It’s hot! It’s boozy … and it’s a wonderful addition to soups, stir-frys and sauces. It’s also makes a colorful, unique gift. (I recently gave a bottle to a friend turning 40 and before the party was over the Pilipili-Hoho had been drained … ignoring my squeals of anxiety about how it needed to be used sparingly AND the instructions in the gift card that it needed to brew for six months!)

Capsicum frutescens peppers from Mexico that were planted on the farm to supply the Louisiana-based Tabasco company.

I was introduced to Pilipili-Hoho when I worked at Jack’s Camp in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. The white linen cloth covering the long elegant table in the mess tent was offset by three or four cherry red chilli-filled crystal decanters for each meal. They looked lovely–almost like table decorations–if not somewhat lethal.

The term Pilipili-Hoho is believed to have its roots in Kenya in East Africa. I have read that native Kenyans call all capsicums pilipili-hoho, but mostly I have seen it as bottled red chilli peppers, like those in the photograph below. To me Pilipili-Hoho sounds almost onomatopoeic: pilipili being synonymous with hot, hot, hot and hoho being synonymous with laughter and having a good time. At one time my partner Chris grew chillis (Capsicum frutescens peppers from Mexico) here on the farm for the Louisiana-based Tabasco company, and although the project was short-lived, we’re fortunate to still be in possession of a number of chilli bushes that ripen in the summer months during the rains. They thrive in our semi-arid Kalahari sands and are hardy and prolific.


  • Enough chillis to fill a decanter or used liquor bottle (the prettier the better … or, like us, what you have in your cupboard, where Captain Morgan came to our rescue)
  • Enough gin to fill the decanter once the chillies are inside
  • Sherry–one that suits your taste–to top up the Pilipili-Hoho as and when you use it


  1. Wash the chillis, remove all the stalks, and then stuff as many as you can into a clear glass decanter.
  2. Fill the bottle with gin, tightly close the lid, and leave in a place that is not exposed to sunlight for six months.
  3. Once you begin using the Pilipili-Hoho, top up the deficit with sherry in order to avoid exposing the chillis. Doing this stops the chillis from discoloring and allows you to keep it for at least a year, if not two. It will depend on how often you use it. As time goes by, the sherry adds a delicious sweetness to the Pilipili-Hoho which counterbalances the increasing heat of the chillis.

Pilipili-Hoho is hot! Choose wisely when giving this as a gift because if glugged down at the get-go, like my friends at the 40th birthday party, the after effects the next day do little to help the hangover! Trust me on this …


Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


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