Plant Answers  >  Hot Peppers

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This is the time of year that confusing metaphors are rampant. Folks have grills full of hot coals (which later become cold coals). Summer is the month that hot chiles (most of which are definitely NOT chilly) are available and used to spice up your cuisine.

Chile peppers, capiscum annum. were discovered by Columbus in the West Indies. There are dozens of varieties of peppers. Most commonly used by chili lovers are the Anaheim--the standard red pepper--and the jalapeno. Other varieties, such as the ancho, the pequin and the serrano, also known as "green bullets from hell," creep into recipes, too. How hot and flavorful the final product is depends on the kinds of chiles that are used, how long they are cooked and some complex chemistry.

Chiles are hot because of the pungent chemical compound called capsaicin pronounced: cap-say-I-sin. It's the vanillyl amide of 8-methylnonenic acid. Capsaicin is a general irritant that attacks any tissue it contacts. It is so powerful it is used to make anti-dog and anti-mugger sprays.

Capsaicin is concentrated most strongly in the white placental tissues to which the pepper seeds are attached. There are 100 parts of capsaicin in the placental tissue for every six parts in the rest of the fruit tissue and for every four in the seeds. That's how chili chefs can control the heat while retaining the flavor of the pepper in their brew; by removing the insides of the pepper before adding it to the pot. Flavor is located in the outer wall of the pepper and is associated with the carotenoid pigment. The stronger the color, the stronger the flavor. That's why, as the red color of a dried pepper fades, it also loses its flavor.

An inexact method for measuring the heat or pungency of various chiles was invented by an English scientist, W.L. Scoville, in 1912. It is an organoleptic test--meaning that it uses human guinea pigs--to rate the peppers. Scoville Heat Units for peppers are expressed as ranges because of variations in growing conditions. Bell pepper and paprika rate a zero, having no heat at all. Anaheims fall into the 800 -to- 1,200 range, as does store-bought chili powder. Jalapenos are in the 25,000 - to - 30,000 range with the Texas A&M Mild jalapeno clocking in with 3,000 - to - 5,000 range. The famous serrano used in most Mexican dishes has a rating of from 7,000 - to - 25,000 with the Texas A&M Hidalgo serrano being a bit milder at 6,000 - to - 17,000. Tabasco peppers are hotter with a rating of 30,000 - to - 50,000 and the famous, hotter-than-Hades chile pequin scores 70,000. If you think all of these are tongue annihilators, some sadistic plant breeder has developed a pepper called habanero which has a Scoville Heat Unit rating of 200,000 - to - 300,000! Just saying the name of this pepper makes your lips tingle! William Womack, a scientist with Quaker Oats, maker of Wolf Brand Chili, says he once stupidly tasted a drop of 1 million Scoville oleoresin. "After about 10 gallons of water it only burned like hell." he reports. An ounce is enough to season 2,000 pounds of chili meat. Fortunately, newer methods, using gas-liquid chromatography, have been developed to eliminate the subjectiveness and hazards of human testing.

There have been some psychological studies made in regards to the consumption of pepper. The results demonstrate that the hot from the pepper represents an emotional factor to the consumer of little duration and no permanent damage. Pepper consumption is compared to activities much like that of a parachutist, roller coaster or attending a horror movie. All these activities are risks restricted that affect the emotional feeling of the participants. It has been concluded that the heat of the pepper can cause a discharge of endorphin from the brain to the nervous system of the consumer. These are substances which produce a sensation of well being. In the continuing use of pepper the discharge increases and the reaction of irritation and ill-feeling is replaced by pleasurable results of its consumption. Finally the pleasurable result is stronger than the sensation of pain it causes.
The medicinal value of pepper has been recognized for hundreds of years. Recent tests confirm the validity of many of the uses that are given to the pepper as a medicine in the pre-Hispanic time as well as the colonial.

The following are some common ailments and some old time pepper remedies:

THE TEETH: You can take the toothache away, applying a hot pepper with salt to the affected tooth. If your gums are hurting, apply the same rule to reduce the infection. Recent studies have proven the pepper works against pain, since it affects the body at the brain. Also pepper contains vitamins A & C essential to the good health of the gums and teeth.

DIGESTIVE TRACT: Known functions of the pepper is to incite your appetite, because of its ability to foment saliva secretion in the mouth. It plays a physiological role in the nourishment of natives because it secretes the saliva that does not break through in your mouth when, every day of the year and of your life you take the same meals, tortillas and beans. When your taste sensibility grows dull and weak you need more pepper sauce so your food will not taste like rags. Every day the sauce will need more serrano to give your meal more taste.

The Mayas utilized the pepper to cure an illness where the symptoms started by showing blood in your urine and feces. That also works on your stomach ache and it provokes diarrhea. For stomach ache, yellow tomato juice mixed with pepper is recommended. The Mexican people would treat a colic with a suppository made of lime nitre, sap of liquidambar and pepper. With that remedy you would probably get a pain more intense than the original. The cure is worse than the illness.

CONSTIPATION: This problem is treated with pepper and saltpeter in water.
HEMORRHOIDS: These are also treated with a remedy made with pepper. I'll bet they wished for the TAM Mild or the Rio Grande Gold!

APHRODISIAC: It was advised that the male not over use the pepper because it is prejudicial (hurtful) to their health, mainly because it provokes sensuality. It was famous for that when it was introduced in Europe in the 16th Century. Presently in many countries, it is still related with sexual desires hotter than a pepper! Like many parts of the world, in the Arab nations, they attribute sensual qualities. In Samoa the pepper is one of the ingredients of Kava, a love potion of virility.

STIMULANT: The consumption stimulates perspiration so it lowers the internal temperature of your body.

As a home remedy, it is a stimulant for hair growth. There are some who will put them in their socks for better circulation and to keep the feet warm in cold climates. I can imagine it now, chile pequins between toes - watch out Dr. Scholls - here we come.

But now for the best news of all! Researchers at Britain's Oxford Polytechnic gave twelve volunteers identical 766-calorie meals. On one day, 3 grams each of hot chili and mustard were added (about average for a super-spicy meal); the next day, no spices were added. Result: After eating the spicy meal, the subjects burned off an average of 45 extra calories over the next three hours. It seems that hot spices temporarily speed up your metabolic rate. This means an obese person could transform into anorexia with several pods of the not-even-funny-it-is-so-hot habanero killer.

The Parsons contribution to this pepper Hell is the ‘Parsons Potent Chili Penguin’ in red and yellow--red-and-yellow might kill a fellow!!! For more information, see:



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