instead of a small flower pot.
|Plant size||60–150 cm|
|Maturing time||70 days|
|Germination period||8–14 days|
|Germination temperature||25–28 °C|
|Planting distance||60–100 cm|