Peri-peri (/ˌpɪri ˈpɪri/ PIRR-ee-PIRR-ee, often hyphenated or as one word, and with variant spellings piri-piri, piripiri or pili pili)[1] is a cultivar of Capsicum frutescens from the malagueta pepper. It was originally produced by Portuguese explorers in Portugal's former Southern African territories,[2][3] particularly Mozambique and its border regions with South Africa, and then spread to other Portuguese domains.

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


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, for example in reference to African-style chili sauce, but in Portuguese it is nearly always spelled piri-piri.[4]

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.[5]

Plant characteristics

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+12–3 in) long and 1.3–1.5 cm (12916 in) wide. The fruits are generally tapered to a blunt point and measure up to 2–3 cm (341+14 in) long. Immature pod colour is green, mature colour is bright red or purple. Some Bird's eye chili varieties measure up to 175,000 Scoville heat units.[6]


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,[7] 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.[7]

Peri-peri sauce

Piri piri sauce

Originally produced by Portuguese in Southern Africa[8] (there is still a debate whether Portuguese initially produced it in Angola or Mozambique),[9][10] the sauce is made from peri-peri chilis (used as a seasoning or marinade). Beyond Portugal and the Southern African region (Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa) where it was born,[11] the sauce is particularly well known in the United Kingdom due to the success of the South African restaurant chain Nando's.

Recipes vary from region to region, and sometimes within the same region depending on intended use (example, cooking vs. seasoning at the table) but the key ingredients are chili and garlic, with an oily or acidic base.[12][13][14]

Other common ingredients are salt, spirits (namely whisky), citrus peel, onion, pepper, bay leaves, paprika, pimiento, basil, oregano and tarragon.[15]

See also

Flame-grilled peri peri chicken from Nando's


  1. S.A, Priberam Informática. "Consulte o significado / definição de piripiri no Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa, o dicionário online de português contemporâneo". (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  2. "It turns out you were learning to love peri-peri long before we ever had Nando's". The Independent. 18 July 2017. Archived from the original on 25 May 2022. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  3. "History of Piri Piri Chicken". Food Fun Travel Blog. 13 January 2020. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  4. "Peri-Peri | Definition of Peri-Peri by Lexico". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on 25 September 2019. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  5. Stevenson, Angus, ed. (2010). "piri-piri, noun". Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford University Press.
  6. "The Scoville scale". Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  7. "Pepper Profile: African Birdseye". Fiery Foods and Barbecue SuperSite. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  8. "Story | Nando's". Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  9. "Peri Peri Chicken: South Africa's Gift to the World". Nourishing Africa. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  10. "Uncovering the origins of peri-peri sauce". Food. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  11. Rowley Leigh, "A Fiery Challenge for Delicate Palates", The Financial Times, London, 25 September 2004, p. 6.
  12. Raghavan, Susheela (23 October 2006). Handbook of Spices, Seasonings, and Flavorings. doi:10.1201/b13597. ISBN 9780429129513.
  13. "Molho de piripiri". Vaqueiro PT (in European Portuguese). Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  14. "Piri piri sauce recipe from Lisbon by Rebecca Seal". Cooked. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  15. 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.
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