TODAY'S MAIN INGREDIENT - PODCAST
Peppers – Sweet and HotAugust 21, 2021
Today’s Main Ingredient is peppers!
Our host Mikki Uzupes talks with long-time farmer Roger Hill from Treeline Farm near Bethany PA, and Allaina Propst, owner of Here and Now Brewing Company on Main Street in Honesdale. Nutritionist Carol Kneier discusses the health benefit of peppers.
Sweet peppers include: bell peppers (with many varied colors), mini sweet peppers, banana peppers, cherry peppers, and sweet Italian peppers named for their developer Jimmy Nardello. Pretty much all the rest are chili peppers and have some degree of heat.
Hot peppers, also sometimes referred to as being pungent, range from the barely hot (Poblano) to super-hot (Carolina Reaper and Trinidad Scorpion).
An organic compound called capsaicin, which is found in chilies’ ribs, flesh, ribs, and seeds is what makes peppers hot. Chili plants may have developed capsaicin as a defense mechanism to deter pests. Capsaicin and capsaicin-related capsaicinoids produce a chemical irritation in mammals—including humans.
Measuring the Hotness of Peppers
The hotness of peppers is measured on a scale invented by an American pharmacist, Wilbur Scoville, in 1912. The Scoville Scale, recorded in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), ranges from zero for a bell pepper to more than 2 million Scoville Heat Units for the Carolina Reaper. See: Hot Chile Peppers on the Scoville Scale | thespruceeats.com
Wilbur Scoville measured and assigned heat units to each type of chili pepper. He made a mixture of ground pepper and sugar water for each type of chili pepper. This mixture is tasted by members of a taste testing panel. Scoville further diluted the mixture with additional sugar water until the individuals could no longer feel a burning sensation on their tongues. The number of required dilutions was used to calculate the heat range for each type of pepper. Today, researchers use High Performance Liquid Chromatography, and the capsaicin from peppers is used instead of ground chili peppers.
Although the testing procedure has changed, Scoville’s scale has remained the same and is still in use. There’s an extensive list of hot peppers with their SHU rankings at The Hot Pepper List: Know Your Spice – 130+ Chilies! | PepperScale.com
Sweet bell peppers are a tender, warm-season crop and a relative of the tomato (nightshade family).
Fact: The green and red bell peppers commonly seen in markets are actually the very same pepper; bell peppers change colar from green to red when they are allowed to ripen or mature on the plant longer. Because of this red peppers have higher vitamin C content and are sweeter than their green counterparts.
• Bell peppers typically take from 60 to 90 days to grow, so in our area usually need to be started indoors if grown from seed. Start seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost date; in seed trays, keep soil temperature at least 70°F. When plants are big enough, transfer to indoor pots. Plant young plants or nursery transplants outdoors 2 to 3 weeks after the threat of frost has passed.
• Choose a site with full sun that won’t get shaded out by trees or other garden plants.
• Soil should be somewhere between sandy and loamy, well-draining and rich in organic matter. Its pH should be on the slightly acidic side—6.0 to 7.0.
• Avoid planting in locations that get too wet; peppers don’t like to have “wet feet.” Also avoid planting peppers in places where you’ve recently grown other members of the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants) as this can expose peppers to disease.
• Be sure to “harden off” young plants before planting outdoors, as peppers are very sensitive to cool temperatures. Hardening off is the process of gradually acclimatizing indoor-sown plants to outdoor conditions. Start about 10 days before transplanting outdoors, which should be done 2 to 3 weeks after the threat of frost has passed in the spring.
• Wait until nighttime temperatures reach at least 60°F (warmer is better) to transplant seedlings outdoors. Speed up the warming of the soil by covering it with black plastic or a dark mulch about a week before you intend to plant.
• Plant the transplants spacing them 18 to 24 inches apart and no deeper than they were already planted in their pots; otherwise, the stems may become more susceptible to rot.
• Maintain adequate moisture either with mulch or plastic covering.
• Water one to two inches per square foot per week. Peppers are susceptible to blossom-end rot if watering is not adequate. If the summer is hot and dry summer, watering everyday may be necessary.
• Fertilize with a low-nitrogen fertilizer after the first fruit set, but beware: too much nitrogen can cause the plant to produce foliage instead of flowers and fruit.
• Weed carefully around plants to avoid disturbing roots.
• If necessary, support plants with cages or stakes to prevent bending.
• Harvest as soon as peppers reach the desired size or color.
• The longer bell peppers stay on the plant, the sweeter they become and the greater their vitamin C content.
• Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut peppers clean off the plant.
With one major exception, hot peppers are grown in the same way as sweet peppers in similar soil with the same watering requirements. Unlike sweet peppers that can take anywhere from 60 to 90 days to mature, hot peppers can take as long 150 days produce fruit, and it will take even longer if you are growing from seed. This is because hot peppers are tropical natives; so don’t plant yours outside until all danger of frost has passed and the night temperatures are above 60 degrees.
