Chile Pepper 101

An Introduction to Chile Peppers

Chile Peppers

Let’s kick this right off by covering a little spelling and grammar. Chile, the proper noun, is a South American country that lies between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Chili (notice the “i” on the end), is a stew made of peppers, meat, sometimes tomatoes, and depending on the side of the argument you’re on, beans. Finally, a chile, is a fruit of the plant from the Genus capsicum. There, I’m glad we cleared that up.

Now we can talk about chile peppers and all their glory. Recently, we posted a blog titled “Hot Sauce 101”, which was, as the title suggested, an intro to how hot sauce is made. So, we thought it would be appropriate to post a “Chile Pepper 101,” discussing the finer points of this wonderful fruit.

Chile

Chiles are native to the New World and were originally dubbed “peppers” by Christopher Columbus, however they are unrelated to peppercorns. Chile peppers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and they get their heat from capsaicin, a chemical stored in the plant’s placental ribs.¬†Hot, dry conditions yield peppers higher in capsaicin, and as a rule of thumb the smaller the pepper the hotter it is.

Chile pepper scoville

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/scoville-scale-for-spicy-food-2013-11

The heat of capsaicin is commonly measured on the Scoville Scale (developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912), a subjective rating designed to measure the perception of capsaicin in chiles. The scale ranges from 0 (bell pepper) to 16,000,000 (pure capsaicin). The higher the number, the hotter the pepper.

Asian, Indian, Latin American, and Mexican cuisines rely heavily on chileschili peppers, which makes sense considering the climates of these countries. They can be used fresh, whole, chopped, stuffed, roasted, dried, ground, re-hydrated, pickled, or pureed. They are versatile in heat, flavor, and application.

A word of caution. When working with chiles, especially the hotter ones, be sure to wear gloves. The last thing you want to do is rub your eyes (or a more sensitive area…) after dicing up a fresh habanero. I can promise you, that does not end well.

Thanks for reading along, now go forth and eat!

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