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When does a jalapeño begin to produce heat/capsaicin?

When does a jalapeño begin to produce heat/capsaicin?



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I have a small Jalapeno plant in my apartment. About two weeks ago, it started producing a few flowers. In the last few days, many of them have started to turn into fruit; however, a few of the flowers have fallen off. The flowers do contain some seeds. They look rather like this:

Note this is not a picture of my plant (my flowers are white) but apart from the color it looks quite similar.

I tried munching on the seeds to see if they were hot. They weren't at all. I believe it is a common misconception that the seeds are where capsaicin concentrates, but should there have been any heat? Is there none in the seeds at all? Or was it too early in development?

Related questions: Do you think these seeds were viable at this point, or would they need to develop in an actual pepper fruit?


The reason the 'seeds' you ate weren't hot is because they're not seeds. What you thought are the seeds in the pepper flower are its anthers. The anthers are the pollen bearing parts of a flower. The unfertilized, and therefore undeveloped, seeds would be found in the flower's ovary which is at the base of the petals. The parts of a flower are labeled in this diagram.

I've tried both the seeds and the flesh of jalapeño peppers and noted the 'heat' in both but personally, I found the seeds a little hotter.


When should jalapenos be picked?

Left on the plant (and even after picked) green jalapeños will eventually turn red. So red jalapeños are older than green jalapeños. The red ones can be pretty hot, especially if they have a lot of striations, but they are also sweeter than the green.

Additionally, do jalapenos ripen after being picked? Realistically, peppers do continue to ripen on their own after you've picked them, so even if you keep them in a small bin at room temperature, they should ripen up for you in about a week or two, though be sure to check on them periodically to make sure none of them goes bad.

Correspondingly, how do you pick jalapenos off the plant?

Jalapeno peppers develop small cracks in the skin on the shoulders when they are ready to pick. Hold the jalapeno in one hand and cut through the stem with a small knife or shears. Avoid pulling the pepper off the plant because this can damage the plant and prevent further jalapenos from developing.

How long does it take jalapenos to ripen?

The amount of time jalapenos produce in the garden depends on the length of your growing season. They begin bearing ripe fruit two to three months after being transplanted and continue to ripen fruit until frost.


How long does it take for jalapenos to turn red?

Left on the plant (and even after picked) green jalapeños will eventually turn red. So red jalapeños are older than green jalapeños. The red ones can be pretty hot, especially if they have a lot of striations, but they are also sweeter than the green.

Likewise, why are my jalapenos turning red? They are the same pepper, just a green jalapeño is picked early in the ripening process, while a red jalapeño is left on the vine to mature. During the ripening, jalapeños, like other chilies, turn red. The process takes time so many jalapeños end up multi-hued, various shades of green and red during the aging process.

Beside this, how long do jalapenos take to turn red?

In 3 - 4 month's time, you'll be ready to pick your jalapeno peppers. Ripe jalapenos are a 4 - 6 inches long, fat, firm, and develop a bright sheen. They will turn a bright green, then begin to darken to a deeper green, then to black, and then to red.

How do you know if a jalapeno is bad?

Jalapeno peppers that are spoiling will typically become soft and discolored discard any jalapeno peppers that have an off smell or appearance.


Why are some jalapenos so hot?

The seeds are found in the center of a jalapeno pepper and are surrounded by a membrane. This membrane is where most of the capsaicin is in the jalapeno, so it is the hottest part of the pepper. The seeds and membrane can be used in cooking, but are often removed.

Furthermore, do jalapenos get hotter when cooked? "Roasting jalapenos actually tends to bring out the sweetness in the pepper [] I some grocery jalapenos are hotter than others." Since roasted peppers don't entirely cook through to begin with, I wouldn't expect them to become completely tame, but the more you roast, the sweeter they should get.

Likewise, how do you know when jalapenos are hot?

Jalapenos progressively get hotter the older they get, starting light green and turning darker until it eventually turns a bright red. As they age on the vine, they develop white lines and flecks, like stretch marks or stress marks running in the direction of the length of the pepper.

How do you tone down hot peppers?

One of the best ways to counteract this chemical compound is by adding a dairy product: whole fat milk, heavy cream, yogurt, cheese, or sour cream. Even rich coconut milk can do the trick. Sugars help to neutralize the heat of chile peppers. So try adding a little sugar or honey to balance out too-hot flavors.


Where are jalapenos on the Scoville scale?

Many people think of the jalapeño as a very spicy hot pepper, but in terms of the Scoville scale, the jalapeño is merely mild to moderate. It has a Scoville heat unit range of 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units (SHU).

Beside above, how do you calculate Scoville units? Scoville heat units are found by multiplying the ppmH value by a factor of 15 or 16. An orally administered capsule of capsaicinoids claiming 100,000 Scoville units will correspond to around 6.6 mg of capsaicinoids.

Beside above, what is the hottest part of a jalapeno pepper?

