Peppers – from benign but colourful bell peppers to fiery Scotch Bonnets and beyond here’s all you need to know about these useful and tasty vegetables.
What are chilli peppers?
Chilli peppers are the fruit of plants of the Capsicum genus, a member of the nightshade family. The fruit is normally small, brightly coloured, and generally hollow, containing seeds.
Known for their heat, there are over 4,000 different types of pepper; as a result there is a huge variety in both flavour and spiciness.
What is the Scoville Scale?
The Scoville Scale, developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912, is used to measure how hot peppers are. It’s a subjective assessment method to gauge the spiciness.
The scale ranks peppers in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), with zero being the mildest. Pure capsaicin – the chemical which gives peppers their heat – scores about 16 million on the scale!
Bell peppers are the lowest peppers on the Scoville scale. Bell peppers contain no capsaicin at all, so have a SHU rating of zero. Their colour – ranging from green to red via yellow, and crunch are both delicious and useful in a wide range of recipes. Try them in a red pepper and tomato soup, a pepper and caper salad, or a vegetable feijoada.
Banana peppers, also known as yellow wax peppers or banana chillis, are medium sized – 2”-3” (5-8cm), bright yellow, changing to green, red, or orange as they ripen.
They’re not particularly spicy, rated at about 500 Scoville Heat Units, and are frequently pickled, grilled, stuffed or used raw.
Poblano peppers are a green pepper that’s more pointed and slimmer than a bell pepper. They’re often mistaken for jalapeños, as they both look very similar, but poblano’s aren’t as spicy. When dried, Poblano peppers are called ancho peppers.
They average 1,500 Scoville Heat Units (compared to 2,500 and upwards for jalapeños).
Poblano peppers are usually cooked, which makes them easier to peel and deseed. Popular uses of Poblano peppers include mole sauce, chiles en nogada and chiles Rellenos.
Padrón peppers are a small green pepper grown in northwestern Spain. They rate between 500 and 2500 SHUs. However, rather than all having the same amount of heat, they very significantly. You can be eating a number of Padrón peppers without having experienced any significant heat, only to find that the next one is hot.
The most common way of preparing them is simply by frying in some olive oil until the skin starts to blister.
Cherry Peppers are small round peppers that look like cherry tomatoes. With a rating of 2,500 – 5,000 Scoville Heat Units, these are a little spicier than Poblano Peppers.
Cherry peppers are known for their sweetness and are also great for adding to pasta recipes, salad dressings, and even jellies.
Jalapeños are the most commonly available hot pepper. They score between 2,500 – 8,000 Scoville Heat Units, so much lower than the ultra spicy peppers available today, but this is an easily tolerated level of heat for most people.
A thinner pepper, they’re normally 2” – 3.5” long (but may reach 6”). Normally green, they can sometimes mature to red. Red jalapeños have the same spicy flavour but with a touch of sweetness.
Jalapeño peppers are often used as toppings for tortilla chips, mixed with cheese sauces or sour cream. They’re also popular for hot sauce.
You might best know cayenne pepper as a powder in your spice cupboard, but it’s a slim, red pepper between 4” and 10” (10-25 cm) long. It’s a hotter pepper, between 30,000 – 50,000 Scoville Heat Units.
The Cayenne pepper is one of the most popular peppers used today, especially found in many Mexican dishes. Cayenne peppers are also used to put a spicy punch in Nashville’s hot chicken.
The Scotch Bonnet, or Bonney pepper, is the most used pepper in the Caribbean. Scotch Bonnets have red, yellow, or green skin and supposedly look like a Scotsman’s bonnet, hence the name.
These peppers are often grown in Jamaica and are used in Caribbean pepper sauce, a marinade for meats, poultry, and fish. The Scotch Bonnet has a rating of 100,00 – 300,000 Scoville Heat Units; it’s definitely a fiery little thing, to be treated with care!
Habanero – a short (¾” – 2” / 2 – 6cm), wide pepper, normally red or orange with a thin, waxy flesh, is named after Havana. Cuba (La Habana in Spanish) and originates in the Amazon.
They are a staple of the food of Yucatetan, Mexico, served whole, or as a puree or salsa. Scoring between 100,000 to 350,000 SHUs, they are as hot as Scotch Bonnets.
Ghost peppers, or the ghost chilli, are a hybrid pepper – a cross between two species – and are one of the world’s hottest peppers. Also known as the Bhut Jolokia, which translates to Ghost Pepper, this rates at least 1 million Scoville Heat Units.
Ghost Peppers are usually 2.5 – 3 inches long and have thin skin. This variety of pepper hails from Northern India , and are used in curries and chutneys. Ghost peppers are also used as one of the peppers of choice in chilli-eating contests.
The Carolina Reaper held the record of the hottest pepper in the world; coming in at least 2 million Scoville Heat Units, this pepper packs a serious punch. For comparison, pure capsaicin measured 16 million, but pepper spray is 5 million It measures about 2 – 3 inches long and is rather stout but with a short pointed tail at its base.
Like the ghost pepper, the Carolina Reaper can used in chili stews and chutneys and again is found at chilli-eating contests.