Chili Willies

I am not normally squicked by bugs. I wear a beetle in resin as a pendant, I’ve had pets that needed to be fed crickets or mealworms. And as a food writer, I’ve even had the opportunity to eat bugs on several occasions. But I’ve done so knowing full well that I was doing so, and of my own conscious choice.

For the past few months we’ve had a moth problem – those little beige moths, known to be fond of devouring precious cashmere sweaters (yes, I’m still bitter!) – but we’d rarely see more than one a day, and we could never figure out where they were coming from.

We’d had moth issues before at another residence (thus the bitterness over the cashmere), and after a particularly disturbing dip into a jar of currants with a cork stopper (the moths had burrowed through the cork and there were thousands of larvae in the bottom of the jar), pretty much all food in our house gets stored in glass jars with metal lids or plastic containers. So the current moth issue had left us frustrated and confused.

Until earlier this evening when I pulled out a plastic bin of Mexican chile peppers. As I grabbed the bags of different kinds of peppers, hundred of hard little red things fell to the counter and back into the bin – and started moving. On closer inspection, larvae were attached to many of the peppers, even though they were all separately bagged. And a couple of moths fluttered out of the bin as I shook the bags.

I’ve had this problem before with Mexican peppers – they might even have been the source of the last pantry moth problem we had – but I thought I had thwarted it this time. Previously I had bought the peppers loose from a bin at a shop in Kensington. This time I went to another store and bought items that were already bagged. Except for some chipotle peppers. I put everything in a plastic bin, thinking that if there were bugs as before, that would keep them isolated, but Google tells me that these bugs/moths are so small any kind of airtight container that isn’t as airtight as it should be (ie. cheap dollar store bins – guilty!) probably won’t contain the little buggers.

So now I still don’t know if they came via the loose chipotles, inside one of the sealed bags of other types of peppers, or somewhere else in my kitchen and just congregated in the peppers because they happen to like chilis (who knew)?

I kept enough peppers to make my pot of chili, reasoning that one or two bugs wouldn’t kill us, but we threw the rest away and scrubbed out the bin. There was no sign of them in anything else in the same cupboard, so I’m inclined to think that they came in with the chilis as I had suspected.

I’m not really sure what to do about this – I can’t make my famous chili without those peppers, but I’m not super keen on knowingly inviting bugs into my home, especially ones that eat sweaters. I think the plan is to buy a better plastic container, and buy a fresh batch of dried chilis and immediately transfer them into that container and keep it in the freezer. If there are a few moths hanging out, at least they won’t get the chance to reproduce.

Meanwhile, we’re eating this batch of chili without looking at it too carefully.

Image: the small reddish brown things are bugs, while the longer beige bits are either larvae or larvae husks from  hatched moths.

5 thoughts on “Chili Willies”

  1. Oh god, I know of what you speak. We had a moth infestation in our last home that ate through many a treasured sweater. I never knew where they came from but thought I’d had them beat. Then a couple of years into living in our new home, the problem resurfaced. I too keep dried chilies from Kensington in sealed containers but hadn’t noticed any larvae. Perhaps I should be taking a closer look.

    FYI: The Home Hardware on Bloor St. between Spadina and Bathurst carries a selection of pheromone moth traps (for both pantry and clothes moths) that won’t break the bank (unlike the ones from Grassroots). It’s unbelievable how many of those critters have come to their end in these things!

    1. I know for a fact we brought some home in a bag of wild bird seed once… they’re tough to eradicate. I’m actually thinking now that there are two types of bugs in the chilis – the little red beetle things and the moths. I’m going to grab some moth traps but Googling reveals that freezing the chilis will do no harm to them and will kill any critters.

      Cashmere sweater became cashmere arm warmers, btw. They ate a section across the front that looked like it was lace when they were done. 🙁

  2. I did once put my sweaters in a chest freezer for a week, but eventually the moths came back since they’d obviously found other nooks and crannies to call home. That’s why I figure the traps are the best defense – the pheromones call out to them far and wide.

    So sorry to hear about your cashmere. It’s a pretty sickening feeling when you realize your entire wool wardrobe is pretty much done for.

  3. Oh man…I hear you. We’ve got a fruit fly infestation at the moment. I’ve tried every damn home remedy out there and the buggers are still hanging around. ARGH.

    Can you keep the peppers in the fridge?

    1. Beer is the answer to both statements. If you haven’t already tried it, a dish of beer is supposed to attract (and then happily drown) fruit flies.Sounds like you might have tried that already, tho.

      Also, there is usually no room in my fridge because there’s usually too much beer in it. (Tried to buy the [beer writer] husband a dedicated beer fridge for his birthday but he didn’t like it… took the thing back!) We do have a chest freezer though, so except at Christmas when it’s full of cookies and half a dozen chickens (friend’s Dad has a farm…) there is normally room in the freezer.

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