The Myth of Chilies and Peppers
In my younger years I put red hot chili peppers and peppers in the same category of just being hot! Becoming vegan, I learned to use them sparingly to enhance a dish with the flavor they offer.
There are several questions about the difference between chilies and peppers. Everyone has an opinion and they express it whether it is correct or not. It is time to write a clear and concise article on the difference between the two. The answer is simple if you stick with the facts.
“Just the facts, ma’am” – Sgt. Joe Friday
Maybe you came from a more enlightened family than me but I spent most of my life thinking jalapenos were peppers instead of chilies. Actually they are chili peppers, which relieves my guilt of the cloud of ignorance I lived under for so long. The moment when I think I have it now and can easily distinguish what is a pepper and what is a chili pepper, I learn that the bell pepper is from the member genus “Capsicum’ too??? Obviously not all chili peppers are hot so that is not an overall characteristic to determine if it is a chili pepper or pepper.
The confusion of mislabeling chili peppers for peppers began a long time ago when Christopher Columbus mistakenly called the chilies he found in America peppers. He associated the taste of the chilies to the peppers he was use to eating in Europe and thus labeled them incorrectly. The tradition continues today as we have blurred the line between the two in such a way by making them interchangeable.
Experts say, chili peppers are judged by their pungency. Laymen, such as myself, would judge the chili pepper’s heat by if their lips were still on their face after eating one.
1. Ways to determine if a chili pepper will be too hot for your comfort zone before eating it.
Wilbur Scoville, was a medical scientist specializing in testing medicine. He invented the Scoville Scale in 1912. Test subjects were given small portions of chili. Water was added to the samples that followed until the test subjects could no longer determine the heat from the chili sample. Wilber then assigned each sample a Scoville Heat Unit. There is no record if those test subjects ever volunteered for Wilber Scoville again.
2. Today the heat of a chili pepper may be determined through high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). This test recognizes the concentration levels of the liquid from the chili pepper and determines the compounds or capsaicinoids responsible for the pungency of the pepper. It is then translated to the SHU value (Scoville Heat Unit)
A quick way to determine the heat of a chili is by the Capsicum Species. Capsicum Chinese are chili pepper that are the highest on the SHU scale. These species are recorded at a 10+ SHU scale with the Carolina Reaper (HP22B, Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper) being the hottest chili pepper in the world.
Think black pepper, white pepper or pepper corns and you are on your way to understanding the true pepper. Pepper corn is actually the fruit of the Piper nigrum which we call black pepper. The pepper corn is dried and used as a spice and seasoning. It is acceptable to also consider pepper as a spice or condiment.
Chili peppers and peppers are different and so are their histories.
Which One Has Been Here Longer?
Peppers are the winners because they have been used for over 3,000 years. History pin points peppers being used in recipes from past civilizations of Egypt and Rome. They were also a popular trade commodity being put on ships to trade with other countries and at local markets. When the Silk Road was created then peppers were also a favorite item there.
Chili peppers are originally from Mexico. Their uses for medicinal and flavor for foods dates their history to 2,000 years. The use of Chili peppers makes them just as popular as pepper spice.
Once you become familiar of the flavors both offer then an understanding develops on how and when to use them.
Chilies have more of a burning and bite to them. This is because they are not from the same family, or genus, as peppers. Chilies are from the Capsicum family (genus) and it has a chemical of capsaicin and their pungency can be measured using the Scoville Scale. The higher the scoville unit the faster they can make a grown man cry, not to mention, it may be days before he knows he can use his tongue again.
Are chilie peppers off the ingredient list for recipes?
Absolutely not. I use chilies in moderation. Sriracha is an ingredient I use frequently and love the taste it brings to foods. I use it a lot in Thai recipes I recreate from restaurants I visit. Sriracha is found on grocery store shelves and is a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. Use chili peppers in moderation for new recipes you are creating or trying for the first time. When it comes to chili peppers, less is more. There are several varieties of chili peppers so be adventurous and try them. Remember the Scoville Scale and how they place in the heat factor they posses.
Peppers are more of a spice in my opinion. They add aroma and flavor to a dish. They are both ingredients for a recipe and also sprinkled on top of dish before eating it. There are lots of variations of peppers on the market and one of my favorite ones is lemon pepper.
Now that You Are Pepper Wise
It is time to learn about Cinco De Mayo and use these peppers and other spices in some recipes.
Quality Spices when the stores are out of your favorite peppers.
Cinco De May History
Tamale Jo Casserole
Pan Dulce Sweet Rolls
3 Kings Bread