The seeds are found in the center of a jalapeno pepper and are surrounded by a membrane. This membrane is where most of the capsaicin is in the jalapeno, so it is the hottest part of the pepper. The seeds and membrane can be used in cooking, but are often removed.

Where is the habanero on the Scoville scale?

HABANERO PEPPER It's believed to have originated in the Yucatan and has a bit of a citrus flavor to it. The bhut jolokia is often mistaken for a habanero, but you would know the difference as soon as you bit into one. The habanero is only (only) 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units.


What makes a jalapeno hot?

Click to read full detail here. Keeping this in view, what is the hot part of a jalapeno?

The seeds are found in the center of a jalapeno pepper and are surrounded by a membrane. This membrane is where most of the capsaicin is in the jalapeno, so it is the hottest part of the pepper. The seeds and membrane can be used in cooking, but are often removed.

Subsequently, question is, do the seeds in a jalapeno make it hot? Capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat, is concentrated around the seeds and in the ribs. The flesh of the chile that is closer to the seeds will be hotter than the flesh near the tip. If you want more heat, just add back some seeds with the rest of the jalapeño.

Secondly, why are some jalapenos hotter than others?

All peppers in the capiscum family contain capsaicin, which makes them 'hot' to varying degrees. Even bell peppers have a trace amount of capsicin, which is too minute to taste. When a pepper plant is not watered a great deal the resulting peppers will taste hotter.

How can you tell if a jalapeno is hot?

Jalapenos progressively get hotter the older they get, starting light green and turning darker until it eventually turns a bright red. As they age on the vine, they develop white lines and flecks, like stretch marks or stress marks running in the direction of the length of the pepper.


The cool science of hot peppers

Many chili peppers look as fiery as they taste! A single chili pepper can be enough to spice up an entire family&rsquos meal.

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Shiny green slices of jalapeño pepper adorn a plate of nachos. Chomping into one of those innocent-looking chilies will make a person’s mouth explode with spicy fireworks. Some people dread and avoid the painful, eye-watering, mouth-searing sensation. Others love the burn.

“A quarter of the world’s population eats chilies every day,” notes Joshua Tewksbury. He is a biologist who spent 10 years studying wild chili peppers. He also happens to enjoy eating hot, spicy food.

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Chili peppers do much more than burn people’s mouths. Scientists have discovered many uses for the chemical that gives these veggies their zing. Called capsaicin (Kap-SAY-ih-sin), it’s the main ingredient in pepper spray. Some people use this weapon for self-defense. The spray’s high levels of capsaicin will burn the eyes and throats of attackers — but won’t kill people. In smaller doses, capsaicin can relieve pain, help with weight loss and possibly affect microbes in the gut to keep people healthier. Now how cool is that?

A taste for spice

Why would anyone willingly eat something that causes pain? Capsaicin triggers a rush of stress hormones. These will make the skin redden and sweat. It can also make someone feel jittery or energized. Some people enjoy this feeling. But there is another reason why chilies show up on dinner plates the world over. Hot peppers actually make food safer to eat.

A popular Mexican dish, chile rellenos are whole hot chili peppers stuffed with cheese and then fried. Skyler Lewis/Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0) When food sits out in warm weather, microbes on the food start to multiply. If people eat food with too many of these germs, they risk getting very sick. The cold temperature inside a refrigerator stops most microbes from growing. That’s why most people today rely on refrigerators to keep their food fresh. But long ago, those appliances weren’t available. Chilies were. Their capsaicin and other chemicals, it turns out, can slow or stop microbial growth. (Garlic, onion and many other cooking spices can, too.)

Before refrigerators, people living in most hot parts of the world developed a taste for spicy foods. Examples include hot Indian curries and fiery Mexican tamales. This preference emerged over time. The people who first added hot peppers to their recipes probably had no idea chilies could make their food safer they just liked the stuff. But people who ate the spicy food tended to get sick less often. In time, these people would be more likely to raise healthy families. This led to populations of hot-spice lovers. People who came from cold parts of the world tended to stick with blander recipes. They didn’t need those spices to keep their food safe.

Why chilies hurt

The heat of a chili pepper is not actually a taste. That burning feeling comes from the body’s pain response system. Capsaicin inside the pepper activates a protein in people’s cells called TRPV1. This protein’s job is to sense heat. When it does, it alerts the brain. The brain then responds by sending a jolt of pain back to the affected part of the body.

Normally, the body’s pain response helps prevent serious injury. If a person accidentally places fingers on a hot stove, the pain makes him or her yank that hand back quickly. The result: a minor burn, not permanent skin damage.

Hot peppers may as well be candy to birds. They don’t feel the burn. This Sayaca Tanager is chowing down on malagueta peppers, which can be 40 times as hot as jalapeños. Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) Biting into a jalapeño pepper has the same effect on the brain as touching a hot stove. “[Peppers] trick our brain into thinking we are being burned,” says Tewksbury, who now leads the Boulder, Colo., office of Future Earth. (The group promotes research to protect Earth’s resources). Pepper plants likely evolved their fake-out technique to keep certain animals from eating up their fruit, according to Tewksbury’s research.

