Colorful Capsaicin and How to Make the Most of Your Peppers This Season
Pepper season is upon us, and it’s a long season. Sweet peppers such as bell peppers are typically harvested between July and November. Hotter peppers are often harvested in the beginning of fall. Of course, this all depends on your local climate. Peppers are also rated based on the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU), which is based on the concentration of capsaicin, the chemical that causes heat or spiciness in peppers. The higher the SHU number, the hotter the pepper. The hottest pepper in the world currently is the Carolina Reaper with a SHU of 1,641,183. But, we aren’t going to get that hot here, so here is a roundup of some tips for our favorite peppers and a recipe to try out for each.
Jalapenos (2,500–8,000 SHU):
Named for Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz, Mexico, these chile peppers range from medium to hot. They have smooth, dark green skins (red when left to ripen) and rounded tips.
A favorite among cooks for their spicy flavor, jalapenos are very easily seeded for use in recipes. When smoked and dried, jalapenos are known as chipotles.
When buying fresh, choose peppers that are firm, smooth, and glossy. “Dry lines” are not blemishes, but signs of maturity and spiciness. So, the more “dry lines” you see, the hotter the pepper. Jalapenos have a wide range of hotness and “dry lines” are a good indicator to make sure you get a jalapeno that matches your palate.
Try Our BigOven Kitchen Original Recipe:
Bacon-Wrapped Pimento Cheese Jalapeno Poppers
Bell Peppers (0 SHU, no capsaicin):
Bell peppers are those familiar globes used for slicing, sautéing, and stuffing. They are mild by comparison to other peppers as the seeds and membrane do not contain the heat-inducing “capsaicin.” Bells contain considerable amounts of Vitamins A and C.
There are several varieties of bell peppers. Green bell peppers are the most plentiful year-round. They are also the least expensive as harvesting is done before ripening. This allows time during the growing season for multiple crops. Green bells are high in folic acid and are slightly bitter by comparison to ripened peppers. Yellow and orange bells are the color phases of a semi-ripened pepper. They are more expensive than green bells and sweeter. In fact, yellow bell peppers are usually juicier than reds. Red bells are, along with yellows, the most expensive and have higher concentrations of Vitamin C. Reds have reached the final ripening stage. Prices will drop in the fall after harvesting, but the plants produce only one crop throughout each season.
When buying fresh bell peppers, look for a firm pepper with shiny skin and no blemishes (the exception would be locally-grown produce).
Try this BigOven Favorite:
Chris' Fire Roasted Stuffed Bell Peppers
Poblano Peppers (1000-2000 SHU):
Poblanos are a mild to hot pepper that gets their name from the Mexican state of Puebla. When a Poblano is dried, it is called ancho or chile ancho. If left to ripen on a vine, poblanos will turn red. When fresh, they are dark green and wider at the top and taper to the bottom of the pepper, typically around 4 inches long. These peppers are a favorite of chefs because they are a very flavorful pepper and do not overpower dishes with spiciness.
When buying at the store, look for a deep, dark green color with firm skin. Wrinkles in the skin is a sign the pepper has lost some of its moisture and you should pick a different pepper for dinner.
Spice Up Dinner Tonight (but not too much):
White Chicken Poblano Chili
Habanero Pepper 100,000–350,000 SHU:
Habaneros are lantern-shaped chile peppers with a subtle apricot-like aroma and an extremely hot flavor. Growing to no more than two inches in length, their color ranges from light green when fresh to bright orange when ripe.
Habaneros are native to the Caribbean, the Yucatan, and the north coast of South America. But, in recent years, they've become a trendy ingredient in sophisticated kitchens around the world. Fresh or dried, they're most commonly used in fiery seasonings, sauces, and dressings. Make sure to wash your hands and do not touch your face when cooking with habaneros, it is a mistake you’ll only make once as you’ll never forget again.
When buying fresh, choose habaneros that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skins should be smooth and glossy. Dried habaneros should have a rich, consistent color, unbroken skin, and slight flexibility. Don't buy any with blemishes or soft spots.