What are Different Kinds of Hot Peppers?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Hot peppers are used to create spicy sauces and salsas.
Hot peppers are used to create spicy sauces and salsas.

Hot peppers are an integral part of the culinary tradition of many nations, appearing in spicy sauces, salsas, marinades, and everything else cooks can imagine. Spicy peppers have their origins in South America and the Caribbean, although they were introduced to Europe along with a variety of other New World foods during the age of exploration. Today, hot peppers are cultivated and sold all over the world in both fresh and dried forms. Hot peppers are also known as chiles, a nod to the native Nahuatl word for them.

Habanero peppers are known for being very hot.
Habanero peppers are known for being very hot.

The intensity of spicy peppers is due to a substance called capsaicin, which has a crystalline structure that irritates mucus membranes such as those found in the mouth. The substance is so powerful that it is measured in parts per million, on a scale known as the Scoville Heat Scale. According to the scale, one part per million (ppm) of capsaicin is equal to 15 Scoville Heat Units. This system gives a quick indicator as to how hot the pepper will be. For reference, a bell pepper has a score of zero Scoville Heat Units, while pure capsaicin measures 16 million Scoville Heat Units.

Chili peppers.
Chili peppers.

Three hot peppers are particularly famous for their intensity, starting with Habaneros, which have a Scoville Heat Unit measurement ranging from 100,000 to 300,000. Scotch Bonnets and Jamaican Hot peppers have Scoville scores a little lower, from 100,000 to 250,000. These peppers can cause blistering in the mouth if not handled with care, and at very least will spice up a dish quite formidably.

A jalapeno pepper.
A jalapeno pepper.

Further down the Scoville scale lie Thai, Cayenne, Serrano, and Wax peppers, with scores ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 at the high end. Thai peppers have been readily adopted in Southeast Asia, where the peppers are cultivated in large amounts and dried for future use. Milder peppers that are still in the hot family include Jalapeños, Rocotillos, Poblanos, and New Mexico peppers. Most consumers are familiar with the more mild peppers, which often appear in Mexican food. Other peppers such as Pepperoncinis have very low Scoville scores, and really cannot be considered “hot” peppers at all, although they do have a bit of a bite.

Tabasco peppers.
Tabasco peppers.

When handling spicy peppers, it is important to take safety precautions; chili peppers can hurt the skin on the hands as well as the inside of the mouth. Gloves should be worn at all times, and hands should be washed thoroughly before preparing other foods or touching parts of your body such as the face. If you would like to reduce the heat of the pepper, you can remove the seeds and white ribs in the middle of the pepper, where the capsaicin is concentrated.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon991996

If you do not want the 'heat', why do you even bother trying to 'neutralize' hot peppers?

Perdido

I had no idea that a bell pepper would not even register on the hot pepper plant scale! It's funny that they are even named “peppers,” then.

They do have an intense flavor, though it might not be termed “heat.” To me, they are bitter and have an extreme “green” taste.

I prefer the orange and red bell peppers, because they are a bit sweet. They don't leave a bad taste in my mouth like green bell peppers do, either.

Oceana

@OeKc05 – Jalapeno may be one of the less intense hot pepper varieties, but I agree with you – it is still pretty hot! I tried some chipotle sauce at a restaurant, and I was surprised by how spicy it turned out to be.

A chipotle is a smoked jalapeno. The people who grow jalapenos for chipotle let them get really ripe, and then they smoke them.

Chipotle sauce is awesome on chicken tenders, especially if you add a bit of honey to it to give it some sweetness. Just make sure you have a glass of ice water handy while eating them. I made the mistake of ordering sweet tea, and I got sick because I had to drink so much of it to counteract the heat!

OeKc05

I think it's funny that jalapenos are considered mild on the hot pepper scale of intensity. I cannot stand to eat them, and this just goes to show how low my tolerance of spiciness is!

While I can't eat a big piece of jalapeno, I can eat mild salsas that contain jalapenos mixed in with other ingredients. I suppose that the other things in the salsa serve to tame the heat of the peppers a little.

shell4life

@catapult43 – My neighbor is growing hot peppers, and he brought me a batch of them a few months ago. I decided to make some salsa out of them.

He told me that I should scoop out the seeds, because that was where most of the heat was located. I did this, but the rest of the pepper still burned my mouth.

I think the situation would have been serious if I had left the seeds intact. I'm really glad that he told me to remove them.

cougars

@ PelesTears- The best method for washing your hands after handling hot chile peppers is to use hot water, oil busting dish detergent, and a good nailbrush. The capsicum found in hot peppers is oil so it should be washed off your hands as if it were oil.

If you have been cutting hot peppers high on the scoville scale, you might want to prewash with rubbing alcohol. This will eliminate most of the capsicum oil before you start to wash. An alcohol based hand sanitizer works well for this. If your skin is irritated, and you really cannot take the burn, you can always soak your hands in milk or rub them with aloe.

PelesTears

I like hot peppers, but I don't like the burn i get from handling hot pepper seeds. I would rather not waste a pair of disposable gloves just to cut a few peppers. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to wash your hands so the pepper juices do not cause burning and skin irritation?

catapult43

One method of handling hot peppers is to cut them lengthwise.

To remove the hottest parts of the peppers, located mostly in the flesh around the stem, and ribs is to remove those together with seeds with the help of a small spoon.

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