All About the Hot in Hot Peppers

Hot Peppers

Easy to grow, dry, grill, and freeze, peppers are inspired food enhancers. They are aids to digestion, can have pain relieving properties, and . . .well, they're pretty, too. Become a pepper lover with this easy pepper primer.

Spring is just around the corner, so check out the pepper page of your seed catalogs and have a fiesta.

Peppers are Easy to Grow

I've grown peppers in pots and in the ground for years. They are one of the easiest and most rewarding vegetable/herbs to grow. They need regular watering, but are forgiving of being a little crowded. They do, however, need strong sun in order to thrive and set fruit, and they are very susceptible to frost. They have a low, bushy habit, which means that they don't get too tall. They are very colorful, and one plant can give you a good harvest if you fertilize it well and pick the fruit as it ripens.

Peppers Are a Wonder Vegetable

Ripe peppers can be dried, powdered, frozen, or pickled. They are equally tasty when eaten fresh, as in Pico De Gallo, or cooked, as in stir-fry or chili. They have curative properties, and the capsaicinoids in peppers, (the stuff that makes them hot) are used in pain relievers. With all this going for them, you'd thing they'd be more expensive.

I grew up around lots of ethnic food that was highly spiced. As an adult, it surprised me that people would dare one another to try hot pepper sauce, or eat whole hot peppers to see how much heat they could stand. I've seen grown men doing this in restaurants and been totally bemused by their pained, sweaty faces.

I can't remember not eating hot pepper or using them in cooking. When I was a kid there were always at least a couple of pepper plants behind the house in summer, and a dish of pickled hot peppers accompanied most meals.

Tone Down the Hot in Your Hot Peppers

When selecting a pepper for cooking or eating, pay attention to the seeds and interior veins (the white stuff inside). This is where most of the heat is. The Scoville Test rates the presence and concentration of capsaicin in order to determine how hot a pepper actually is, but the age of the pepper and the pepper-part you're eating has an impact on how hot a bite you're going to get.

If you want the flavor but need to tone down the heat, avoid the veins and seeds, and select your pepper when it's not quite ripe. As a rule of thumb, go for green and not red.