Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > May 2014 > BONNIE'S GARDEN--From Bell Peppers to Ghost Peppers

BONNIE'S GARDEN--From Bell Peppers to Ghost Peppers

I’m a baby, I’ll admit, when it comes to spicy foods.  My youngest son won a jalapeno pepper eating contest at age 12 at church camp.  Me, well, I’ll stick with a couple of dashes of Texas Pete on my barbecue.  There are people, however, who yearn for the burn.

Peppers (Capsicum anuum) are uniquely American, being native to southern North America and northern South America.  Even though there are varieties used in many Asian dishes, they are still American natives.  The fruit of the peppers is technically a berry.  Lower or no-heat varieties are called sweet or bell peppers while spicier varieties are called hot peppers or chiles.

The heat in a chile pepper is based on the level of capsaicin, a chemical compound that creates a burning sensation on contact with the skin or mouth.  It is measured in “Scoville Heat Units” (SHU), a scale developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912.  The scale begins at 0 Scoville Heat Units for sweet peppers.  The higher the number, the more heat. Capsaicin is most concentrated in the ribs and seeds of a pepper so removing those can tamp the heat down a notch or two.  When working with hot peppers, it’s probably best to wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly and avoid contact with your eyes.

If you want to grow your own, here is a guide to some of the peppers most commonly found at garden centers.  Scoville Heat Units are listed in parentheses.

MILD

Bell (0):  These are sweet mild peppers.  Remember that a green pepper is an unripe pepper and can ripen to red, yellow, orange, even purple or chocolate brown.  They tend to achieve their maximum sweetness when fully ripe.

Sweet Bananas (0-500):  Not as “meaty” as bell peppers but crispy and sweet.  Usually yellow but can fully ripen to orange or red.

Pimento (100-400):  Pimentos are named for the Spanish word for “Pepper”. Pimentos are often brined.

Anaheim aka Big Chili (500-2500):  This large long pepper takes it name from Anaheim, California.  Very mildly spicy.

Poblano (500-2500):  This mildly spicy chile from Mexico is traditionally used in making Chiles Rellenos.  When dried, it is known as an “Ancho”, an ingredient in Mole’ sauces.

MEDIUM HOT

Jalapeno (2500-8000):  This Mexico native is probably the most widely grown hot pepper in the world.  It’s usually harvested dark green but ripens to a glossy red.  When smoked and dried it is called “Chipotle.”

Hungarian Wax (3500-8000):  They look like a sweet banana pepper but pack quite a punch.

Serrano (10,000-23,000):  They look like a long skinny jalapeno but have more heat.

HOT

Cayenne (30,000-50,000):  Usually found dried and ground as a spice.

Tabasco (30,000-50,000):  About as hot as cayenne, it is the pepper used by the McIlhenny family to make their popular sauce.

Thai Dragon (50,000-100,000):  Native to Mexico.  It is used extensively in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.

REALLY HOT (Or Have You Lost Your Mind?)

Habanero (100,000-350,000):  Native to South America, the habanero has a fruity/citrusy flavor, if you can get past the heat.

Ghost Pepper aka Bhut Jolokia (850,000 -1,000,000) What used to be considered the hottest pepper in the world now ranks about 9th.  How hot is it?  It is hot enough to be used as an elephant repellent in India!

Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (1,463,700):  This one fall into the Seriously Crazy category.  One pepper contains as much capsaicin as law enforcement grade pepper spray.

So which one is King on the Heat Scale?  Currently (as of November, 2013) the award goes to a South Carolina bred pepper--Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper with a Scoville Heat Unit of 1,569, 300, with individual peppers registered as high as 2.2 million SHU. 

I haven’t seen the Reaper available at garden centers yet, but it may be coming.  Just keep in mind the director of New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute calls the heat level “quite nasty.”  

Posted: 5/5/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: BonniePega, Bonnie'sGarden
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