Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hot Peppers We Grow

By Nicole Sugerman

We grow several different varieties of hot peppers on the farm. I like hot peppers because they are beautiful and usually very easy to grow. Hot peppers contain a resin-like compound called capsaicin which is responsible for their spice. The capsaicin is concentrated in the membranes around the seeds, so taking the seeds out of a hot pepper will reduce (but not eliminate) the pepper’s spice. When handling hot peppers, be careful not to touch your nose and eyes, because this will sting! Some people even harvest hot peppers with gloves on to avoid irritation. I have never had a problem harvesting hot peppers, but my hands burned for an entire day once when I made a big batch of jalepeno poppers.

The ‘spiciness’ of peppers is measure by the Scoville Scale, so named for its inventor, Wilbur Scoville, who devised the system in 1912. The Scoville scale measures the amount of capsaicin present in a type of pepper. The hottest pepper on the Scoville scale is reputed to be an Indian hot pepper called the Bhut Jolokia. We attempted to grow this pepper, but it did not germinate. To be honest, I am a little relieved.

Hot peppers have many traditional health benefits. Some people think they cool you down in the summertime by inducing sweating. Medicinally, hot peppers are used to help stimulate blood flow, treat psoriasis, neuralgia, pain, and headache, and as a disinfectant. Mixed with lemon juice, hot pepper makes an effective gargle for sore throats. A tincture (made by soaking an herb in alcohol) of hot peppers is thought to help arthritis.

In descending order of hotness, these are the varieties of hot peppers you might see in your share:

Fish Pepper-
This is the hottest pepper we have right now (habaneros are hotter, but not yet ripe). An heirloom pepper from the Philadelphia region that dates to pre-1947, the fish pepper has been traditionally used to cook fish and shellfish. Grows on beautiful plants with green and white striped leaves. The pepper is short and triangular, with a matte finish, and is white, green and white, or red.

Cayenne pepper-
One of the most common hot peppers. Forms the basis of the powdered cayenne pepper as well as red pepper flakes. It is a long, thin, red pepper that curls slightly.

Poblano pepper-
I am putting the poblano here in the list because, even though poblanos are thought to be mild hot peppers far less hot than jalepenos, our poblanos are always more spicy than our jalepenos. Poblano peppers are native to Mexico, and are used commonly in Mexican cuisine. When dried, they are known as ancho chile. They are dark, dark, green, larger than any of our other hot peppers, and have a bowl-shape around their stems.

Jalepeno pepper-
Also native to Mexico. Very common. Ours are very, very mild. Dark green, ovular, with blunt tip.

Hungarian Hot Wax pepper-
An heirloom pepper from Hungary. Virtually impossible to distinguish from the banana pepper, except by taste. Light green, long, with a tapered point.

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