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Pick a pepper: Some like it hot, some like it hotter

Aug 1st, 2014 | Category: Cooking

by Mary Ellen Carter

Some like it hot, some like it sweet, some like it even hotter. Whatever it is, there is a pepper out there with your name on it.

Hot and sweet peppers are popping up in gardens, at local markets, and in stores. Enjoy! PHOTO BY MARY ELLEN CARTER

Hot and sweet peppers are popping up in gardens, at local markets, and in stores. Enjoy! PHOTO BY MARY ELLEN CARTER

What makes a pepper hot, or hotter? Peppers contain various amounts of capsaicin (an active component of chili peppers), which is measured by Scoville heat units, created by American chemist Wilbur Scoville. He developed a process using water and sugar and diluting the capsaicin until it was barely detectable by a panel of tasters. The amount of dilution needed gives its number on the scale and is described as SHU. (Capsaicin produces a burning sensation when it comes into contact, like when you eat it or if you mistakenly rub your eyes. The higher the SHU, the greater the burn.)

Nowadays, scientists use liquid chromatography (big word, complicated process – and what it is I can’t really tell you) to extract and measure compounds then convert the reading to the Scoville scale. Scoville Heat Units range from 0 – for the Bell pepper – to 2-5 million units, like the Carolina Reaper pepper.

Here is a look at the Scoville units of the most common peppers you’ll find in the market:

• Pasilla, Poblano and Anaheim peppers: 500 – 2500

• Serrano,  Jalapeño: 2500 – 8000

• Thai: 50,000 – 100,000

• Habanero, Scotch Bonnet: 100,000 – 350,000

Some people really enjoy the heat and the challenge of a pepper. Enjoy the kick of a good summer pepper whether it be a little crunchy heat or a sweet and fruity taste, but beware of those colorful innocent peppers with names like the “ghost pepper.” You won’t see what hit you, but you’ll feel the burn.

For those looking for sweet peppers, try the Jimmy Nardello, an Ark Heirloom variety. This sweet frying pepper came to the U.S. in 1887 by way of a village in southern Italy. The Sweet Banana, Big Bertha, Carmen and others are flavorful too.

Mary Ellen Carter is local food enthusiast committed to preserving food and culture based on the values of community and sustainability.  She is a strong advocate continuing to write and teach about the value of returning to the table to enjoy good seasonal  food.

Published in the August 2014 issue of Grow Northwest


Cheesy Peppers


These are especially good with frosty beer!



12 jalapeno or Anaheim peppers

1/3 cup grated dry cheese such as parmesan

¼ cup mayonnaise or Greek yogurt

3 tablespoons chopped green olives

2 teaspoons minced green onion

1 clove garlic, minced

Pinch of sugar

Pinch black pepper

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

½ cup slivered almonds



Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cut jalapenos lengthwise. Remove seeds and ribs. Set aside a bowl of ice water. Bring two inches water in a pot and blanch jalapenos for two minutes. Remove and shock the peppers in ice water. Drain. Blend the parmesan, mayonnaise, olives, onions, garlic, sugar and black pepper. Stir in the Monterey Jack and almonds. Fill pepper halves and bake for 5 -10 minutes or until cheesy mixture is golden.


Roasted Romesco Sauce


This Spanish treasure is a thick garlicky paste that is so good a on a number of levels, a spread for a baguette, as a veggie dipper, or slathered on grilled fish or chicken.  It is especially good when the peppers and tomatoes are ripe for the picking.

(Salsa Romesco)



3 red bell peppers

3 plum tomatoes

1 bulb garlic

½ cup cubed baguette, toasted or stale

2 tablespoons blanched almonds

2 tablespoons hazelnuts

½ -1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

½ cup good olive oil or more to make a smooth paste



Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove papery skin from garlic bulb and cut one-third of the top off, place on a baking sheet with the bell peppers and tomatoes and roast until soft.   When the skin of the peppers and tomatoes are blackened, remove, place in a sealed bag and set aside. Peel the peppers and tomatoes and coarsely chop, reserving liquid.

In a food processor pulse the nuts until finely chopped, add baguette, then peppers, tomatoes. Squeeze in the garlic pulp and with the motor running add the oil and vinegar until smooth.


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