Chef Kelly Unger
I’ve got peppers on the brain because, not only are they in season - they love this heat - but I am teaching some cooking classes this fall that feature peppers - a class on French Basque Country and also a class on the Andalucia region of Spain. Peppers are in the Nightshade botanical family, the same as tomatoes, ground cherries, tomatillos, eggplants and potatoes.
So what is the difference between a pepper and a chili? Heat, in a word. Peppers lack the heat and are generally referred to culinarily as “sweet” which doesn’t really indicate the presence of significant sugar per se but rather the lack of heat. Chilis contain the heat. And the heat of chilis is measured in Scoville Units on the Scoville Scale - named after “Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacologist, invented the Scoville scale in 1912 to measure the pungency of peppers and chillies, generally related to their capsaicin content. To establish a chili pepper’s rating, Scoville would prepare it in a solution, which was then tested by five people. He increased its dilution until the sensation of heat disappeared. The score on the scale represents the level of dilution required for the sensation of heat to disappear completely.” alimentarium.org
So to give you an idea of the scale - a bell pepper is a 0, sweet paprika peppers are the second lowest, Tabasco sauce is a few up from that and then jalapenos are the next hottest, Bird’s Eye Chilis and Habanero are in the middle of the scale and at the top of the chart, the top 5 in rising order, 5th hottest is Trinidad Scorpion, then Carolina Reaper, third hottest is pepper spray, 2nd is straight capsaicin, and the top of the scale is resiniferatoxin - which is a molecule found in resin spurge of a plant from Morocco.
Speaking of hot peppers, The Doylestown Farmers Market is having their first Hot Pepper Eating Challenge this coming Saturday, September 3rd. All you have to do is go to their green market tent to participate. They’ll give you 5 peppers to eat within a 15 minute time limit, the peppers will range in heat as you go, and if you eat all 5 peppers, you win either your choice of a market t-shirt or a market tote bag - and bragging rights of course. You can bring your own milk or other beverage to quench the fire and get through it! The Doylestown Farmers Market is located at 2-50 South Hamilton Street in the heart of Doylestown Boro. The market is open from 8am to 1pm and the Hot Pepper Eating Challenge is from 9am to 12pm.
Another fun-for-me pepper to talk about is the Espelette pepper from the French side of Basque Country. This pepper is the center of their cuisine and there is an annual festival in its honor at the end of harvest. The peppers are strung together into a garland and draped over doors and across the fronts of houses to dry, and then its ground into powder. The pepper is an elongated red and is used in the curing of another French Basque specialty, the Bayonne ham. This pepper has French AOC designation, and a French Brotherhood devoted to its protection and legacy.
I have a book - of course I do - devoted to peppers and peppers alone, called An Anarchy of Chilies by Caz Hildebrand. And it has a page devoted to each type of chili. You know I love a good vegetable name so I thought I’d share some chili pepper names with you - Bulgarian Carrot, Beaver Dam, Spaghetti - a British variety that is - you guessed it - long and thin like the noodle, but not too hot, there’s also Rooster Spur, Goat Horn, Peruvian white lightning - which yes is white - and Pink Tiger also known as the Ghost Pepper, Chocolate 7 Pot, which is 1.8 million Scoville Units, the Carolina Reaper has 2.2 million Scoville Units and was 10 years in the making, appearing in 2011 and those who are able to actually taste anything after surviving the heat of that pepper say it has a sweet, fruity taste with a hint of chocolate and cinnamon. Sure it does. Well, we’ll just have to take their word for it.
For those of us who want to just stick with the gorgeous peppers we see at the markets now, I’m sharing the links for some recipes:
Epicurious 14 Ways to take Bell Peppers Beyond the Basics
With recipes like:
Grilled Bread Salad with Sweet Peppers and Onions
Bell Peppers stuffed with Shrimp and Coconut Rice
And Bell Pepper and Goat Cheese Strata
Bon Appetit 33 Bell Pepper and Hot Pepper Recipes from Mild to Super Spicy
With recipes like
Bob Armstrong Chili Con Queso
Grilled Chicken Wings with Shishito Peppers and Herbs
Red Pepper Falafel
And Corn Jalepeno Fritters