2016-08-25 / From The Garden

Some Like It Hot! Hot! Hot!

By Cynthia Gibson

The Scotch bonnet and the habanero peppers rate about the same for overall heat of 100,000- 350,000 on the Scoville scale. The Scotch bonnet and the habanero peppers rate about the same for overall heat of 100,000- 350,000 on the Scoville scale. Have you noticed the bottles of hot sauces making their way onto restaurant tables? Not old fashioned Tabasco, but varieties of Sriracha sauce. Hot sauce is being added to almost everything, including chocolates.

The story of Sriracha sauce begins with David Tran, a native of Vietnam. According to The Atlantic, “Tran started out selling his sauce out of buckets to restaurants in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1980. Nearly 35 years after establishing Huy Fong, the clear bottle with the green top is the centerpiece of a $60 million company, selling as many as 20 million bottles in 2012. Tran’s Sriracha is now produced in a 650,000-square-foot factory about 30 minutes east of Los Angeles. In 2009, it was named ‘Ingredient of the Year’ by Bon Appétit.” Now that is an endorsement for all things spicy!

Growing pepperoncini peppers has been a mainstay in Italian vegetable gardens, and growing up I thought those were really hot peppers. Pepperoncini also garnish a typical Greek salad.

Next we were introduced to the jalapeno, courtesy of fantastic Mexican restaurants and cuisine.

The hot sauce and hot pepper industry has been one-upping itself, seemingly on a daily basis. Even as you quickly stick your tongue on the tip of a Scotch bonnet pepper with a half-gallon of milk at the ready to soothe the burning pain, there is a new hotter pepper that has been created or discovered.

America is on a hot sauce binge, and gardeners are now growing peppers in their home gardens. There is a reason for this. Children seem to love taste extremes – sour, sweet, and now “hot.” The current generation of children loves spicy food, as do the millennials. Their taste buds are wonderfully adventuresome. Most people quiver at the thought of an Indian vindaloo.

Varieties of chili peppers are finding their way into salads, sauces, breads, and right into desserts. If you like a little bit of spice but not too much, there is a scale of peppers you can follow. Hot peppers have their own rating chart, known as the Scoville scale, which, according to its website, “measures the piquancy or ‘heat’ of a chile pepper (sometimes spelled chili with an ‘i’). The number of Scoville heat units (SHUs) indicates the amount of capsaicin, which is what causes the burning heat-sensation in the hot chile pepper.”

Capsaicin is the compound found in the seeds and membranes inside of a hot pepper. Yes, those are the hottest parts of the peppers, not the hard outside skin and pulp. Do not be fooled – the skin and pulp of hots peppers can be blisteringly hot, but the seeds and membranes are still hotter.

The top few choices of hot peppers to grow in your garden next spring are Carolina Reaper, Prima, Butch, and Pot Douglah.

There are specific rules for handling hot peppers, as capsaicin is a strong oil that can really hurt you. Wear disposable rubber gloves. Do not touch your face or eyes, and definitely wash your hands after handling the peppers. Do not let children help you with hot peppers.

OK, now that you have been given all of the warnings and names of the best peppers for the kitchen, let’s make the best spicy salsa using a moderately hot pepper.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

Mexican Salsa

(from mild to hot)

Makes two cups
5 or 6 plum or Italian tomatoes,
fresh and diced
3-5 serrano chilies; less for
mild, more for a hotter taste
1/2 cup cilantro, finely
1 large clove fresh garlic,
1 small white onion, finely
Juice of one squeezed lime
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and place in the refrigerator for one hour before serving. Break out the bag of corn tortilla chips, make yourself a margarita, and enjoy!

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