• Plant them in your sunniest location or grow them in containers placed in full sun. If you’re so inclined, plan to grow a few in containers so you can bring them in at the end of the season and have hot peppers into the winter.
• Hot peppers do like heat, however, when it gets to be over 90° to 100°F, they can drop their blossoms. Hot peppers grow best when days are between 65° and 85°F and nights are 60° to 70°F. Fruit doesn’t set when the temperatures are below 55° or over 95°F. Flowers can also drop when nights are over 75°.
• In extremely hot sun, peppers can get sunscald, and the fruit won’t fully develop or may get tannish spots (similar to sunburn on humans). It’s best to protect the fruit with a sun shade or move the peppers if they are in containers.
• Uneven watering can cause problems such as blossom end rot.
• Tall pepper plants need support.
Health Benefits of Hot Peppers
Health benefits of chili peppers come from the chemical compound Capsaicin. Capsaicin is found in the ribs, flesh, and seeds of the pepper. The lower rating on the Scoville heat scale that a pepper has the less Capsaicin it contains. There are many studies that have been performed on chili peppers, and there are studies underway to determine exactly how the chili peppers impact health.
NOTE: Individuals should always check with their family doctor before treating themselves with any natural substance. Those on prescription medications should be aware that there are many naturally occurring substances that may react with the medicines that their physician has prescribed.
Some of the possible ways that the peppers have been used historically are as follows:
• Lower triglycerides and cholesterol.
• Relief of rheumatism and arthritis.
• Relief of stomach upset, gas, and cramps.
• Perspiration accelerant.
• Good source of Vitamin B and C.
• Boosts metabolism.
• Increase circulation.
• Relieve inflammation.
• Lessen congestion, nasal and chest.
• Weight loss promotion.
• Relieve headaches.
• Relief for tooth aches and sore throats.
• Promote digestion.
Storage and Seeding
Fresh peppers should be shiny and unwrinkled. Store unwashed, refrigerated in plastic bags for up to 10 days after harvesting. When ready to use, wash under cold running water.
There are two ways to core and seed peppers. Removing the ribs and seeds from hot peppers will also lessen some of the heat:
1. cut off the top, shake out any loose seeds, and then using a spoon, scrape out the white ribs and seeds.
2. If using in pieces, cut in half or in quarters and remove the ribs and seeds with a small, sharp knife.
Sweet peppers can be eaten raw: on a crudité platter with any kind of dip and in all kinds of salads (not only green salads, but also pasta salads, grain salads, in slaw, or any salad that needs a pop of color—red, green, yellow, or orange).
Sweet peppers can be grilled, broiled, sautéed, stir fried, stuffed and baked, pickled, and pureed in sauces.
How to roast peppers: Leave peppers whole, including the stem. Rinse and drain well.
Four common options:
1. Under the broiler: Preheat the broiler with the rack on its highest setting. Broil, turning with a pair of long tongs until blackened on all sides.
2. Over an open flame: Using long tongs, hold the pepper over a gas burner on the stovetop with the flame on medium-high heat, rotating the peppers until all sides are charred.
3. In the oven: In a 500°F oven, roast 15 minutes, then turn using long tongs and roast another 15 minutes, turning until all sides are blackened. Oven-roasted peppers will not char as much as broiled or those fire-roasted over an open flame.
4. Outdoors on a gas or charcoal grill: Cut peppers into quarters and remove ribs and seeds. Toss in a bowl with vegetable oil, salt & pepper, then them stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour before grilling. Start them skin side down and grill until charred in spots or completely blackened, 5 to 8 minutes. Turn and cook to desired doneness, 1 to 4 minutes.
With all four of these methods, once the skin has been charred, transfer the peppers to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or put in a closed paper bag, to let the peppers sweat; this will loosen the skins for easier peeling. When cool enough to handle, pull out the stem and core, and drain any accumulated liquid (the liquid may remain hot for a while even after the peppers have cooled). Peel or scrape off the charred skin; a few specks of black won’t matter.
For ideas about what to do with roasted peppers, see Top 20 Uses for Roasted Peppers | The Food Network.
Caution: Special Handling Required
• Avoid direct contact with chili peppers as much as possible. Chili peppers, like jalapeños, habaneros, poblanos, and serranoes, have volatile oils that can burn your skin and eyes. When working with fresh chilies, wear disposable plastic gloves, or cover your hands with small plastic bags.
• If your bare hands do touch the peppers, wash your hands and nails well with soap and warm water (and don’t touch your eyes or face until the tingling passes). Depending on how strong the chili pepper is, the oils can create a painful tingling sensation that can last for hours and can’t be washed off. If you get some of the oils in your eyes, flush them with cool water.
• Oils from chilies can also transfer to knives and cutting surfaces, so wash tools and surfaces with warm, soapy water after use to prevent the oils from transferring to other foods.
