Things are heating up at Mommie Cooks! Today we’re going to talk chile peppers. I know, yum, right? I don’t know about you, but chile peppers have always been one of those things I’ve wanted to understand a bit better. I mean really, there’s over 500 different varieties out there; how do you know which one to choose when making your pepper inspired meal? And once you’ve got your peppers, how much should you use and how can you control how much heat your pepper will infuse into your meal?
I could go through every single pepper in detail, but then we’d be here until next week, so instead we’ll just focus on a few. And wouldn’t you know, I took the liberty of venturing out to my International grocery store to pick up a handful of different varieties for us to look at and compare. Hopefully by the time we’re finished, you’ll have a better understanding of peppers and how to best use them.
So what are we waiting for? Grab your gloves and let’s get cooking!
Tip number 1: When working with hot chile peppers, be sure to use gloves. This will help to keep the spicy oils from penetrating into your skin and burning. You can also rub a coating of oil on your hands before chopping to help repel the chile oils.
Chile peppers are an integral part of cooking here in the US and around the globe. They’ve been used and eaten by people for thousands of years. Did you know that peppers were first domesticated for human consumption 6,000 years ago and that their origins date back to 7500 B.C.?
One of the most unique aspects of peppers is, of course, their spice. Peppers range from sweet (think your common green pepper, poblanos, and pepperocinis) to down right burning hot (we’re talking habeneros, thai, and cayenne). And how do we determine how hot a pepper is? Glad you asked. We look at the level of capsaicin.
Tip number 2: Don’t rely on appearance to tell you whether a pepper is hot or not. The amount of heat a pepper will give out is actually based on how stressful it’s growing environment was. The more stressed the plant, the higher the level of spice. The result is that peppers of the same species can vary in their level of spiciness simply because of how and where they were grown. Pretty cool huh?
Capsaicin is a chemical compound found naturally in peppers that gives it the spicy flavor that we’ve come to know so well. We measure it based on a scale we call the Scoville scale. Levels range from zero, no spice, to 16 million which is considered pure capsaicin. Now THAT’s hot.
For our purposes here, I put together my own little scoville scale showing the levels of spice for the peppers in the pictures above.
My handy dandy homemade scoville chart. Isn’t she pretty?
Tip number 3: Did you know that the majority of capsaicin isn’t in the seeds as most people think, but in the ribs of the pepper? If you want to remove some of the spiciness of your pepper, be sure to remove both the seeds and the ribs!
Ok, we’ve learned a bit about a different species of peppers and what makes them so spicy (or not so spicy as the case may be). Now let’s talk about some uses.
- Consumption– Most commonly, peppers can be used for consumption. They can be roasted, dried, toasted, fried, grilled… the possibilities are endless!
- Medicinal – Did you know that capsaicin is an endorphin? It can help improve your mood, allieviate pain, curb hunger, help with your memory and improve the production of sex hormones in your body. Ooh la la! Bring on the peppers!
- Crop Protection – Farmers in Africa will plant peppers around their crops in order to keep the elephants out. Somehow I don’t think we have that problem here in the states!
Tip number 4: Have a problem with squirrels eating all your suet? Buy the spicy pepper suet. You can also mix cayenne pepper in with your bird seed. Birds can’t taste spice but squirrels can. The birds will enjoy a delicious noon day snack without the hindrance of a squirrel stealing their meal! Because birds can’t taste a peppers spice, they are an integral way that peppers spread their seeds and grow.
I hope I’ve educated us all a bit more on chile peppers today. If you have any questions about peppers, just add them to the comments and I’ll see what I can dig up.
And if you have a topic you want featured on Beyond the Basics, be it an ingredient, a cooking process, or anything else you can dream up, let me know and I’ll see about featuring it in a future edition.
Sanjeeta kk says
Wow! Thats quite an information Julie! Love to bookmark it. Thanks for sharing, take care.
I'm bookmarking this one! Thanks so much for such useful information! I'm living in Korea now and they LOVE spicy food! The most common pepper here is the red one. They make red pepper paste (it's very tasty, actually) and use it all over their dishes. It is widely sold in big containers that I bought as soon as I arrived here, certain that it was tomato sauce! My husband loves it. I do enjoy it too, but a little milder. And after your perfectly taught lesson, I can be more confident when shopping for peppers! Thanks for sharing!
Miel Abeille says
Excellent post! Informational, yet conversational — I love it!
Mr. Groom is always wanting more peppers and more spicy dishes so now I have a little bit more knowledge to work with.
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says
That was so interesting! I had no idea that the way that it grew had such an influence on the spiciness! 😮
Great info, Jules!