People, mice and other mammals feel the burn when they eat peppers. Birds do not. Why would peppers develop a way to keep mammals away but attract birds? It ensures the plants’ survival. Mammals have teeth that smash seeds, destroying them. Birds swallow pepper seeds whole. Later, when birds poop, the intact seeds land in a new place. That lets the plant spread.

People managed to outsmart the pepper when they realized that a chili’s pain doesn’t cause any lasting damage. Those with pepper allergies or stomach conditions do need to stay away from chilies. But most people can safely eat hot peppers.

Pain fights pain

Capsaicin does not actually damage the body in the same way that a hot stovetop will — at least not in small amounts. In fact, the chemical can be used as a medicine to help relieve pain. It may seem bizarre that what causes pain might also make pain go away. Yet it’s true.

Biting into one of these fresh jalapeños has the same effect on the brain as touching a hot stove. But new data show why the peppery chemicals can help deaden pain from other causes. Kees Zwanenburg /iStockphoto Tibor Rohacs is a medical researcher at New Jersey Medical School in Newark. He recently studied how capsaicin works to deaden pain . Researchers already knew that when capsaicin turns on the TRPV1 protein, it’s like turning on a bright light. Whenever the light is on, the person experiences pain. Rohacs and his colleagues then uncovered a chemical chain reaction that later silences this pain. Essentially, he says, the light “shines so brightly that after a while, the bulb burns out.” Then the TRPV1 protein can’t turn back on again. When this happens, the brain no longer finds out about painful sensations. The team published its findings in the journal Science Signaling in February 2015.

The human body is good at repairing itself, however. Eventually, the pain will fix this pain system and can once again send pain alerts to the brain. However, if the TRPV1 protein is activated often, the pain system may not get a chance to repair itself in time. The person will only feel discomfort or burning at first. Then he or she will experience relief from other types of pain.

For example, people with arthritis (Arth-RY-tis) regularly have pain in their fingers, knees, hips or other joints. Rubbing a cream containing capsaicin onto the painful area may burn or sting at first. After a while, however, the area will become numb.

Rohacs warns that capsaicin creams don’t seem to soak deeply enough into the skin to totally eliminate pain. He says other researchers are currently testing capsaicin patches or injections. These would likely do a better job at halting pain. Unfortunately, these therapies tend to hurt a lot more than a cream — at least in the beginning. Someone who can tough out the initial discomfort, however, could get relief that lasts for weeks, not hours.

Sweat it out

Chili peppers also may help people lose weight. However, a person can’t simply eat hot, spicy food and expect to shed pounds. “It’s not a magic remedy,” warns Baskaran Thyagarajan. He works at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. As a pharmacologist, he studies the effects of medicines. His team is now working to create a drug to make the body burn through fat more quickly than usual. A primary ingredient: capsaicin.

In the body, capsaicin triggers a stress reaction known as the fight-or-flight response. It normally occurs when someone (or some animal) senses a threat or danger. The body responds by preparing to either run away or stand and fight. In people, the heart’s beating will speed up, breathing will quicken and the blood will send a boost of energy to the muscles.

The Carolina Reaper currently holds the title as the hottest chili pepper in the world. It is as much as 880 times as hot as a jalapeño — so hot that it can actually leave chemical burns on someone’s skin. Dale Thurber / Wikimedia CC-BY-SA 3.0 To fuel the fight-or-flight response, the body burns through stores of fat. Just as a bonfire chews through wood to produce hot flames, the human body turns fat from food into the energy it needs. Thyagarajan’s team is now working on a capsaicin-based drug aimed at helping obese people — those who have more stored fat than their bodies need — to shed their excess weight.

In a 2015 study, his group showed that mice that ate a high-fat diet containing capsaicin did not gain extra weight. But a group of mice that ate only the high-fat diet became obese. Thyagarajan’s group hopes to start testing its new medication on people soon.

Other researchers have already tried similar therapies. Zhaoping Li is a doctor and nutrition specialist at the University of California in Los Angeles. In 2010, Li and her colleagues gave a pill containing a capsaicin-like chemical to obese volunteers. The chemical was called dihydrocapsiate (Di-HY-drow-KAP-see-ayt). It did help the people lose weight. But the change was slow. In the end, it also was too small to make much of a difference, Li believes. She suspects that using capsaicin would have had a bigger effect. Still, she argues, it would never work as a weight loss remedy. Why not? “When we convert the dose that worked on mice or rats to humans, [people] don’t tolerate it.” It’s too spicy! Even in pill form, she points out, capsaicin gives many people upset stomachs.

But Thyagarajan says his team has come up with a spice-proof way to get capsaicin into the body. A doctor would inject the drug directly into areas with a lot of fatty tissue. Magnets would coat each particle. The doctor would use a magnetic belt or wand to hold the particles in place. This should keep the capsaicin from circulating through the body. Thyagarajan believes that this would help prevent side effects.