• To stop hot pepper burn: Mix up a solution of baking soda and water and submerge your hands into the paste. Once the paste has dried, wash it off and then repeat until the burning completely subsides.
Some popular chili peppers include: jalapenos (mild to hot: 2,500 to 10,000 SHUs), serranoes (hot: 10,000 to 25,000 SHUs), Bird’s Eye, (very hot: 50,000 to 100,000 SHUs), habaneros (extremely hot:100,000 to 350,000 SHUs).
Storing and Preserving
• Freezing: Wash hot peppers by gently rubbing them under cold running water and then remove their stems. To freeze chilies whole, spread them out on a baking tray so they are not touching and put in the freezer. Once frozen, package in a plastic bag, leaving no headspace and then seal and store in the freezer.
• Brining: Boil water and vinegar (white vinegar or cider vinegar works well) using a one-to-one ratio. Flavor the brine with sea salt and sugar to balance the flavor; boil for 2 minutes. Pour over the peppers, cover and keep refrigerated for up to a month. Source: eatingwell.com
• Drying: For 3 different ways to dry hot peppers, see WikiHow: 3 Ways to Dry Peppers
• Pickling: If you know how to can with a water bath, see https://cookfasteatwell.com/pickled-jalapeno-recipe/.
• Canning: You may can peppers either pickled or plain. Pickled peppers can be water-bathed or steam-canned. However, unpickled plain peppers must be pressure canned. Warning: For food safety reasons, whether canning sweet or hot peppers, it is extremely important to follow canning instructions exactly. See https://www.healthycanning.com/canning-plain-peppers/
1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
2 to 3 sweet red bell peppers
4 to 6 plum tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves
Sea salt or kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
Step 1 – Roast the sweet red peppers following one of the 4 methods described above in “How to Roast a Pepper”. Reserve the liquid from the bottom of the resting bowl.
Step 2 – Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Roast them in a 275-degree oven skin side down on a baking sheet, drizzled with olive oil, and optionally sprinkled with a little minced garlic, a scant teaspoon sugar, and a chopped fresh herb of your choice. Roast for about 2 hours until the tomatoes shrivel but are still moist.
Step 3 – On a large platter, arrange the tomatoes and peppers side by side overlapping in an attractive manner. Spoon some of the pepper and tomato roasting juices over the arranged peppers and tomatoes. Tuck the basil leaves in among the peppers and tomatoes. In the center of the platter, arrange the sliced mozzarella in an attractive manner. Drizzle the olive oil over the cheese and the tomatoes and peppers. Drizzle just a little of the balsamic over the tomato mixture. Sprinkle the dish with some salt & cracked black pepper and serve!
Adapted from https://www.italianfoodforever.com/
Fresh whole jalapeños
Your favorite cheeses, such as Parmesan, plus cream cheese
Seasoned bread crumbs
Garlic, minced (optional)
Step 1 – Wash peppers. Cut off stem. Cut in half, lengthwise if stuffing; or for making poppers with whole peppers, cut a slit along one side of each pepper.
Step 2 – Wearing disposable plastic gloves, remove the seeds, then rinse and dry peppers.
STEP 3 – Grate the hard cheese, if using it, and mix with cream cheese, minced garlic, and some bread crumbs. Stuff the peppers with this mixture.
STEP 4 – Bake in a 370° oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the peppers are done.
Optional: Wrap stuffed peppers in store-bought crescent-roll dough and bake in a 350° oven until the dough and peppers are done. (Note: If the dough is getting too brown, lay a piece of foil loosely over the peppers until they are done.)
Alternatively [from Cookinglight.com]: Wrap stuffed peppers with bacon and secure with soaked toothpicks and grill uncovered, turning frequently, over medium heat until tender and bacon is crisp, about 15 minutes.
1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped (about 1 cup)
6 fresh jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine
6 1/2 cups sugar, measured into a separate bowl
1 pouch liquid fruit pectin
Step 1 – Bring boiling-water canner, half-full with water, to a simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water and then sterilize the jars in the simmering water. Set aside to drain upside down.
Step 2 – Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use.
Step 3 – Place peppers in an 8-quart pot. Add vinegar and butter. Stir in sugar. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.
Step 4 – Stir in pectin. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
Step 5 – Ladle immediately into prepared warm jars, filling to within 1/4-inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with sterile lids. Screw on bands finger-tight.
Step 6 – Place jars on an elevated rack in the bottom of the canner. Lower the jars without tipping them. Water must cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add more boiling water if necessary. Cover the canner, bring water to a gentle boil. Process 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit uncovered for 5 minutes.
Step 7 – Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely (8 hours or more). After the jars cool, check seals by pressing the middles of the lids with your finger. If a lid springs back, it is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.
For more ideas about what to do with hot peppers, see:
• Taste of Home’s 27 hot pepper recipes
• 55 recipes for jalapeños from Bon Appetit Magazine
Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:
Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.
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