HOW HOT IS HOT?
Pepper plants are picky about soil temperature. Their seeds germinate best in soil temperatures above 75°F, they prefer to be transplanted into garden soil that is at least 60°F, and they can’t abide frost at all. Optimal pepper-growing temperatures range between 65° and 85°F during the day and between 60° and 70°F at night. When daytime temperatures climb above 90°F or fall below 60°F, pepper plants often experience blossom drop, a condition where flowers fall off the plant before fruit can set.
Blossom drop causes low yields in otherwise healthy plants. The peppers’ optimal temperature range causes difficulties for gardeners in desert areas, where temps can soar well into the 90s during the day but drop below 60°F at night. One way to get around this problem is to plant peppers earlier in your growing season when daytime temperatures are more moderate. If evening temperatures are chilly, place a lightweight row cover over your plants. Just be sure to remove the row cover on days forecast to reach above 80°F, since the temperature inside the row cover will be several degrees warmer than the ambient air temperature. If nighttime temperatures are optimal but daytime temperatures rise too high, you must provide some kind of afternoon shade.
Consider planning your garden so that taller plants, such as tomatoes, shade the peppers during the warmest hours of the day. You can also shade the plants with shade cloth, a fabric designed to allow only a fraction of sunlight through. Shade cloth (also called shade netting and shade fabric) and row covers are available at most garden centers, through mail-order gardening catalogs, and online from various supply companies.
Bell pepper, also known as sweet pepper or capsicum, is a cultivar group of the species Capsicum annuum (chili pepper). Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colors, including red, yellow and orange. The fruit is also frequently consumed in its unripe form when the fruit is still green. Bell peppers are sometimes grouped with less pungent pepper varieties as “sweet peppers”. Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.
Pepper seeds were later carried to Spain in 1493 and from there spread to other European, African and Asian countries. Today, Mexico remains one of the major pepper producers in the world.
The misleading name “pepper” (pimiento in Spanish) was given by Christopher Columbus upon bringing the plant back to Europe. At that time peppercorns, the fruit of Piper nigrum, an unrelated plant originating from India, was a highly prized condiment; the name “pepper” was at that time applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste and so naturally extended to the newly discovered Capsicum genus. The most commonly used alternative name of the plant family, “chili pepper”, is of Central American origin.
Bell peppers are botanically fruits but are generally considered in culinary contexts to be vegetables. When cutting off, the top of the bell pepper is referred to as a “pepper pan”.
Hot or not
While the bell pepper is a member of the Capsicum genus, it is the only Capsicum apart from Capsicum rhomboideum that does not produce capsaicin, a lipophilic chemical that can cause a strong burning sensation when it comes in contact with mucous membranes. The lack of capsaicin in bell peppers is due to a recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin and, consequently, the “hot” taste usually associated with the rest of the Capsicum genus.
The colors can be green, red, yellow, orange and more rarely, white, rainbow (between stages of ripening) and purple, depending on when they are harvested and the specific cultivar. Green peppers are less sweet and slightly more bitter than red, yellow or orange peppers. The taste of ripe peppers can also vary with growing conditions and post-harvest storage treatment; the sweetest are fruit allowed to ripen fully on the plant in full sunshine, while fruit harvested green and after-ripened in storage are less sweet.
Compared to green peppers, red peppers have more vitamins and nutrients and contain the antioxidant lycopene. The level of carotene, like lycopene, is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers. Also, one large red bell pepper contains 209 mg of vitamin C, which is more than double the 70 mg of an average orange. <
The banana pepper (also known as the yellow wax pepper or banana chili) is a member of the chili pepper family. It is often pickled and used as an ingredient in sandwiches. It is a variety of the species Capsicum annuum. Its shape and color resemble a banana. Its flavor is mild to moderately hot (0–500 Scoville units), and as is the case with most peppers, its hotness depends on the maturity of the pepper, with the ripest being sweeter than younger ones. Banana peppers are not the same as pepperoncini (which some erroneously refer to as banana peppers). Banana peppers are typically yellow, but can also be orange or red. The plant requires full sun and should be treated the same as most other plants in the pepper family. Plants can be grown from seed and cuttings.