Spice it up

Capsaicin may be the most exciting chemical inside a chili pepper, but it isn’t the only reason to spice up your diet. Both hot and sweet peppers also have important vitamins and minerals that the body needs. Li’s team is now studying how chilies and other cooking spices change the bacteria living in the human gut. Outside the body, spices help keep dangerous germs from growing on food. Li suspects that inside the body, they may rout bad germs. They might also help good bacteria thrive. She is investigating both ideas now.

A 2015 study even showed that people with spicy diets tend to live longer. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing tracked half a million adults in China for seven years. Those who ate spicy food six or seven days a week were 14 percent less likely to die during those seven years than were people who ate spices less than once a week. And people who regularly ate fresh chilies, in particular, were less likely to die of cancer or heart disease. This result doesn’t necessarily mean that eating hot chilies prevents disease. It may be that people with healthy overall lifestyles tend to prefer spicier foods.

As scientists continue to uncover the secret powers of chili peppers, people will keep spicing up their soups, stews, stir-fries and other favorite dishes. Next time you see a jalapeño on a plate, take a deep breath, then take a bite.

Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

arthritis A disease that causes painful inflammation in the joints.

bacterium (plural bacteria)A single-celled organism. These dwell nearly everywhere on Earth, from the bottom of the sea to inside animals.

capsaicin The compound in spicy chili peppers that imparts a burning sensation on the tongue or skin.

chili pepper A small vegetable pod often used in cooking to make food hot and spicy.

curry Any dish from the cooking tradition of India that uses a blend of strong spices, including turmeric, cumin and chili powder.

dihydrocapsiate A chemical found in some peppers that is related to capsaicin, but does not cause a burning sensation.

fat A natural oily or greasy substance occurring in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs. Fat’s primary role is as an energy reserve. Fat is also a vital nutrient, though it can be harmful to one’s health if over consumed in excess amounts.

fight-or-flight response The body’s response to a threat, either real or imagined. During the fight-or-flight response, digestion shuts down as the body prepares to deal with the threat (fight) or to run away from it (flight).

gut Colloquial term for an organism’s stomach and/or intestines. It is where food is broken down and absorbed for use by the rest of the body.

hormone (in zoology and medicine) A chemical produced in a gland and then carried in the bloodstream to another part of the body. Hormones control many important body activities, such as growth. Hormones act by triggering or regulating chemical reactions in the body. (in botany) A chemical that serves as a signaling compound that tells cells of a plant when and how to develop, or when to grow old and die.

jalapeño A moderately spicy green chili pepper often used in Mexican cooking.

microbe Short for microorganism. A living thing that is too small to see with the unaided eye, including bacteria, some fungi and many other organisms such as amoebas. Most consist of a single cell.

mineral Crystal-forming substances that make up rock and that are needed by the body to make and feed tissues to maintain health.

nutrition The healthful components (nutrients) in the diet — such as proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals — that the body uses to grow and to fuel its processes.

obesity Extreme overweight. Obesity is associated with a wide range of health problems, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

pepper spray A weapon used to stop an attacker without causing death or serious injury. The spray irritates a person’s eyes and throat and makes breathing difficult.

pharmacology The study of how chemicals work in the body, often as a way to design new drugs to treat disease. People who work in this field are known as pharmacologists.

proteins Compounds made from one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins are an essential part of all living organisms. They form the basis of living cells, muscle and tissues they also do the work inside of cells. The hemoglobin in blood and the antibodies that attempt to fight infections are among the better-known, stand-alone proteins.Medicines frequently work by latching onto proteins.

stress (in biology) A factor, such as unusual temperatures, moisture or pollution, that affects the health of a species or ecosystem.

tamale A dish from the cooking tradition of Mexico. It is spicy meat wrapped in cornmeal dough and served in a corn husk.

taste One of the basic ways the body senses its environment, especially our food, using receptors (taste buds) on the tongue (and some other organs).

TRPV1 A type of pain receptor on cells that detects signals about painful heat.

vitamin Any of a group of chemicals that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet because they cannot be made by the body.

Word Find ( click here to enlarge for printing )

Citations

T. Hesman Saey. “How hot peppers can soothe pain.” Science News for Students. March 4, 2015.

S. Ornes. “A pepper that burns fat.” Science News for Students. May 19, 2010.

E. Sohn. “Hot pepper, hot spider.” Science News for Students. November 15, 2006.

Picked a pepper? Find out how hot it is using the Scoville scale.

Original Journal Source: N.G. Forouhi. Consumption of hot spicy foods and mortality — is chilli good for your health? BMJ. Vol. 351, August 4, 2015. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h4141.

Original Journal Source: I. Borbiro et al. Activation of TRPV1 channels inhibits mechanosensitive Piezo channel activity by depleting membrane phosphoinositides. Science Signaling. Vol. 8, February 10, 2015, p. ra15. doi: 10.1126/scisignal.2005667.

