Tobago Peppers

As consumers, we seemingly have tremendous choice when selecting what we want to eat. A grocery store may at first glance appear to contain countless vegetables and fruits, our mammoth grocery lists suddenly becoming dwarfed and infinitely more manageable. Yet the reality is that the diversity a produce section represents is only the tip of the iceberg for what is possible for a farm to produce, which makes being a farmer all the more exciting. We have choice not only in the genus and species of plants we raise, but also in cultivars, the individual and unique varieties that have been selected over time for myriad traits such as size, color, and flavor...the list goes on.

Many of the romance in selecting for traits is lost when perceived at the macro level we see in supermarkets. Much of the selection is done to increase profits, for which the producers cannot really be blamed. The consumer demands crops year-round that are not suited for each season, therefore many farmers have selected for durability, uniformity of size, and disease resistance in order to keep up with demand and reduce risk. We small-scale vegetable farmers can relate to the anxiety attached to the potential failure of any crop, and when produce is grown in a monoculture, failure is simply not an option.

It is our scale and diversity that allow us to play around more with varieties; the stakes are not anywhere near as high when piloting say twenty to thirty feet of something versus many, many acres. We also service a consumer base to whom superficial characteristics such as size and color uniformity are nowhere near as important as good flavor. We feel very strongly about the quality of all our produce, but if we had to choose one thing to grow in the summer, it would definitely be peppers. Though there are only five species of pepper we humans eat, the amount of cultivars within those species has been increased over the centuries through selection hundreds of times. Size, heat, sweetness, and color have been mixed and matched to develop fruits that satisfy a variety of palates.

We grow a particular cultivar of the species capsicum chinense called “Tobago”, and it is one of the most unique peppers you can find at the Durham Farmers Market. Identified by an American ecologist named Jeff Nekola at the Scarborough Farmers Market on the Carribean island of Tobago in 1999, it is a relative of the scorchingly hot habanero and scotch bonnet peppers, yet it does not contain anywhere near the amount of scoville units. We love it because it is mild, and has an amazing, tropical fruit flavor you can enjoy without losing all your taste buds in the process. This summer, our favorite preparation to come out of our Farm Food Lab has been a simple and delicious emulsified sauce made with these peppers, which can pair with anything from vegetable crudite, to grilled meat.

Tobago Pepper Aioli

One pound tobago peppers

One egg yolk

One cup neutral oil (canola, sunflower, peanut, etc.)

Four whole garlic cloves

One tbsp Cider vinegar

One tbsp dijon mustard


This recipe is an emulsion, which simply means you are combining two things that do not normally mix: water and oil. The egg yolk (and to a much lesser extent the mustard) contains lecithin, which allows the two to bind when mixed at a proper ratio. In this case, you can usually count on one cup of oil for every egg yolk you use. I recommend using a food processor when combining everything, but you could use a whisk, and with the proper technique you can achieve the same result. It only means you’ll be doing a little more chopping.

To begin this recipe, set the oven to 350 and roast the tobago peppers on a baking sheet until the begin to char slightly and wilt. Take them out and let them rest. While they are cooling, chop the garlic finely, separate your egg yolk, and add all ingredients except the oil to a mixing bowl or a food processor. When you can handle the peppers without burning yourself, carefully remove all the stems and seeds, while preserving the flesh. If you are using the whisk and bowl method, chop the peppers finely and set them aside. If you are using a food processor, just throw them in with everything else. You’ll want to find a vessel with some sort of spout to pour the oil slowly into the bowl while you whisk with the other hand. As you pour, make sure you are whisking quite vigorously so that the oil is evenly distributed and properly emulsified. This is why a food processor is so much easier: you can chop the peppers while simultaneously mixing everything together, eliminating the need for whisking and chopping.

If you have endeavored with a whisk and found success, you’ll only need to add the chopped peppers at the end to make it extra delicious. This should keep in the fridge for one week, and the acidity of the vinegar should do a good job keeping microbial activity at a minimum if you are concerned about the raw egg yolk. Now go make a delicious sandwich!

Storage practice:

Peppers should be stored between 45 and 50 degrees, which most homes cannot accommodate. Therefore, we recommend keeping them out at room temperature if you are going to use them within a period of 3 to 4 days, or putting them in the fridge if you don’t think you’ll get to them that quickly.