Your Friendly Guide to Hot Peppers
When it comes to hot peppers, one learns to beware the jewel-like, fascinating fruits dangling from the elegant branches of the deep green plants rather quickly.
I still remember my first enthusiastic bite of a "mild" habanero pepper and the subsequent fit of coughing, eye watering and all around storm the compound called capsaicin raged into my body.
I have since learned to love hot peppers and built up a resistance to the capsaicin and enjoy both the flavor and the sensation of the heat as I use them in my cooking.
I've not been about to enjoy a raw bite of Habanero yet, but maybe in time!
If you're curious, or rather cautious, about growing the hot pepper variety that is just right for your taste, then this article was written for you!
What is Capsaicin?
The “hot” in hot peppers is due to capsaicin (C18H27NO3). This chemical compound, naturally present in hot peppers, is colorless and odorless with an oily consistency.
The chemical is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact. The concentration of capsaicin is higher in the placental tissue (which holds the seeds), the internal membranes and, to a lesser extent, the other fleshy parts of the fruits of plants.
This means that for those who are looking for a milder hot pepper, scraping clean the area around the seeds will remove much of the spiciness of the pepper, leaving only the fruity, tasty flesh. Don't make the mistake of thinking this will remove the capsaicin altogether! The hottest peppers on this list deserve respect and no amount of seed and placenta scraping will remove their pungent bite.
Caution and remedies
I always use gloves when handling the hottest peppers and especially their seeds. Capsaicin is an oily compound and is readily absorbed by our skin and not so easily removed. If you handle hot chilis without protection and want to remove the capsaicin - or if you inadvertently rubbed your face or other parts of your body after handling hot peppers - here are a few remedies that will help quench the fire:
Because capsaicin is an oil-like substance, using vegetable oil , petroleum jelly and oil based creams are an effective way of attenuating the discomfort. The capsaicin that has not already been absorbed by your skin will readily bond with the oil and can be washed of with dish soap.
As I am sure many are aware, plain water is not effective at washing capsaicin from the skin. This is because the compound is a hydrophobic hydrocarbon - meaning is repels water instead of being diluted by it.
Capsaicin is however soluble in alcohol! Keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol to cleanse skin or contaminated items.
If you ingest too much and your mouth feels uncomfortable, drinking milk is often considered the best solution. Cold milk is an effective way to relieve the burning sensation due to caseins, a protein found in milk that is known to have a detergent effect on capsaicin.
Now for the fun part!
How spicy is a Jalapeno compared to a Habanero? I found out the hard way, but you don't have to!
Here is a simple chart laying down the potency of the most common hot peppers.
As you can see, many of the familiar names you know and love in the pepper world are on that chart!
All our sweet peppers, from Sweet Hungarian Yellow Wax Pepper, to the jewel like beauty of Sweet Lilac Bell Pepper, have a score of 0 on the Scoville Scale. This means that the fruits do not contain any capsaicin and therefore have none of the irritating compound.
Next up are the mild peppers, such as our Anaheim Hot Chili Pepper and Ancho Poblano, and not too far, the ever popular Early Jalapeno Pepper. Ranging at a mere 700-800, the Santa Fe Grande Hot Pepper is often the star of the show during our late summer meals, simply basted in olive oil and roasted on the grill. I often scrape the seeds and placenta of, but you don't have to: they are mild enough to be pleasant even with the seeds in.
At the higher level of our scale, we have our incredibly popular Bird's Eye Thai Chili Pepper, a small and dainty - but Oh so mighty - chili pepper. I do not enjoy eating raw or in large concentration, but chopped finely and added to salads, soups, stir fries and noodle dishes they are enough to elevate a simple dish. They also dry very well due to their thin walls and with the plant's incredible productivity, just a few plants can produce more hot peppers than an average family can use.
Now that you are armed with a visual representation of the heat level of the most popular peppers, you can plan your garden with confidence!
You can now pop over to our great selection of Heirloom Pepper seeds and plan your garden!