The cayenne pepper—also known as the Guinea spice, Cow Horn Pepper, Aleva or bird pepper or, especially in its powdered form, red pepper—is a hot, red chili pepper used to flavor dishes and for medicinal purposes. Named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana, it is a cultivar of Capsicum annuum related to bell peppers, jalapeños, and others. The Capsicum genus is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). The fruits are generally dried and ground, or pulped and baked into cakes, which are then ground and sifted to make the powdered spice of the same name. Cayenne is used in cooking spicy dishes, as a powder or in its whole form (such as in Sichuan cuisine) or in a thin, vinegar-based sauce. It is generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Units. It is also used as an herbal supplement and was mentioned by Nicholas Culpeper in his 17th-century book Complete Herbal
Most cultivated varieties of cayenne, capsicum annuum, can be grown in a variety of locations and need approximately 100 days to mature. Peppers prefer warm, moist, nutrient-rich soil in a warm climate. The plants grow to about 4ft of height and should be spaced 3ft apart. Chilis are mostly perennial in sub-tropical and tropical regions; however, they are usually grown as annuals in temperate climates. They can be overwintered if protected from frost and require some pruning.
Cayenne pepper is high in vitamin A. It also contains vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium and manganese.
Cayenne is a popular spice in a variety of cuisines. It is employed variously in its fresh form, dried and powdered, and as dried flakes. It is also a key ingredient in a variety of hot sauces, particularly those employing vinegar as a preservative. Buffalo Wings sauce contains Cayenne pepper.
The jalapeño is a fruit, a medium sized chili pepper with a warm, burning sensation when eaten. A mature jalapeño is 2–3½ inches (5–9 cm) long and is commonly picked and sold when still green, but occasionally when ripe and red. It is a cultivar of the species Capsicum annuum originating in Mexico. It is named after Xalapa, Veracruz, where it was traditionally cultivated. About 160 square km are dedicated for the cultivation in Mexico, primarily in the Papaloapan river basin in the north of the state of Veracruz and in the Delicias, Chihuahua area. Jalapeños are cultivated on smaller scales in Jalisco, Nayarit, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Chiapas. The jalapeño is variously named in Mexico as huachinango and chile gordo. The cuaresmeño closely resembles the jalapeño. The seeds of a cuaresmeño have the heat of a jalapeño, but the flesh has a mild flavor close to green bell pepper.
As of 1999, 5500 acres in the United States were dedicated to the cultivation of jalapeños. Most jalapeños are produced in southern New Mexico and western Texas. Jalapeños are a pod type of Capsicum. The growing period is 70–80 days. When mature, the plant stands two and a half to three feet tall. Typically a plant produces twenty-five to thirty-five pods. During a growing period, a plant will be picked multiple times. As the growing season ends, jalapeños start to turn red. Jalapeños thrive in a number of soil types, and temperatures if they are provided with adequate water. Once picked, individual peppers ripen to red of their own accord.
The peppers can be eaten green or red. Jalapeños have 2,500 – 8,000 Scoville scale heat units. Compared to other chilis, the jalapeño has a heat level that varies from mild to hot depending on cultivation and preparation. The heat, caused by capsaicin and related compounds, is concentrated in the membrane (placenta) surrounding the seeds, which are called picante.
Handling fresh jalapeños may cause skin irritation. Some handlers wear latex or vinyl gloves while cutting, skinning, or seeding jalapeños. When preparing jalapeños, hands should not come in contact with the eyes as this leads to burning and redness. Jalapeño is of Nahuatl and Spanish origin. The Spanish suffix -eño signifies that the noun originates in the place modified by the suffix, similar to the English -(i)an. The jalapeño is named after the Mexican town of Xalapa (also spelled Jalapa). Xalapa is itself of Nahuatl derivation, formed from roots xal-li “sand” and a-pan “water place.”
- Chiles toreados are fresh jalapeños that are sauteed in oil until the skin is blistered all over. They are sometimes served with melted cheese on top.
- Chipotles are smoked, ripe jalapeños.
- Jalapeño jelly can be prepared using jelling methods.
- Jalapeño peppers are often muddled and served in mixed drinks.
- Jalapeño poppers, also called armadillo eggs, are an appetizer; jalapeños are stuffed with cheese, usually cheddar or cream cheese, breaded or wrapped in bacon, and cooked.
- Stuffed jalapeños are hollowed out fresh jalapeños (served cooked or raw) that are stuffed, often with a mix containing seafood, meat, poultry, and/or cheese.
- Texas toothpicks are jalapeños and onions shaved into straws, lightly breaded, and deep fried.
