Jalapenos and Peppers – One of the top ten “Worlds Healthiest Foods”

A Pepper Primer

The Chili peppers are often mislabeled as chile. But the spicy veggies that we all refer to as peppers all come from the same family. – The nightshade family. – Or as those in the trade call it, the Solanaceae family. (which also includes eggplant, white potatoes, tomatoes and bell peppers.)

Botanists call them berries, while horticulturalists call them fruits. The produce industry knows them as vegetables, but when they are dried, cooks call them a spice. To people all over the world, Chilis are a food, a spice, and medicine.

The name ‘pepper’ has taken on two meanings over the years, mostly due to good ‘ol Christopher Columbus. Story has it that while mis-discovering the new world, he also mis-discovered pepper. He was looking for the pepper that most of us have on our table next to the salt shaker. Unable to find “piper negrum’ or the USA, he went back and told the Queen that his chiles were pepper and he discoveried America. And thus began all the confusion.

Those “in the know” classify those spicy veggies that we call “Chili” peppers under the botanical classification of “Capsicum Frutenscens”. The word ‘capsicum’ means that the pepper in question has a quantity of capsaicin in it. Capsaicin is the common name for the chemical component in chili’s that produce the “Hot” in peppers. Years ago, a man named Alexander Graham (?) Scoville invented a method for rating the ‘Heat of peppers’, and, of course named the rating scale after himself.

Capsaicin is an extremely powerful alkaloid (8-methyl N-vanillyl 6-nonamide). It is most commonly thought to be found in the seeds of peppers. While this is kinda correct, it’s not the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’. The “rest of the story” is that it is most plentiful in the white ribs and seed coatings. So……. If you want to make a Jalapeno less hot, simply scrape the seeds and stuff out. The same can be done with all peppers. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your Habanero is now mild though.

Although peppers have many beneficial attributes, they still deserve a bit of respect. Here is a little story of my first really bad pepper experience The first quantity I brought home to have the family prepare nearly caused an end to this pursuit, – as well as other things!!! Some peppers give off fumes similar to onions. But, the fumes, while a bit bothersome – are just the beginning … The next problem will be the sensitive skin issue. Not only will your hands ‘Tingle’ a bit, but the capsaicin will “soak” into the skin. Some-how, the juices will permeate the gloves you are handling the jalapenos with. Then after you are through, you will thoroughly wash your hands. Then you will call grandmom and ask for something to take the tingling away (suggestions include: milk, butter, lime or lemon juice, all seem to have their place. Beer only makes you think you feel better). After you have applied all of the suggested linaments and you think all is well, you rub your eyes. BIG Mistake! An even bigger mistake is rubbing both eyes while driving. Please don’t try this alone. You have now been busy for a while, – and now it is time to take care of the basic necessities. Careful where you touch. Those really sensitive areas can be just that, – Maybe the term “Hot Lover” arose from a fling with a pepper peparer.

For more on peppers and their benefits see the “Heat Helps the Heart” article.