October 20, 2004
You don’t need to turn on the stove to add sizzle to dishes — just chop some hot peppers.
Hot peppers date back to about 7000 B.C. in Central America and have been heating things up ever since.
As a rule, the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is (good hot things come in small packages). About 80 percent of pepper "heat " — chemically, for you science buffs, called "capsaicin " — is contained in the seeds and the veins.
If you want to take some of the sting out of your peppers, either remove both the seeds and veins, choose milder types of peppers (such as bells or Anaheim chilies) or cook or freeze them, which diminishes the heat.
There are more than 200 cultivated varieties of fresh and dried hot peppers. Remember that dried hot peppers are at least 10 times as potent as fresh ones. Store dried hot peppers in an airtight container in a dry, cool place and they’ll last up to six months. Fresh hot peppers, which should be firm, brightly colored and have no blemishes, may be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Many people are familiar with thick-skinned and medium hot (yes, medium!) jalapeños. Found in Southwestern, Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines, jalapeños add zip to salsa, breads and sauces. Ripe red jalapeños have a sweeter flavor; when dried and smoked, the red versions are known as "chipotles."
Habanero hot peppers can be dark green, red or yellow (depending on ripeness). They look like mini-lanterns and are used in Caribbean and South American salsas, chutneys and marinades. Habaneros are HOT, estimated to be 50 to 60 times as hot as jalapeños.
Poblanos are well-known for their roles in chili relleno and mole. They can range in color from dark green to purple, and when smoked are known as "anchos."
Thai hot peppers are hotter than jalapeños but milder than habaneros and give the heat in Southeast Asian curries and soups.
Interesting note: Capsaicin, the "heat " factor in chili, triggers your brain to produce endorphins, the body’s natural pain killer. Capsaicin is currently being used in sports cream to reduce the pain of minor injuries.
I do not recommend, however, that you rub a jalapeño on your sprained ankle.
But maybe eating some killer salsa would help!