When talking about food with bold flavors the cuisines of Africa, India, and Latin America really stand out. From their curries to their salsas, and harissa, if there is one ingredient that we can really point to that really put their food on the world map it is the humble chili pepper. Small in size but packing a punch that could knock out a giant, chili peppersare now widely available in almost every supermarket in every corner in America.
Chili peppers or hot peppers belong to the nightshade family of plants which include the eggplant, tomato, and surprisingly, the potato. Originating from South and Central America where it was one of the first plants to be cultivated and was introduced to Europe after the voyages of Columbus in the late 15th century although they may have migrated to Asia and Africa even earlier than that.
Originally used for decorative purposes, their use as a culinary ingredient is now ubiquitous. There are about 10 different species of hot pepper of which C apsicum annuum and Capsicum frutescens are the ones used in cooking the most, both known for their sharp and fiery favor.
Chili peppers are smaller and more pointed in shape than sweet peppers. They grow abundantly in tropical countries like Mexico, India, etc. They can vary in color from green to yellow to red and their heat levels can go from lukewarm to so hot that just cutting them may cause one's eyes to water. Some well-known varieties are bird peppers, Jalapeno (the dried variety are called chipotle), habanero, Scotch bonnet (widely used in Caribbean cooking), and serrano.
The heat from chili peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicin, which is more concentrated in the internal while membranes that the seeds stick to. Capsaicin is not a water-soluble molecule which is why drinking water seldom does anything to reduce the heat. Rather since its an oil-soluble molecule, a little yogurt is a better option to fight the heat. The heat of chili peppers is measured in Scoville units, with Jalapenos measuring on average about 1500-3000 units. The current hottest pepper in the world is the Carolina reaper measuring at about 2.2 million Scoville units. Habanero peppers tend to top out at 500,000 units.
Chili peppers can be used fresh, or dried and are even ground into powders or made into saucy condiments.
Choose fresh or dried peppers that are brightly colored, shiny, and free of blemishes and bruises. Ground peppers should be evenly colored and have a pleasant aroma.
Hot peppers should be stored in the fridge unwashed in a paper bag in the vegetable crisper compartment. They will keep about a week. Hot peppers also freeze well. Ground peppers should be kept in an airtight container away from sunlight, but they will tend to lose their aroma and flavor over time. Hot peppers can also be picked and stored.
Popular Uses for Chile Peppers
Cayenne Pepper is a ground form of hot dried red peppers that is used as a spice. It may contain one or several varieties of chiles. cayenne pepper powder (also just called red chili powder) is very popular in Latin America and India and is used in the making of Tabasco, chili sauce, and curry powder.
Paprika is a powder made with dried sweet red peppers but may also come in hot varieties. Paprika is very popular in Hungarian cooking which is where the term actually comes from. The color and flavor of paprika vary depending on the type of peppers used and on whether just the flesh is used or whether the stem, core, and seeds are also added. The more seeds are used, the sharper the paprika.
Harissa is a hot pepper-based condiment that is very popular in the Middle East and North Africa, especially Tunisia where its the national condiment. Harissa is a puree of small red chili peppers and cayenne mixed together with oil, garlic, coriander mint, and a variety of other spices.
Chili powder is a blend of various spices and ground hot red peppers. It may contain black pepper, cumin, oregano, garlic, etc. The heat and sharpness of the peppers used would determine the potency of the chili powder.
100g of fresh chili pepper contains about 88g of water, 2g of protein, 0.2g of fat, 9.6 g of carbohydrate, 1.8g of fiber, and provides about 40 calories.
Chili peppers have higher Vitamin C (Red chilis have higher amounts of Vitamin A and C than green chilis) content than oranges although because they are often used in minute quantities and in a cooked form this does not readily translate to useful consumable amounts.
When preparing chili peppers for use it is vital that one not touch their face, especially their eyes and lips as it is very easy to feel the burn from just a touch. One must be sure to wash their hands, the knife, and the cutting board with soap and hot water to ensure that one removes all traces of the capsaicin. To moderate the sharpness and heat of the chilis, avoid consuming the seeds and inner white membranes.
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A chipotle Morita chili is a dried ripe chili pepper used for seasoning. It is a chili which is used in Mexico and southwestern in many dishes. Morita chili names come from the word chipotle which means smoked chili. A chipotle Morita chili heat is similar to another chili-like, Tabasco Hungarian wax guajillo.