Chili, Chile, or Peppers?
By Mike Strauss, Pit Master, Bay Area BBQ.Info
Chili, Chile, or peppers; what’s the difference? Simply stated, they are all chili peppers.
Chili peppers are usually broken down into 3 varieties: Bell peppers, Sweet Peppers, and Hot Peppers.
All three varieties have been part of the human diet since 6000BC.
Their pungent flavors made them a valuable trading commodity and were used for barter throughout the world as part of the spice trade routes.
For me, they satisfy three of my passions; cooking, gardening and photography. They are such beautiful plants, easy to grow, and the chili pods, (with are actually berries), come in a rainbow of beautiful colors, shapes and sizes.
I love to go out into my pepper garden, (which I named Peppertopia) and walk through the many varieties to see the changing of colors as they ripen. It gives me a thrill to watch them grow and harvest their bounty.
When I have picked a variety of peppers, I like to take close up pictures and showcase their contrasting colors and shapes.
Some plants are so beautiful; I think I would plant them as accent plants and ornaments. Some of these are the Peruvian Purple, Black Pearl, Zimbabwe Bird’s Eye, and Orange Thai Dragons.
As we all know, peppers come in varying degrees of heat. The active ingredient in peppers is called Capsaicin. When eaten or applied to the skin, the capsaicinoids trigger the pain receptors in our nervous system and tell the brain we have just eaten something hot! The brain reacts by increasing our heart beat, internal temperature (which causes perspiration), and releasing endorphins to ease the pain.
Scientists measure the concentration of capsaicin using the Scoville Heat Units or SHU.
Standard Grocery Store Peppers
Sweet Bell Peppers have 0-4 SHU
Mild Green Chili or Anaheim chilies have 2-5 SHU
Jalapeno peppers have 2,500-5,000 SHU
Habanero peppers have 250,000-300,000
Extremely Hot Peppers
Infinity Peppers have 1.2 Million SHU
Bhut Jolokia (Ghost) Peppers have 1.5 Million SHU
Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Peppers have 2 Million SHU
Carolina Reaper Peppers have 2.2 Million SHU
Chili Peppers are used fresh in sauces, salsas, and mixed into foods, or stuffed. The pods are often preserved dried, smoked, or pickled. They can be reconstituted for later use, or powdered. I use all of the methods, as each one allows me to use them in countless recipes.
My first experiment with extremely hot peppers started when my customers said my hot barbecue sauce wasn’t hot enough. I was adding plenty of crushed red pepper flakes, but I wasn’t getting that mouth tingling sensation that today’s hot sauce freaks are looking for. I started purchasing jalapenos and adding them to my recipes, but I still wasn’t getting the results they wanted. It wasn’t until I added Habanero peppers to the mix, that I finally found a source of heat. But, I wasn’t done yet. Although Habanero Peppers have a great flavor, the amount of pepper flesh needed to make it hot enough, gave the sauce a very green vegetable taste. I tried cooking the sauce longer, thinking that it was the raw pepper flesh that was giving it the vegetable taste, but that didn’t work. It wasn’t until I dried and powdered the peppers that I could reach the heat levels, maintain the Habanero flavor, and keep their mouths’ burning.
Since then, I have been growing my own peppers to add that special flavor to numerous recipes.
Today I have 80 plants of 15 different varieties. I no longer grow Jalapeno, Cayenne, or Pablano peppers, because they are available in stores nearly all year. I tend to grow the exotics, extremely hot or colorful pepper varieties. Most all are available online or special order from local nurseries.
Now I am honing my skills of matching flavor profiles of foods to the species of peppers. Last year’s creations were Water Melon Habanero Sauce and pineapple ghost pepper rib glaze. This year I has given a huge box of peaches and came up with a sauce that I call, “Sweet Heat” and “Extra Hot Sweet Heat”. I combined the sweetness of the peaches with the heat and flavor of Habanero peppers to form Sweet Heat. But again, the public loved the flavor, but wanted that extra kick, so I added fresh Zimbabwe Bird’s Eye Peppers to take it to the next level.
I have added my pepper powder to my spice rubs, and came up with “Kicken’ Chicken” and “Angry Bee Butt Rub”. The Angry Bee is a combination of my standard rub with Scorpion peppers and powdered honey. I think it would also pair well with my homemade bacon.
I hope you enjoyed the first guest blogger. Please let me know if you have a topic that you would like to know more about.
See you in class