Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sili | Philippine Chili - Siling Mahaba, Siling Labuyo

Philippine chili photo

Sili is the Filipino term for chili peppers.  Hot Philippine chilies are generally one of two varieties of chili: siling mahaba (also known as siling pangsigang, siling espada, and chili picante) or siling labuyo.  Bell peppers (Capsicum annuum var. annuum) are locally called siling bilog ("round chili") or siling parasko.

Description of Sili 

Siling mahaba (translation: "long chili") is usually a bright green but gets redder with age.  Despite its name, it grows to be only about a finger long although it is longer than the other commonly found hot chili pepper in the Philippines, siling labuyo.  Likely a cultivar of Capsicum annuum longum, siling mahaba packs about the same heat as a jalapeño.

Siling labuyo (translation: "wild chili") are smaller and much hotter—at one time even being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest chili although the habañero and other hotter chili peppers have since been identified. Their taxonomic classification is less clear with some saying they're Capsicum frutescens while others suggest that they too are Capsicum annuum or even Capsicum chinense because of their greater heat.  Genuine Philippine siling labuyo are becoming increasingly hard to find in Filipino markets where they are being supplanted by bird's eye chilies from Taiwan that keep better and which are also being labeled as siling labuyo.  The Philippine variety can be distinguished from its Taiwanese counterpart by its length; Philippine siling labuyo is shorter.

Origin of Sili

Philippine chilies, like all chilies, are believed to have originated in the Americas—some sources saying around Mexico, others in Peru—and were spread around the world by European traders, primarily the Spanish and Portuguese.

Uses of Sili

Siling mahaba as its alternative name suggests is often used in sinigang to give it an extra kick.  It's also used in dinuguan.  Siling labuyo is an ingredient in dishes like Bicol express.  It has been used to make hot sauce and to give extra flavor to vinegar to make spiced vinegar.  It is also sometimes supplied at the table for those who might wish to combine it with soy sauce, fish sauce, or vinegar to make a dipping sauce. Chili leaves (dahon ng sili) from the plant can be used in cooking as well such as in the Filipino dish tinola,

There are non-culinary uses as well. Siling labuyo, is used in Philippine herbal remedies and as a homemade insecticide.  The chili's capsaicin content which makes it hot to the taste buds also generates therapeutic heat when prepared with coconut oil as a topical ointment for body aches; when mixed with water it can be sprayed on plants to kill and ward off insects.

More information:
  • Hot Pepper. (n.d.). Department of Agriculture, Philippines.
  • Nagpala, Ellaine Grace L. (October 2007). A fresh look at siling labuyo. BAR Chronicle. Bureau of Agricultural Research, Philippines. 
  • Perry, Linda; Dickau, Ruth; Zarrillo, Sonia; Holst, Irene; Pearsall, Deborah M.; Piperno, Dolores R.; Berman, Mary Jane; Cooke, Richard G.; Rademaker, Kurt; Ranere, Anthony J.; Raymond, J. Scott; Sandweiss, Daniel H.; Scaramelli, Franz; Tarble, Kay; Zeidler, James A. (February 16, 2007). Starch Fossils and the Domestication and Dispersal of Chili Peppers (Capsicum spp. L.) in the Americas. Science.
  • Sokolov, Raymond. (April 1993). Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed the Way the World Eats. Touchstone.


  1. Hi, your blog is interesting but would make a big difference if you had pics to match the info. Showing pics of the two different chillis you refer too would make all the difference. Keep up the good work

  2. An old post, I know, but do you know of any alternate peppers that could be substituted for mahabang sili?

  3. Hi anyone knows the type chili that has the same leaf of a papaya ?

  4. This is really informative. Hopefully there will be more pictures next time.