Original Journal Source: V. Krishnan et al. Dietary capsaicin and exercise: Analysis of a two-pronged approach to counteract obesity. Biophysical Journal. Vol. 108, January 27, 2015, p. 124a. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2014.11.693.

About Kathryn Hulick

Kathryn Hulick is a freelance science writer and the author of Strange But True: 10 of the World's Greatest Mysteries Explained, a book about the science of ghosts, aliens and more. She loves hiking, gardening and robots.

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What Makes Food Spicy? – The Science of Capsaicin and Peppers

Ever unknowingly took a bite or big sip from a dish or a newly developed product and suddenly had your mouth on fire? Scrambling to find a glass of water (even though it doesn’t really help), some yogurt, a piece of cucumber, or just anything to help cool your mouth down?

It’s probably overcome a lot of us. Luckily, after a few seconds, or minutes, that heat starts to go away again. Until we take a second bite from that meal. Some of us love the sensation of heat, others can’t stand it at all.

So what is it that makes your mouth feel like it’s on fire?

What makes a food spicy?

If something is spicy, you will notice it thanks to a set of receptors on your tongue. If these TRV1 receptors, are activated, they send a signal to your brain which causes you to feel the heat in your mouth. This process is actually the same as the activation of other pain sequences in your body.

You can get used to some level of spiciness. Over time, and when you continue to eat spicy food, the receptors get desensitized. It is why some people can tolerate a lot more heat than others!

Capsaicinoids

In order for the receptors to get activated and for you to feel that heat, your food needs to contain certain molecules. These molecules ‘fit’ well onto the receptor and trigger the heat and pain response.

The group of molecules that can trigger these spiciness receptors (or pain receptors) are capsaicinoids. It’s a large group of molecules with each a very similar molecular structure. The most potent of them is a molecule called capsaicin.

/>Capsaicin, from Wikipedia

Other capsaicinoids have a similar molecular structure. Especially the structure shown on the left in the image above is important for activating the receptors. The right side of the molecule can vary quite a bit between capsaicinoids. The exact structure influences the spiciness of the molecule. A slightly different structure can result in a large difference in spiciness. Capsiate for instance, which you’ll find in bell peppers, is not spicy at all. Dihydrocapsaicin on the other hand is very spicy. As you can see

  • Dihydrocapsaicin
  • Capsiate

Spiciness doesn’t just affect the tongue

Even though spiciness is mostly tasted in your mouth, it can affect more than just your tongue. If you’ve ever (accidentally) fried hot (dried) peppers in hot oil, you might have noticed that you started coughing vigorously or started to get teary-eyed. This is because the capsaicin can also trigger receptors in the nose and lungs.

If you’re frying up spices, don’t add the dried peppers until the very end, or when you’ve added water as well. If not, you might just accidentally pepper spray yourself (unfortunately, I speak out of experience, having pepper sprayed myself with cayenne pepper flakes roasting in oil)! When you’re using fresh peppers you’ve got a bit more leeway since the moisture in the peppers will prevent them from becoming too hot, too quickly, although they can ultimately also result in a a lot of coughing and tears.

Pepper spray is spicy

Pepper spray is a spray made up of capsaicin. The peppers don’t just impact the mouth, but also your eyes and airways. As a result, you can’t see for a while after being sprayed with pepper spray or you might have trouble breathing.

Capsicum contain capsaicinoids

Capsaicinoids are naturally present in the fruit of plants that belong to the capsicum genus. There are thousands of different cultivars of capsicums grown worldwide. Not all of these are spicy, but the vast majority contain at least some capsaicinoids. Cayenne pepper, bell peppers, chipotle peppers, bird’s eye chili, fresno peppers, poblano peppers, they are all capsicums. Capsicums are thought to contain these capsaicinoids as a defense mechanism against unwanted species.

The black pepper and Sichuan pepper, depsite also being called pepper, do not belong to the Capsicums. They also don’t contain capsaicinoids.

There’s quite a lot of capsaicinoids and capsaicin on this photos. Dried chili and cayenne powder, dried pepper flakes as well as some fresh peppers. Don’t be fooled by their size, some of those green ones are super spicy!

How to measure spiciness?

Since spiciness is very subjective and everyone perceives it differently, it is challenging to measure spiciness using human tasters (as you do for sweetness). Also, people can only test so many spicy samples at the time.

Scoville Unit Scale

Nevertheless, using human testers is still a commonly used method. The Scoville unit scale uses human testers to determine and compare spiciness. This scale, developed back in 1912, uses tasters to determine how spicy a pepper or mixture of peppers is. Tasters get a series of dilutions of a specific pepper. At a certain point, the pepper is so diluted that the tasted can no longer perceive it. The number of dilutions required is the measure for spiciness.

By comparing the results of different peppers for the same person, you get a decent comparison. However, it isn’t the most accurate because of the human error we just mentioned.

