Chile Peppers are an integral part of some of the most interesting and most delicious dishes in the world.
From the salsas of Latin America and the jerk meats of the Carribean to the piri piri of Africa and the curries of India, chiles bring heat and flavor to the world’s foods.
But they are not only incredibly versitile and tasty, they are also quite interesting.
Chile Facts to Spice Up Your Next Dinner Conversation
- #1 – First off it’s Chile with an “e.” Chili is the South Western Cowboy stew with beef and beans that they ruin in Cincinnati. The best chili usually includes some chiles.
- #2 – Chiles are native to the New World. Despite being an important part of the cuisine in Africa, Indian and Southeast Asia, they we completely unknown in these parts until the sixteenth century. How fast they caught on and completely dominate the foods of these areas shows just how wonderful these little flavor packs are.
- #3 – Today India is the world’s largest producer of chiles. Reread #2.
- #4 – The Chile pod is a fruit.
- #5 – The substance that makes many chiles burn your tongue is called capsaicin. The heat level is measured by a scale using something called Scoville Units. It’s a little too complicated to explain exactly how it is determined in this short article but here are a few chiles and there Scoville units to give you some idea of the range of heat you may encounter:
- Peperoncini (the yellow-green peppers found on Greek salads and in Papa John’s Pizza Boxes) – about 200 Scoville Units
- Jalapenoes (the slices on nachoes you get at the ball game) – 1,000 to 5,000 Scoville Units
- Thai (found in some Chinese dishes — you’ll know when you get one) – 100,000 Scoville Units
- Red Savino (the world’s hottest pepper) – an unbelievable 500,000 Scoville Units!
Did you catch that? A Red Savino is about 100 to 500 times hotter than a Jalapeno!
- #6 – The are no poisonous peppers. None. Though a Thai or Red Savino may make you wish for death.
By the way, dairy products (milk, yogurt) are good for helping to cool the heat. Water will not help much and alcohol will actually make it worse. The only real cure is time. It will eventually go away.
- #7 – Chiles are called “peppers” thanks to a combination of wishful thinking and false advertising.
Early explorers typically were not looking for glory or new lands to conquer — they were looking for ways to get spices, in particular “black pepper”, to Europe more quickly and cheaply. Spices built the early fortunes of many cities and even countries along the spice route.
It was this desire, a faster route to the pepper fields of India, that led ol’ Chris Columbus to set out sailing west to get east — where he ran smack into the New World (a fact that he went to his grave never realizing, by the way.) He and the explorers that followed never found the pepper they were looking for (which grows only in India), but they did find chiles. Dried and ground up these became “Jamaican Pepper” in Europe and the name stuck and eventually came to mean not only the powder but also the fresh pod and the plant itself.