Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Speaking of Chilies

Today's blog on chili peppers will probably have you craving some Tex-Mex food for supper. I accept full responsibility. In fact, on Friday I'll give you my favorite recipe for frybread for Navajo Tacos.

The chili pepper probably originated in the New World, and there is evidence that it was cultivated as far back as 6,000 years ago in Ecuador. Regardless of the origin, it spread rapidly throughout South and Central America, and whether humans harvested the seeds for sowing or birds did the deed, chilies were here to stay.

Birds are actually immune to the heat of hot chilies, and the seeds pass through their digestive system unharmed, I'm told. In fact, it's only mammals who experience the heat, and that's why you can lace your bird feeder with hot pepper seeds and discourage squirrels without bothering your feathered friends. But I digress.

Some Like It Hot

Peppers are members of the nightshade family of plants. This extended family includes tomatoes as well as potatoes, along with several other familiar greenies. So, you ask. "What makes a pepper hot?"

The answer is capsaicin - or to be precise, a group of chemicals called capsaicinoids. You know that some peppers are mild and sweet (Bells) and others have a mild bite (Anaheims). The heat of peppers has been measured on a scale developed back in 1912 by a man named Scoville. Peppers are ranked by Scoville Units.

Bell peppers rank 0 on the Scoville scale, while a pepper called "Naga Jolokia" has the dubious distinction of being the world's hottest pepper, with a Scoville ranking of over 1,000,000 Scoville Heat Units.


If your mouth is on fire, DO NOT drink water. Water just sloshes the capsaicin around your mouth. Eat a slice of bread, drink some milk, drink tomato juice, or eat a lemon. Yes. Lemon. Lemons are acid, while capsaicin is alkaline. They cancel each other out.

A Last Word on Seeds

The seeds aren't the hottest part of the pepper. That honor is reserved for the whitish membranes inside the pepper and since the seeds are closest to that membrane, they reap the benefits.

More on Friday, along with some spiffy recipes.


  1. Gee, Karen, where DO you come up with this information. Amazing. How about chilies being 6000 years old. Man that is a long, long, time. Or birds “immunity.” That’s esoteric stuff that takes some hard digging to find. I’m impressed.

    Having just moved to New Mexico, we’re learning about Southwesty cooking every day, and enjoying it more and more. I saw you were in Phoenix the other day…that place is just an oven. “Dry heat” is true, and helpful…but only up to a point. Try sticking your head in a 120 degree oven and see how long that dry heat is pleasant.

    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  2. Thinking more along the lines of a blast furnace at a smelting plant. Guess it's all for the best that we all don't want to live in the same places. The world's crowded enough as it is.

  3. Am making verde sauce with chilies and tomatillos from our own garden today! Will definitely drop by on Friday for the recipes.

    Dani (who hopped straight over from FB;)

  4. Hi hopping Dani! Love verde sauce! Love it especially over chicken enchiladas, which gives me an idea for dinner tonight.

  5. I thought that birds experienced the same heat and burning that we did! Interesting. Thanks for the post. I'll look forward to the recipes!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  6. Thanks Elizabeth. I enjoy your blog mucho gusto.

  7. I didn't know any of these things except the part where peppers can burn your lips off. Interesting stuff, Karen.

  8. I think of the Simpsons episode where Homer ate Guatemalan Insanity Peppers at a chili eating contest and go on a mysterious voyage, which features surreal animation to depict the elaborate hallucination. Gotta have a sense of humor in this life.

    Stephen Tremp

  9. Red hot peppers will do that for you. or to you.


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~ I'm the author of Headwind: The Intrepid Adventures of OSS Agent Katrin Nissen. If you're a WWII buff, you'll like it here!