Peppers with a score of 0 aren’t spicy at all. The spiciest peppers known have scores of over a million in Scoville Units. For perspective, a mild banana pepper has a score of 100-1,000, a Jalapeno pepper is 2,500-10,000 whereas Tabasco pepper is 25,000-50,000. Commercial pepper spray has a score of over 1 million units.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography

Nowadays, tasters are no longer need to test for the spiciness of a food. A more objective method has been developed since using high performance liquid chromatography. Chromatography is a widely used analytical method to quantify the presence of all sorts of molecules. In the case of spiciness you can use it to measure the concentration of all capsaicinoids in a food.

This method has allowed researchers to compare the heat of a wide variety of peppers quite efficiently. If you’re trying to grow a very hot pepper, or the opposite, one that isn’t too hot, this method can give you an objective measure of the pepper you’ve grown and tell you whether you’re on track.

Since pepper suppliers and manufacturers still commonly talk about spiciness on the Scoville unit scale, the results of HPLC are often used to calculate a Scoville value. Every increase of concentration of capsaicin by 1mg/kg causes an increase of 15 units on the Scoville heat scale.

Not all peppers are created equally

The difference in spiciness is considerable between different varieties. Some will inevitably set your mouth on fire whereas for others you won’t feel a thing. If you don’t have access to data on the spiciness of your pepper, it is best to look up your pepper to see where approximately falls on the spiciness scale.

Interestingly though, even within a variety of pepper types, the degree of spiciness can vary considerably. From personal experience I can tell that Jalapeno peppers, even from the same plant, can vary considerably in their heat. For other peppers, the growing conditions can impact the spiciness of the pepper.

Plant’s access to salt and water

A possible factor of influence is the amount of water or salt a plant received during its flowering stage. Some species make more spicy peppers when they’ve been subjected to a drought. Also the amount of salt in which the pepper plant is grown can be of influence.

Changes during storage

Ever after growth and harvest the spiciness of some peppers can change. Some claim that Jalapeno peppers become spicier over time during storage.

It is well known that if oxygen and capsaicinoids come into contact that can result in a decrease of spiciness due to oxidation reactions. The same goes for canning and freezing peppers. Proof has been found that in certain instances it impacts spiciness.

When manufacturing products with peppers these are all factors to take into account. If you want to produce a super spicy condiment, you should take care your process does not influence the spiciness too much.

Seeds and Pith vs. Skin

Capsaicin isn’t distributed evenly throughout a pepper. The concentration of capsaicin is a lot higher in the pith, the white structures within the peppers that connect the seeds to the outer skin of the pepper. By removing these whitish parts, the heat of the pepper is reduced significantly.

Lowering the heat

If you do happen to eat a very spicy pepper that threatens your food by burning the inside of your mouth, there are a few things you can do. First of all, water won’t help you here. Capsaicinoids don’t mix well with water and water won’t ‘carry’ them away. All water does is help you temporarily feel a little cooler in your mouth and spread all the spicy molecules all around your mouth. If your hands are covered in pepper, be sure to wash your hands and refrain from touching your eyes and lips anytime soon.

What does work though, is eating dairy products. Milk, yogurt, ricotta cheese, they can all actually help reduce the burn. The casein proteins transport the spicy molecules away.

Do you keep on running in too spicy food though? In that case your strategy might be to just stick with it and try to get used to it. Most of us (although there likely are exception) do get desensitized to spicy food over time!


How to Get Hot Jalapeño Peppers

If you have no heat in your jalapeños, what could be the problem? First of all, hot peppers like sun, preferably hot sun. So numero uno, make sure to plant in full sun to prevent future issues with jalapeños not getting hot.

Secondly, to repair the horrendous issue of jalapeños not getting hot enough, or at all, cut back on water. The ingredient in hot peppers which gives them that zing is called capsaicin and is referred to as the pepper’s natural defense. When jalapeño plants are stressed, as when they are lacking water, the capsaicin increases, resulting in hotter peppers.

Jalapeño peppers too mild still? Another thing to try to correct the jalapeños not getting hot is to leave them on the plant until the fruit has fully matured and is a red color.

When jalapeño peppers aren’t hot, another solution may be in the fertilizer you use. Refrain from using fertilizer high in nitrogen since nitrogen encourages foliage growth, which sucks the energy from fruit production. Try feeding with potassium/phosphorus based fertilizer like fish emulsion, kelp or rock phosphate to alleviate the “jalapeño peppers are too mild” matter. Also, fertilizing generously tends to make jalapeño peppers too mild, so hold back on fertilizing. Stressing the pepper plant leads to more capsaicin concentrated in fewer peppers, which equals hotter fruit.

Another thought to fix this perplexing problem is to add a bit of Epsom salt to the soil — say about 1-2 tablespoons per gallon (15 to 30 mL per 7.5 L) of soil. This will enrich the soil with the magnesium and sulfur peppers require. You may also want to try adjusting the pH of your soil. Hot peppers thrive in a soil pH range of 6.5 to a neutral 7.0.

