When you take a bite of spicy salsa or Szechuan stir-fry, the heat you sense comes from capsaicin, the chemical found in all chili peppers that gives them a fiery flavor. People around the world have found ways to use a variety of peppers in foods, adding levels of spiciness that range from subtle to painful. Whether cooking Thai, Mexican, African, Italian or other regional specialties, you will likely incorporate the heat of one or more types of chili pepper into the flavor palette. [Read more...]by
The Scoville scale is a measure of how hot spicy food is. Strictly speaking, when we are talking about spice it’s not literally heat, it’s “piquance.” The heat of a chili pepper comes from something called capsaicin, and the scale measures how much of it is in the food. The scale was created by Wilbur Scoville.
The chilis with the hottest ranking on the Scoville scale have a ranking of over a million, such as the naga jolokia. Pure capsaicin has a rating of between 15 and 16 million. Currently the worlds hottest pepper is the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T.
Not every pepper of the same species has the same measure on the scale. The amount of capsaicin in the pepper can change quite a bit based on its lineage, climate, and even the soil. Some members of the same species can be ten times hotter than another.
Wilbur Scoville was a chemist working for a pharmaceutical company. He developed the scale in 1912. The scale is not very exact. Essentially, the scale is a measure of how many times the chili needs to be diluted before a panel of tasters can just barely taste the “heat.” As an example, jalapenos have a Scoville rating between 2,500 and 8,000. This means that between 2,500 and 8,000 times more water than jalapeno extract needs to be present in a solution before the heat can’t be detected by a human.
The method for measuring the heat of a chili pepper has changed since the creation of the scale. Today it is typically measured using a process known as high performance liquid chromatography. This detects the amount of capsaicin and other spicy chemicals in the food. A mathematical formula is used to determine the heat level. One part capsaicin per million corresponds to about 150 Scoville units.
The heat in a chili pepper can come from substances other than capsaicin, such as those found in black pepper and ginger. Capsaicin also has relatives known as capsaicinoids. These spices are unique in that the body can adapt to them. People can effectively develop a higher and higher tolerance. The great thing about this is that food lovers can continue to try new foods. The more spice they are able to handle, the wider the range of foods that they can eat. A wide variety of flavors are available from all of the different chili peppers around the world. Capsaicin can also release endorphins, which can make a person feel pleasant for a few hours. This is why it can become mildly addictive for some people.
There is some evidence that capsaicin may cause cancerous cells to die off. In addition, most peppers that are high in capsaicin are also high in calcium and vitamin C, making them healthy.
|Scoville Heat Units||Types of Peppers|
|8,600,000–9,100,000||homocapsaicin, homodihydrocapsaicin, nordihydrocapsaicin|
|5,000,000–5,300,000||Law enforcement grade pepper spray|
|855,000–1,359,000||Naga Viper pepper, Naga Jolokia pepper|
|350,000–580,000||Red Savina habanero|
|100,000–350,000||Guntur chilli, Habanero chili, Scotch bonnet pepper, Datil pepper, Rocoto, Piri piri, Madame Jeanette, Jamaican hot pepper|
|50,000–100,000||Bird’s eye chili, Malagueta pepper, Chiltepin pepper, Pequin pepper|
|30,000–50,000||Cayenne pepper, Ají pepper|
|10,000–23,000||Serrano pepper, Peter pepper|
|2,500–8,000||Jalapeno pepper, Guajillo pepper, New Mexican varieties of Anaheim pepper, Paprika, Tabasco sauce|
|500–2,500||Anaheim pepper, Poblano pepper, Rocotillo pepper, Peppadew, Padron pepper|
|100–500||Pimento, Peperoncini, Banana pepper|
|0||No significant heat, Bell pepper, Cubanelle, Aji dulce|
Chili Peppers are actually a fruit from the capsicum genus, and are related to the nightshade family. Chili peppers originated in north, central and South America, and where introduced to Europe by Diego Álvarez Chanca the physician from Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the new world. Originally they where grown for decoration in gardens and green houses in Spain. After some experimentation local monks discovered the flavor properties chili peppers, and the plants where used as an alternative to peppercorns which where very expensive at the time. Chili peppers where brought from Spain to Portugal, then to Hungary, Turkey, India, China, Japan, and the Philippines. In Hungary chili peppers became the main ingredient of Paprika.
Chili peppers come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, ranging from red cayenne to orange habenero and green jalepenos, to the dark green nearly purple poblano. Size and color have nothing to do with heat or spiciness of a chili pepper. Chili peppers are rated Scoville units on the Scoville scale. Bell peppers rate 0 on the scale, jalepeno peppers rate between 2,500 and 8,000, and habenero chili peppers rate 100,000-350,000. The current record holder for hottest chili pepper is Naga Viper Pepper with a rating of 1,359,000 scoville units beating out the previous record holder Naga Jolokia by 300,000 scoville units.
Capsaicin is the ingredient that gives chili peppers their heat. In small doses pure capsaicin is used to relieve pain and headaches. In concentrated form it is used in pepper spray as non lethal irritant. Farmers have recently discovered chili peppers can be used a natural defense against crops. In the Americas it used to keep away small rodents and mammals. In Africa and Asia it used to keep Elephants from trampling crops. Elephants are especially sensitive because of their noses. Some conservationists are experimenting with using chili peppers to prevent human and elephant confrontations.
Chili peppers can be used fresh or dried in cooking. They are popular in many different cuisines including Mexican, Tex-Mex, Caribbean, Spanish, Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. It is used in soups, sauces, side dishes, and main courses. You can even find chili pepper dessert recipes like ice cream, brownies, and spicy chocolate truffles.
When shopping for chili peppers look for peppers with bright colors and no black spots. The skin should be firm and taught, wrinkled, wilted or soft peppers should be avoided. If you are shopping for dried chili peppers the skin will be wrinkled but the color should still be vivid.by
Chili Powder is a spice mixture made primarily from dried chili peppers. Chili powder can be made from any type chili pepper, and each manufacturer selects their own blend. Typically large red chili peppers from Mexico and California are used, these typically fall in the mild range, 1,000 to 2,500 on the Scoville scale. Special blends will use more intense chili pepper varieties such as cayenne peppers. Other ingredients used will vary by manufacturer, but usually include cumin, garlic powder, oregano, paprika and occasionally allspice, anise, cinnamon, clove, coriander, and nutmeg. Lower quality blends may contain higher levels of salt. Some ethnic markets sell chile powders that contain only dried ground up peppers. These are supposed to sold as “chile powder” with an “e”, whereas “chili powder” with an “i” is blend of other spices. Some cooks prefer to use chile powder to make their own blend, as this gives them more control over the final taste, color, and aroma.
One of the distinctive qualities of chili powder is it’s red color, however many chef’s prefer a more complex taste and aroma over color. Many of the more desirable blends have a dark redish brown color instead of a bright red color. Due to the nature of the spice blend it can lose it’s flavor intensity over time. When purchasing chili powder try to buy from a popular speciality spice merchant or a supermarket with high product turnover. Purchase smaller quantities that you will use quickly, instead of the large containers found in many discount bulk merchants.
Chili powder is used in many different style cuisines including Tex-Mex, Indian, Chinese, and Thai. Some of the more popular chili powder recipes are chili, chili con carne, and curry. It can also be found in many dry bar-b-que rubs. Some unusual uses include popcorn seasoning and ice cream dusting.by