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Chili Peppers 101: The Guide To Chili Peppers

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

There are literally thousands of chili peppers that originate from different places all over the world and come in all shapes, sizes, colours and of course, levels of heat. Whether you are just starting out or a professional hot sauce connoisseur, we are here to help you navigate the world of spice by answering your most burning questions.

Why are chili peppers spicy?

The culprit to the spiciness and burning feeling of a chili pepper is a chemical compound naturally produced in the spongy white membrane surrounding the chili seeds called 'Capsaicin'. When a chili pepper is eaten, the chemical is released and binds to the receptors that respond to the pain heat in the mouth and throat. The brain is then notified to remove the hot substance, that results in increased circulation (boosts metabolism), cooling perspiration and typical reactions to an irritant (runny nose and teary eyes).

The pain created from the chili peppers also leads to a release of endorphins, flooding the diner with a blissful feeling that keeps you craving for more but cannot be explained. Endorphins are natural painkillers which means those tears are actually tears of Joy. I promise.

JOCO Cooking Tip:

Since capsaicin is most concentrated in the membrane around the seeds if you want a milder dish, just remove this part of the peppers before cooking with them.

How do you measure the spiciness of a chili pepper and other peppers?

The Scoville heat scale (developed in 1912) is the oldest method used by scientists to measure the pepper heat using 'Scoville units', which measures the concentration of capsaicin in a pepper. As a reference, a bell pepper has 0, a jalapeño has a few thousand, a habanero has over 100,000, and the hottest peppers on Earth have over 1 million, about half the Scoville units of pepper spray. Despite spice being subjective based on your heat preference - I can guarantee you that there is a chili pepper out there that you will love.

JOCO Cooking Tip: If you are just starting out and want to slowly incorporate the fruity flavour of chilis but don’t want the heat, try buying some Dried Mexican Chilis like Guajillos, Anchos, or Pasillas, all of which pack far more complex earthy sweetness than they do spice.

Does the size of the chili pepper matter?

Because we don't have a Scoville Scale hanging around in our local grocer and the Scoville unit count isn't obvious to the naked eye, there are a few handy tips that can help you find your perfect chili pepper.

  • Size: Smaller varieties of peppers are usually hotter than larger ones. If you are still a newbie to the spice realm, stick with bigger varieties such as Jalapenos and Poblanos. If you are seeking that heat thrill, sting and burn that feels so good, aim for Bird Eye Chilis also known as Thai Chili Peppers OR the notorious ghost pepper - just make sure you have some milk handy.

  • Colour: As peppers start to ripen the colour also changes, going from green to orange then red. To bring some serious heat to your meal, look for wrinkled red and orange chilis instead of their milder green chili counterparts.

How do you cook with chili peppers?

There are a few simple rules when cooking with peppers in the kitchen that can help you elevate your dish by maximizing their incredible flavours.

  • To bring out their naturally sweet and earthy flavours, roast or grill chili peppers with salt and oil.

  • Chili peppers benefit from acidic contrast from vinegar or citrus, as seen in many of the popular hot sauces available such as Sriracha or Tabasco, so keep that in mind when seasoning your dish.

  • Pair fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, or basil to provide an amazing cooling contrast to the heat from peppers. Dairy ingredients like yogurt or sour cream also go surprisingly well.

  • Not really a cook? Try using a hot sauce instead. Our Jaew Chili Spread is a perfect way to help elevate any of your boring dishes. Scoop or spread as little or more to enhance just about anything. This way you can be the master of your own destiny by determining exactly how spicy you want your dish. Our fan favourites include Scrambled Eggs, Avocado and Toast, Wraps, Sandwiches, Grilled Meats, Fish Tacos, Fried Chicken, Pastas, Pizzas, Rice Dishes, Marinades and Dips that need a kick. The options are endless.

JOCO Cooking Tip:

Beware. It's not only your insides that will feel a sting. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly when handling and cutting hot peppers. Be careful not to rub or touch your eyes or other sensitive areas to avoid any painful surprises later.

We hope this helps introduce you to the exciting and flavourful spice world of hot peppers. Follow us on Instagram @jocofoods for more spicy content.

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