Cross pollination may also be a factor in creating jalapeño peppers that are too mild. When chili plants are grouped too close together, cross pollination may occur and subsequently alter the heat level of each particular fruit. Wind and insects carry the pollen from one variety of pepper to another, contaminating the hot peppers with pollen from peppers lower on the Scoville scale and rendering them a milder version and vice versa. To prevent this, plant the different varieties of peppers far away from each other.

Likewise, one of the simplest reasons for too little heat in a jalapeño is choosing the wrong variety. Scoville unit measures actually vary among different types of jalapeño, so this is something to consider. Here are some examples:

  • Senorita jalapeño: 500 units
  • Tam (mild) jalapeño: 1,000 units
  • NuMex Heritage Big Jim jalapeño: 2,000-4,000 units
  • NuMex Espanola Improved: 3,500-4,500 units
  • Early jalapeño: 3,500–5,000 units
  • Jalapeño M: 4,500-5,500 units
  • Mucho Nacho jalapeño: 5,000-6,500 units
  • Rome jalapeño: 6,000-9,000 units

And lastly, if you want to avoid a succinct message stating “jalapeño peppers not hot,” you can try the following. I have not tried this myself but read about it, and hey, anything is worth a shot. It has been said that picking the jalapenos and then leaving them on the counter for a few days will incrementally increase their heat. I have no idea what the science is here, but it might be worth a try.


What makes Chiles Hot?

Most chileheads know that a chemical called Capsaicin is what gives Chiles their heat. But what is it and where does it come from? Why can some people eat a hot habanero with ease, yet others break out in a sweat at the mere thought? Is the Morouga Scorpion really the world's hottest Chile? This chileman's guide aims to answer some of these questions as well as providing some advice on how to avoid 'Hunan hand', 'Jalapeno eye' and tackle the burn!

But first let me start with some of my favourite quotes:

"Pure capsaicin is so powerful that chemists who handle the crystalline powder must work in a filtered "tox room" in full body protection. The suit has a closed hood to prevent inhaling the powder. It's not toxic, but you wish you were dead if you inhale it."
Lloyd Matheson of the University of Iowa

Scary eh? However, before explaining how this nasty little substance is produced by your beloved Chile plants you first need to have a little chemistry lesson.

Capsaicinoids - A brief Chemistry Lesson

It is a series of complex chemical compounds called capsaicinoids that are responsible for giving Chiles their bite. Capsaicin is the most famous (and the most pungent) although scientists have identified and isolated other natural members of this fiery family (Dihydrocapsaicin, Homodihydrocapsaicin, Nordihydrocapasaicin) and one synthetic cousin (Vanillyamide). The latter is used as a reference point for determining the relative pungency of the others.

Capsaicin & Dihydrocapsaicin are typically responsible for about 80-90% of the capsaicinoid content of a pepper and hence are the source of most of the heat. The balance of the bite is made up by the presence of one or more minor capsaicinoids.

When Chiles are eaten, the capsaicinoids irritate the tigeminal cells (pain receptors located in the mouth, nose and stomach), which release a chemical known as substance P into blood which tells the brain you've eaten something hot. The brain responds by flushing the body with water to try and douse the flames, which is why after consuming a particularly hot Chile some people suddenly break into a sweat, their nose runs and their eyes start to stream.

The trigeminal cells are also connected to the production of endorphins, morphine like natural painkillers that produce a sense of well-being. It is the rush generated from the release of endorphins that is often cited as the reason why some chileheads become addicted to fiery foods. Repeated consumption of Chiles is also believed to confuse trigminal cells, which is also why some of your 'Chile monster' friends seem to have built up a tolerance to capsaicin and can, eat the hottest habanero without even flinching.

How and where is Capsaicin Produced?


Capsaicinoids are produced by the glands at the juncture of the placenta and the pod walls. It is spread unevenly throughout the inside of the pod although concentrated most in the central placental tissue. Contrary to popular believe seeds are not sources of heat. However because of their proximity to the placenta, they do occasionally absorb some capsaicin.

How is Heat measured?

Determining the precise pungency of Chile varieties has long been a goal of cooks, growers and researchers alike. Many heated arguments have taken place on Chile forums as to which is 'the world's hottest Chile'. The problem with the "official" record suggested by Guinness, is that they only take into account the highest test reading. The record is currently held by the Morouga Scorpion, which tested above 2 million SHU. That does not mean that every instance of this pepper will measure that heat level. In my damp, cold English greenhouse, I have sucessfully grown supposedly super hot peppers with very little heat.

Although both subjective and scientific measures have been developed, the arguments as to the hottest variety will never be solved, as pungency is pod specific. Aside for presence and concentration of capsaicinoids many other factors will determine the pungency of pods. These include local growing conditions, watering regimes, soil chemistry and even the type and amount of fertiliser used.

