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.