Whether it’s salsa or chili con carne, doesn’t it sometimes seem like a shot-in-the-dark when you’re adding hot peppers? As you’re carefully chopping and mixing, you’re always wondering if the salsa is going to end up bland or flaming hot and you won’t really know until it’s all put together and ready to eat. Of course, a few surprises are fun in life but picking the right type of pepper will help you take the guesswork out of home cooking and gardening.
To begin your pepper education, we’d like to introduce you to the Scoville Heat Unit Scale (SHU). Every pepper is measured for hotness against this scale. A score of zero means no hotness at all and as the SHU rises so does the pepper’s temperature. This fluctuates according to many factors including: the weather during growth, how long the pepper was left on the vine (it gets sweeter and hotter with time), if it’s cooked with fatty foods or served with dairy products (which will lessen some of the heat); or if it’s eaten raw or cooked (cooking will break down the meat and tamp down the heat).
If you’ve used Jalapenos before, use that as your benchmark of hotness (it comes in at around 5,000 SHU). So for instance, one tablespoon of chopped Devil’s Tongue will be about 35 times hotter than one tablespoon of chopped Jalapeno. Of course, if the spoonful you eat has a lot of that tablespoon, it will be hot! When you start working with the really hot peppers, remember they will quickly add heat to your dish – start small and add more until you get to your desired taste. It’s much easier to add than to take away!
Always wear gloves – all parts of the pepper are hot but the inside membranes and juices are the hottest. Even with gloves on, don’t touch your face, eyes, or nose. Keep milk on hand, too, as it will kill the burn much faster than water. Along with heat, each pepper has a unique flavor and color. Bell peppers have sweet and meaty flesh and are perfect for crunch and color; rubbed with olive oil and grilled whole; or sautéed and added to tomato sauce. Their sweet flavor and pretty colors only intensify if left on the vine to turn from green to yellow to orange to red. Chile peppers, too, come in a wide range of colors and the less hot versions can be made into lovely relishes, pickled with onions, or added to burgers or shishkabobs.
Peppers are also quite nutritious: a one-cup serving of raw green peppers has 3 grams of fiber; 220% of your daily Vitamin C needs; 20% of Vitamins B6 and A; and is a good source of Vitamin E. Many varieties, such as the Chocolate Beauty with its lovely deep brown fruit, also lend themselves well to patio pots or landscape plantings.
Click here for our yummy Pico de Gallo recipe.