Chili pepper (from Nahuatl chilli, chilli pepper, chilli, chillie, chili, and chile) is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Chili peppers originated in the Americas. After the Columbian Exchange, many cultivars of chili pepper spread across the world, used in both food and medicine.
Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. There is archaeological evidence at sites located in southwestern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago, and is one of the first cultivated crops in the Central and South Americas that is self-pollinating. From Mexico, at the time the Spanish colony that controlled commerce with Asia, chili peppers spread rapidly into the Philippines and then to India, China, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan. They were incorporated into the local cuisines.
An alternate account for the spread of chili peppers is that the Portuguese got the pepper from Spain, and cultivated it in India. The chili pepper figures heavily in the cuisine of the Goan region of India, which was the site of a Portuguese colony (e.g., vindaloo, an Indian interpretation of a Portuguese dish). Chili peppers journeyed from India, through Central Asia and Turkey, to Hungary, where it became the national spice in the form of paprika. The five domesticated species of chili peppers are:
- Capsicum annuum, which includes many common varieties such as bell peppers, Banana pepper|, cayenne pepper, jalapeños, and the chiltepin
- Capsicum frutescens, which includes Malagueta pepper, tabasco pepper, and Thai peppers, piri piri, African birdseye chili, Malawian Kambuzi
- Capsicum chinense, which includes the hottest peppers such as the naga jolokia|naga, habanero, Datil pepper and Scotch bonnet
- Capsicum pubescens, which includes the South American rocoto peppers
- Capsicum baccatum, which includes the South American aji peppers
Though there are only a few commonly used species, there are many cultivars and methods of preparing chili peppers that have different names for culinary use. Green and red bell peppers, for example, are the same cultivar of C. annuum, immature peppers being green. In the same species are the jalapeño, the poblano (which when dried is referred to as ancho), New Mexico (which is also known as chile Anaheim pepper, Serrano pepper, and other cultivars.
Peppers are commonly broken down into three groupings: bell peppers, sweet peppers, and hot peppers. Most popular pepper varieties are seen as falling into one of these categories or as a cross between them.
The substances that give chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is the primary ingredient in the pepper spray used as an irritant weapon. When consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are responsible for sensing heat. Once activated by the capsaicinoids, these receptors send a message to the brain that the person has consumed something hot. The brain responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and release of endorphins.
A 2008 study reports that capsaicin alters how the body’s cells use the energy produced by hydrolysis of Adenosine triphosphate. In the normal hydrolysis, the SERCA protein uses this energy to move calcium ions into the sarcoplasmic reticulum. When capsaicin is present, it alters the conformation of the SERCA, and thus reduces the ion movement; as a result, the ATP energy (which would have been used to pump the ions) is instead released as heat.
The “heat” of chili peppers was historically measured in Scoville scale heat units (SHU), which is a measure of how much a chili extract must be diluted in sugar syrup before its heat becomes undetectable to a panel of tasters. Bell peppers rank at 0 SHU, New Mexico green chilis at about 1,500 SHU, jalapeños at 2,500–5,000 SHU, and habaneros at 300,000 SHU. The modern commonplace method for Quantitative analysis (chemistry)|quantitative analysis of SHU rating uses high-performance liquid chromatography to directly measure the capsaicinoid content of a chili pepper variety. Pure capsaicin is a hydrophobic, colorless, odorless, and crystalline-to-waxy solid at room temperature which measures 16,000,000 SHU.
World’s hottest chili pepper Current record holder
According to Guinness World Records, as of February 25, 2011, the world’s hottest chili pepper is the Naga Viper pepper with a Scoville rating of 1,382,118 SHU.
In 2007, Guinness World Records certified the bhut jolokia as the world’s hottest chili pepper at 401.5 times hotter than Tabasco sauce
- On December 3, 2010, the Bhut Jolokia was replaced as the hottest known chili pepper by the Naga Viper pepper, which had an average peak Scoville rating more than 300,000 points higher than an average bhut jolokia – but still not higher than the hottest ever recorded Dorset Naga
- In February 2011, Guinness World Records awarded the title of “World’s Hottest Chilli” to the Infinity chili grown in Grantham, England
- On February 25, 2011, Guinness World Records announced that the Naga Viper pepper had beaten the previous record holder by 314,832 (SHU) with a rating of 1,382,118.
Currently, Scoville ratings are highly controversial among the pepper growing community and tests with more rigorous scientific standards are yet to be conducted on the many peppers vying for the title of the “world’s hottest”. graphics courtesy of Google Images