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Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 8/27/2013

COMMENTARY

Peppers: Some like it hot

BY KELLY HEIDBREDER
IN THE GARDEN
Kelly Heidbreder Kelly Heidbreder
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Do you like your food mild or spicy? Peppers are popping out of the garden right now and some can be downright dangerous. I love peppers just like the next person. But I can tell you, it isn’t fun to bite into a fiery pepper, especially if you aren’t prepared for it.

My husband thought it was really funny to tempt me to bite into a pepper, promising that it was mild. “Come on honey, it’s not hot.” Those were his last words before he spent the next month on the couch. I bit into a very hot pepper and started sweating, the nose was running, the eyes watering, and I was trying to rip my tongue out of my mouth. Not a pretty sight, trust me. 

What makes it so hot
One of my fellow garden buddies grows a little of this and a little of that. He likes to grow heirloom tomatoes, blue potatoes, giant pumpkins, and, of course, a few hot peppers. But he didn’t realize that little Bulgarian Carrot pepper that is flourishing in his garden really packs a punch and can be considered one of the 10 hottest peppers in the world.

Capsaicin is just one of the active chemicals in a pepper that makes us sweat. According to the Scoville Rating of Chemicals, straight resiniferatoxin has more than 16 billion heat units, tinyatoxin has more than 5.3 billion units. Capsaicin has a mere 15 million units.

The veins carry the heaviest concentration of heat and the seeds carry some too, but only to a lesser degree. 

Scoville scale
According to Ohio State University, an American pharmacist, Wilbur Scoville, came up with a way to measure the heat of a pepper in 1912. He called it his Organoleptic Test measuring the quantitative performance of the liquid in each pepper and how it reacts with our chemo-receptor nerve endings and mucous membranes in our mouth and nose.

The scale was set to determine how much water is needed to completely dilute the capsaicin in the pepper’s juice.

Hottest peppers
The hottest pepper on the Scoville sale is called the Ghost Pepper, or Bhut Jolokia. It has more than 1 million units of hotness packed into each little package. Just to put it into perspective, a typical mixture of mace has about 100,000 units of hotness. Eating just one of these extreme hotties could send you to the emergency room.

But according to the New Mexico State University Chili Pepper Institute, the Trinidad Scorpion Morgua Blend pepper is the world’s hottest chili pepper grown on this earth, pushing over 2 million heat units on the Scoville scale.

Then next hottest group of peppers don’t even come close to the Ghost Pepper. Caribbean Red Habanero and the Red Savina Habanero check in at more than 500,000 units on the scale. Scotch Bonnet Habanero, Bird’s Eye and Bulgarian Carrot are on the scale are in the top 10, pushing their eye-watering, mouth-blazing hotness to over 300,000 units. 

I am a wimp
I think I bit into a Serrano pepper, and it can only boast up to 25,000 units on the Scoville scale. It is hotter than a jalapeno, and certainly much hotter than I ever wish to consume again in my lifetime. It doesn’t even make it into the top 20, so I know I am a wimp when it comes to fiery peppers.

Common peppers such as jalapeno, tobacco, chipotle, and Hungarian wax peppers rack up about 20,000 Scoville units. Peperoncini and banana peppers that you put on your sandwich and salads only have up to 900 Scoville units. Now, that’s more my speed. Bell peppers don’t even make the Scoville scale because they are so mild. 

Cooling off
These extreme peppers can keep burning in our mouth for a half hour after you take a bite. Doctors say the capsaicin tricks your nervous system into thinking it is hot and your body instantly reacts like it is more 90 degrees around you. Then your brain sends out a signal to get the sweat glands pumping. If your mouth is on fire, drink milk. They say the casein in the milk will help neutralize the strong capsaicin chemical scalding your mouth.

Try eating a piece of bread or eating carbs like rice. Some doctors say the carbohydrates will attract the oily inferno and help take it out of your system.

My suggestion? Try not eating them at all.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com 



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