Most people don't eat chilli peppers in large
quantities, but the amount of vitamin C they contain is significant
and red chillies (although not green ones) are full of beta-carotene.
The nutritional aspect of hot peppers most interesting to researchers
today, however, is capsaicin, the compound that gives chillies
their "burn." Capsaicin seems to have a positive effect
on blood cholesterol, and also works as an anticoagulant. And
the "high" that some people experience when eating
fiery chilli spiked foods is a perfectly safe one: Some scientists
theorise that in response to the discomfort produced by the
chillies' "burn," the brain releases endorphins, substances
that, at high levels, can create a sensation of pleasure.
Members of the genus Capsicum, chilli peppers
are native to the western hemisphere. Hot peppers are liberally
used to add spicy heat to dishes, particularly in tropical and
subtropical cuisines, especially Mexican, Caribbean, Indian,
Thai, Szechwan, Vietnamese, and North African.
Chilli peppers are cultivated in a range of sizes, shapes, and
degrees of hotness. While nearly all of them belong to one species
Capsicum annuum, the number of varieties is daunting, and the
names are confusing, as they vary from region to region.
While the following list can help you distinguish
the most common chili pepper varieties, it can be tricky, if
not impossible, to determine just how hot a pepper is. Capsaicin
content is measured in parts per million. This measurement is
converted in Scoville heat units, the industry standard for
gauging a pepper's punch. One part per million is equivalent
to 15 Scoville units. To put things in context, sweet peppers
have 0 Scoville units, while habaneros, the hottest chili peppers,
register a blistering 200,000 to 300,000 units.
Ancho: Technically, ancho refers to a dried
poblano pepper, but many distributors and markets also apply
the term to the fresh version. Dried anchos are flat, wrinkled,
and heart shaped, ranging in colour from oxblood to almost black.
Considered one of the mild to moderately hot peppers , anchos
are often soaked and ground for use in cooked sauces. Scoville
Cascabel: These moderately hot chillies are
mostly available dried. In their fresh state, they are green
or red and shaped like a small tomato. Dried, their skin turns
a brownish red and becomes translucent, and their seeds rattle
around inside. The name cascabel means "jingle bell"
in Spanish. Scoville units: 3,000.
Cayenne: Among the hottest chillies, cayenne
peppers are long, thin, sharply pointed red pods that are either
straight or curled at the tip; they grow to a length of 6"
to 10". (The chile de arbol is closely related and similar
in shape, but grows only 2" to 3" in length and usually
does not have a curled tip; it is also slightly less pungent.)
Ground, dried cayenne is a popular spice. Scoville units: 30,000–50,000.
Cherry: So named for their resemblance to
the familiar fruit, cherry peppers are round and red. They range
in pungency from mild to moderately hot. Cherry peppers are
sold fresh, and also are commonly pickled and sold in jars.
Scoville units: 0-3,500.
Chile de arbol: About 3" long and 1/2"
wide, this hot pepper is a good substitute for cayenne. Scoville
units: 25, 000.
Chipotle: Also known as smoked jalapeno, the chipotle is medium
hot with a deep, smoky flavour. Scoville units: 10,000.
Guajillo: These long peppers measure about
6" by 1 1/2" and have a sweet, medium-hot flavour.
The guajillo is frequently used in Mexican cooking. Scoville
Habanero: These lantern-shaped peppers, measuring
about 2" by 2", are Capsicum chinense, not Capsicum
annuum. Their colour is most often yellow-orange, but can be
yellow, orange, or red. Habaneros hold the distinction of being
the most fiery of all domesticated peppers; however, their heat
can sneak up on you, so beware of taking a second bite if you
think the first one wasn't hot (which is unlikely). Furthermore,
rather than dissipating quickly, the heat of habaneros persists.
They are also called Scotch bonnets. Scoville units: 200,000–300,000.
Hungarian wax: They are never green, the
peppers start out yellow and ripen to orange or red, and are
mostly sold when yellow, either fresh or pickled in jars.
Jalapeno: Probably the most familiar hot
peppers, and almost as popular as the Anaheim, jalapenos are
tapered, about 2" in length, and have slight cracks at
their stem ends. They vary in degree of heat, sometimes tasting
much like a green bell pepper and other times being very hot,
with a bite that you notice immediately. Most often, these peppers
are consumed at the mature green stage, but sometimes you will
find fully ripe red jalapenos on the market. In addition, they
are sold canned, sliced, and pickled, and are used in a wide
array of products. Pickled jalapenos are always hot. Scoville
Pasilla: In Spanish, pasilla means little
raisin, and this pepper is so named because of its deep black
colour and raisinlike aroma. It is mild with a smoky flavour.
Scoville units: 2,500.
Fresh chili peppers should be well shaped, firm, and glossy.
Their skins should be taut and unwrinkled, and their stems fresh
and green. Watch out for soft or sunken areas, slashes or black
spots. Except for jalapenos, which often have shallow cracks
at their stem ends, chilli peppers should be free of cracks.
Dried chilli peppers should be glossy and unbroken (wrinkled
is fine), not dusty or fragmented.
Store unwashed chilli peppers, wrapped in paper towels, in the
refrigerator for up to three weeks. Do not store them in a plastic
bag, because trapped moisture will hasten spoilage. Check the
chillies frequently; immediately use any that have developed
soft spots. If you've bought more than you can use you can hang
them to dry and use them in their dried form.
Store dried chilli peppers in an airtight
container at room temperature for up to four months. If you
are keeping them longer, place them in the refrigerator.
Exercise caution when handling chilli peppers. If the capsaicin
contained in their inner flesh and seeds comes into contact
with your skin or eyes, you will experience a very painful burning
sensation. It's a good idea to wear thin rubber gloves when
preparing chilies; if you don't wear gloves, be sure to wash
your hands thoroughly with soap afterwards.
Wash the chillies just before using them.
Next, cut them open and remove the seeds and ribs, if desired:
This procedure tempers the chilies' pungency (soaking the peppers
in cold salted water for an hour will further diminish their
To add the mildest chilli flavour to food,
cut a few slits in a whole chilli pepper, impale it on a cocktail
stick or skewer, then add it to food that is already cooking.
When the dish is done, remove and discard the hot pepper.
With chilli peppers, you will find that even
those of the same type vary in hotness. Consequently, you may
need to use a different amount each time you prepare a favourite
recipe. Sample a bit of the pepper before deciding how much
to use in a particular dish. It's a good idea to add chillies
a small amount at a time, until the food reaches the degree
of hotness you desire.