Hengdong, the Yellow, Emperor’s, Pepper
China has a thing with the color red.
It’s not only conspicuous, it’s also considered auspicious, and so it’s everywhere.
Good thing that the chile pepper is so nice and shiny red; it sometimes seems like that alone made it so particularly popular in China.
Imperial Chilli Yellow?
Then, though, there is the Hengdong pepper.
It is not just another chile pepper, it seems to be the one chilli in China that ripens to yellow rather than red (and that has been associated with a place name ever since it first became known as the pepper from there).
On the one hand, this makes it perhaps less appealing, given that it’s the color red that is seen as auspicious and that can often be seen as the perfect color for chilli to have, to make it here.
Most of the time, in cooking, what Chinese kitchens which use a lot of chilli look for is a nice combination of a certain level of heat and a certain coloration that the chilli can give a dish it is used in.
On the other hand, this makes it stand out.
In the association of the golden yellow color and the imperial household, all the more so.
If the stories told of the yellow Hengdong chilli are not just nicely made up, it used to be a “gongjiao,” a “tribute pepper,” meaning that it was delivered to the imperial household as tribute.
Knowing ChiliCult Varieties
Marketing and Traditional Uses
Now, Hengdong chilli hardly has that strong a standing anymore, but some of its growers seem intent on using its outstanding difference for good marketing.
I am growing it and rather like it, but that is also due to it having (had) its traditional, very well-defined, uses. Uses with a shock effect…
Yellow Hengdong chilli was traditionally combined with one or the other of two ingredients:
Or dog meat.
I guess we are not going to use it in that traditional way any time soon. But, let’s see what other good use we can put it to.
Hengdong chilli makes for a nice general-purpose green chilli, and in its yellow state, it is truly a great color… and rather too hot. That latter bit is not nearly as good for it, but makes it have its uses, too.
Interestingly, Japan – where I was seeking spice while my Hengdong peppers were ripening back home in Austria – also seems to have a bit of a fascination with a yellow chile pepper. Or at least, some of the marketing does…