Primate readers will know Jo and I have a healthy obsession with hot peppers – though some could argue an unhealthy obsession..but as any South Texan can attest..it’s totally healthy! I was asked some questions by David over at FoodNearSnellville about handling hot peppers, and how to test or judge the level of ‘heat’ of a previously untasted pepper – and it was suggested I do a post discussing this very topic, Genius Idea! While Jo and I are fans of the habañero for heat and lovely flavor, they are definitely not for everyone. For some, the heat of a jalapeño can be a bit on the ‘hot’ side (right Dad? 😉 ). So everyone’s palate is different when it comes to flavor preference as well as heat tolerance. So here’s a little lesson in hot peppers!
Peppers are rated in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), as a scale for their piquancy, which I’ll include here. Zero (0) being no heat, and the hottest pepper on record, the Naga, coming in at 1,050,000 SHU. Peppers that are grown in hot, dry climates tend to be hotter to the taste. Also, as the pepper matures, the capsaicin levels peak causing a greater intensity in heat.
Let’s start with those deemed hot chilies:
Capsicum chinense: Habañero, Scotch Bonnet, Naga (hottest in the world, remember), and Datil.
Habañero (Red Savina) – My favorite hot pepper that I’ve tasted! I love adding it to my various salsas, enchilada sauces, even sometimes to Chana masala when I’m in the mood. When I opt for a hot pepper, this is my go-to. What I often suggest to others when I use this bad boy, is to sub a serrano or jalapeno because they are on the hotter side of mild – sort of medium. Because the habbie is so hot, a little does go a long way..so if you know you love the flavor but can’t take the heat..omit the seeds, where most of the heat lives. 350,000- 580,000 SHU
Scotch Bonnet – Another hot hot hot pepper, can sometimes be called a habañero chili. Other peppers that fall in this same range include the Datil. 100,000-300,000 SHU
Capsicum annum: Serrano Chilies, Cayenne peppers
Cayenne peppers – The peppers are usually dried, ground, and baked into ‘cakes’ which are further ground and sifted into what you buy as powdered cayenne. It’s also popular as red pepper flakes. 30,000-50,000 SHU
Serrano chili peppers – These are hot peppers, though not as hot as those found in C. chinense. Serranos are very fleshy, therefore don’t dry very well, and come in a variety of colors – green, red, brown, yellow, or orange. 10,000-23,000 SHU
Moving on to medium and milder chilies:
Capsicum annum: Jalapeños, Cayenne, Cherry Pepper, Poblano Chili – to name a few. This group contains both hot (see above), medium, and sweet peppers (see below).
Jalapeños – Perhaps the most commonly known chili in use in the southern region of the US, this is a medium heat chili. Jalapeños are typically sold while still green, but can mature on the plant to a bright red. The red jalapenos, considered inferior to the green, are smoke-dried and become known as chipotle peppers. Chipotles are slightly hotter than their immature, plump jalapeño counterparts. Chipotles rank at 30,000-50,000 SHUs, whereas the Jalapeño itself ranks at only 2,500-8,000 SHUs.
Poblano Chili – It also goes by the names Pasilla, and when dried is called Ancho chilies. It tends to have a low/mild heat. You mostly see them green, but can mature into a deep, almost-black red color. This would be a good chili for roasting and turning into a sauce for Mexican dishes or for a mild salsa. 500-2,500 SHU
Lastly, the sweet side of peppers:
Capsicum annum: Bell peppers – A sweet pepper, meaning less pungent, the bell pepper can come in a variety of colors: red, yellow, orange, green, purple, white, brown. And the color indicates when the pepper was picked – as they are all the same pepper. Green tends to be more bitter and less sweet (though not hot) than red, yellow, or orange. I’m personally quite fond of the red..but when it’s price is high I will opt for a yellow or orange, whatever’s on sale. I thoroughly enjoyed my purple bells from the Farmer’s Market last summer. When sweet bells are dried and ground, the result is paprika! 100-500 SHU
When working with peppers, be cautious. The seeds contain capsaicin, which can burn horribly if you get it in your eyes or mouth, even on your lips – it’s what they use to make mace and pepper spray. So unless you have a desire to mace yourself, be careful! I like to wash my hands immediately following the chopping of pepper; then rubbing my hands with lime or lemon juice, rubbing alcohol or booze, or canola/vegetable oil; then washing my hands again. I also wash my cutting board and knife, so as not to recontaminate my hands when I move on to other veggies. Let air dry, the towel you wipe your hands and utensils off with could pick up any residual capsiacin, which could end up kicking your butt the next time you use it (or wash it immediately). Some would tell you to wear latex gloves, but I personally don’t. I would worry my food would pick up the flavor of the gloves I was wearing – sometimes latex has that something…I’m not a fan. Soap and canola oil work perfectly fine for me..and you get a little extra moisturizer by giving your hands an oil rub-down..so double-bonus!
Read Full Post »