A SPICY PERSPECTIVE says
Great post! I always mix a little cayenne into the soil when I'm planting to ward off the squirrels! Works like a charm!
I just found your site from Monet's and I love it. I am so ignorant when it comes to any pepper other than the bell, so thank you for educating me on this wonderful Tuesday morning.
PS – your kids are adorable.
That's very informative. Now I know what to put out for those pesky squirrels in my yard.
Thanks, now I know! 🙂
We should have read this the other night…my husband was making salsa and he burned his hands so badly! I'm bookmarking this though for future reference!
Julie @ Willow Bird Baking says
Super handy! I read on Twitter once where someone had peeled pounds of jalapenos without gloves — yikes! Her hands burned for hours!
Thanks for the great information! I have an abundance of peppers in my garden and would love some creative ideas or recipes of how to use them!
Oh Julie, haven't seen so many peppers together…love the information on the post…thank you!
I come from northern Ontario and I admit I am completely clueless about chilis. Thank you for that wealth of information. I would love to be brave and start cooking wich chili pepper.
Very informational! I definitely need that, living in Mexico haha
Here in the Yucatan Peninsula, they love Habanero peppers! Very spicy!
Seems like the smaller the pepper, the spicier it is, judging by your chart.
Salsa Verde says
Thank you so much for that precious information!!
Here I just a caught the pesky squirrels eating bird food and you have a solution! Funny! I don't find that I need gloves when I chop peppers but I guess it's an individual sensitivity.
Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum says
Wow! I never knew about the ribs being so spicy. Thanks for the info!
i love peppers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and scoville units. sadly, i can't tell you how many times i've chopped one up and promptly scratched my eye. even more sadly, i still stubbornly refuse to wear gloves. 🙂
Thanks for laying it out like that — very informative!
Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds says
Luckily I didn't grow any hot peppers in my garden. They'd probably burn our eyes while we're playing in the yard, my poor soil is such a hostile environment!
Yum!!! I love me some peppers!! Especially the jalapeno variety! Thanks for posting this. I found myself saying "huh" a few times. Not "huh??" but "huh!" Great job lady! I'm loving this series a lot!
I liked this schooling! I love some kick in my food, but no nothing…until now…about chili peppers. Great info. I think I must be spicy based on my growing environment!
5 Star Foodie says
Terrific info on chile peppers! Just sent you an email about winning the chavrie giveaway 🙂
Thanks for all of the great info! Do you have any "rules of thumb" when it comes to picking peppers? I'm trying to decide whether my banana peppers are ready to be plucked.
The Bitch Stopped Cooking says
Awesome. Thanks for sharing! This is so useful and interesting.
Anna Johnston says
Loved the tips and learnt something new. I didn’t know the harder the growing conditions the hotter the pepper…, learn something new everyday.
PS: Thanks for visiting my blog too, thanks so much. I really look forward to your updates.
Alex Fitzpatrick says
Good stuff, Julie! I love peppers. I love to learn how to cook better with them. I love to watch Adam Richman on Man vs. Food eat foolish amounts of them.
Lots of yummy love,
Alex aka Ma, What’s For Dinner
I love spicy! The spicier it is, the better. I also love curry dishes with a bite. Yum! So great seeing you today Julie. Can’t wait until Type A. We need a serious girl day out =)
Matt Kay says
Great post! I’m sure it’s fairly obvious that I’m a chile fanatic so this was right up my alley.
If you didn’t already know, capsaicin causes your nerve endings to release endorphins and substance P. Substance P tells your brain that your mouth is on fire (or your eye if you scratched it and weren’t wearing gloves). Capsaicin causes your nerves to deplete themselves of substance P which then causes a numbing effect. No signal…no pain. This is why it’s used topically in creams for pain and itch relief!
They also raise your body temperature slightly with gives you a metabolic boost. This in turn triggers fat burning in your body. It’s not a magic bullet though. Just a little boost.
The endorphins are why I eat the peppers though. If you consume a high quantity you actually get a mini-buzz. 😀
Hi Julie, amazing post. I have recently went to Mexico and it was amazing to see all kinds of chili peppers both fresh and dried form. The markets were filled with sacks of them. So I bought different kinds (dried) and now trying to get to know them. Do you have any suggestions, recipes that uses dried chili peppers?? It will be amazing if you can post something on them as a continuation.
Cos garza says
Where can I buy Thai and jamiacan plants?
I was just researching banana peppers since I was given some and questioned if it was indeed a banana pepper due to its heat…ouch! Like you thought that they were not hot but these were about as spicy as jalapeños at least!