Some say that 'stressing your plants' by under watering/under feeding can produce hotter peppers. The obvious method to stress your plants is to get the wife to sit in your green house and talk to your plants on a regular basis. A suitably qualified mother in law is also an acceptable substitute!

As well as great variability amongst plants of the same variety, there will be also be much variability amongst pods on the same plant. Even when scientific laboratory tests have determine a precise heat level, the very subjective nature of individual taste will come into play as the different capsaicinoids have differing effects on peoples taste buds. This is why some people swear that Rocotos (with their own unique blend of capsaicinoids) are far hotter than Habaneros.

Scoville Heat Units (SHU)

In 1912, Wilbur L Scoville, a pharmacologist developed the Scoville Organoleptic test. This test is one of dilution and involved a brave panel of five people tasting increasingly diluted samples of solutions made from exact weights of Chile peppers dissolved in alcohol and diluted with sugar water. Several dilutions were tasted until the capsaicin (heat) could no longer be detected. One part capsaicin per 1,000,000 drops of water (about 1 gram per 7000 gallons of water) is rated at 1.5 Scoville Units.

However for many of the reasons above, it was soon evident that the test was highly subjective, and today it has replaced by High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC).

High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)

High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), sometimes called High Performance Liquid Chromatography is a laboratory based test which detects and measures the various capsaicinoids. A chile solution is placed into the chromatograph machine, and under high pressure, the machine separates the capsaicin from the total volume of liquid and thus calculates the concentration of the capsaicin in parts per million (ppm). For the diehard need-to-know chillihead, multiply the HPLC ppm figure by 16 will get you the approximate Scoville Heat rating. For example, if a total capsaicinoid content of 36000 mg/kg is determined, multiplying this value by 16 would mean 576,000SHU.

The 'Hot as Hell Hall of Fame'.

In 1994, a Red Savina Habanero from GNS Spices has tested what was, at the time, an astonishing 577,000 Scoville Units and was believed to be the hottest pepper ever tested. Since then a number of peppers have held the title, and you can read the full story here.

Although the heat level to a particular palette is highly subjective and can vary significantly from pod to pod, here is a very rough guide to the reported Scoville heat levels of some of the more common domesticated species and varieties:

Species*
Chinense above 1 million SHU
Frutescens up to 150,000 SHU
Annuum up to 100,000 SHU
Pubescens up to 50,000 SHU
Baccatum up to 30,000 SHU

Note that pure capsaicin is a mouth numbing 16,000,000 SHU!

This is a generalist guide as selective breeding programmes have created several very hot annuums and chinense varieties with little to no heat. Commercial growers are also well known for exaggerating SHU levels, as they all want to supply the hottest! The chart below is a rough guide to SHU, as more tests are done, the numbers keep changing.

Trinidad Scorpion2,000,000 SHU
Naga Morich1,041,000 SHU
Red Savina350,000 to 577,000 SHU
Habanero's & Scotch Bonnet's100,000 to 350,000 SHU
Chiletepins, Thai & Birds Eye50,000 to 150,000 SHU
Piquin, Cayenne, Tabasco & Rocoto30,000 to 50,000 SHU
De Arbol, Aji's & Shipkas15,000 to 30,000 SHU
Serrano5,000 to 15,000 SHU
Jalapeno, Mirasol & Hot Wax2,500 to 5,000 SHU
Anaheim, Rocotillo, Sandia & Cascabel1,500 to 2,500 SHU
Ancho, Pasilla, Mulato & Espanola1,000 to 1,500 SHU
Cherry, New Mexican500 to 1,000 SHU
Bell Peppers & Pimentos0 SHU

Hunan Hand and how to tackle the burn

Hunan hand' (also known as 'Chile Willy') is the name given to the skin irritation caused by capsaicin as a result of contact with Chile peppers. It is said to have obtained its name from an unfortunate young man who burst into a clinic in Chicago, waving his hands and moaning in pain. With some difficulty he described that he had been in the midst of preparing a Hunan Chinese lunch with hot peppers. 'Jalapeno eye' will also be known to Chile growing contact lens wearers.

Capsaicin, one of the most powerful chemicals know to man has no flavour, colour or odour and is unaffected by cooking, grinding or freezing. Although it is readily soluble in fats (like skin), pure alcohol and some oils it is not soluble in water which is why gulping down pints of water to fan the flames will simply swill the substance around your mouth and make it even worse! Downing pure alcohol would kill you and therefore is also a bad idea.

When handling hot Chile peppers, ALWAYS wear a pair of disposable gloves and preferably eye protection. Most Chile enthusiasts have heeded this warning at some time. Believe me you will only make this mistake once!

If you are unfortunate to get struck down by Hunan Hand, dowse the affected part with a mild bleach solution, vegetable oil or milk all of which will help easy the pain (in time). Do not using these treatments for Jalapeno eye! A cool wet towel and a lie down is probably the best remedy.

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