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.