The Chile Pepper Institute
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do you get the burning sensation to stop after consuming chile peppers?
A. The best way to ease the burning sensation is to drink milk, or eat yogurt or any other dairy product. A substance found in dairy products known as casein, helps to disrupt the reaction. This substance, which is a lipophilic phosphoprotein, acts like a detergent and literally strips capsaicin from its receptor binding site. If you get the oil on your skin, you may want to rub it with rubbing alcohol first, then soak in milk, this seems to alleviate the burning. If you get it in your eyes, the only thing you can do is repeatedly rinse with water or saline. Be very careful when handling hot chiles, especially pod types like habanero as there are reports of these chiles actually blistering the skin. Gloves are recommended when handling or peeling any types of hot chile.
Q. What is a Scoville Heat Unit, or HPLC test?
A. The Scoville Organoleptic Test is a refined, systematic approach. With this method, human subjects taste a chile sample and record its heat level. Samples are then diluted until heat can no longer be detected by the taster. This dilution is called the Scoville Heat Unit, named for the man who invented it, Wilbur Scoville. A more technologically advanced test is an HPLC test, or High Performance Liquid Chromatography. An HPLC "sees" the heat compounds and records the amount in parts per million (ppm). A quick conversion from HPLC to Scoville is to multiply the ppm by 15 to get the Scoville Heat Unit.
Q. Are ornamental varieties of chiles poisonous?
A. There are absolutely no varieties of peppers that are poisonous; all capsicum species are edible. Some of the ornamental varieties just don't taste very good, while others are extremely hot or pungent, which may lead to this misconception; however, there is an ornamental plant called a False Jerusalem Cherry, botanical name, Solanum Capsicastrum, which is poisonous and not intended for consumption. It is not a chile plant, only a relative.
Q. How do I know when to pick green chile, before it starts to turn red?
A. As chiles ripen, the pods become more firm. A gentle squeeze of the pod is the best method to test when to pick a chile. If the pod is firm with a slight crackling sound when you squeeze it, it should be ready.
Q. What is the best method to dry chiles?
A. It really depends on what variety you want to dry. New Mexican varieties dry well in the form of ristras, hung or laid out in the sun. Other thick walled pods of different varieties like jalapeño, are smoked to preserve them, because the thick walls hold so much more moisture and are very hard to sun dry or dry with dehydrators. Also, depending on whether they are partially dried on the plant or harvested while still succulent, moisture must be reduced to about 10-11% for proper storage. Large processors are now using dehydrators to dry pods; temperatures for dehydrators range from 140-150 F.
Q. I heard that some chile pepper plants are perennials, are they, and if so, which ones?
A. All pepper plants are perennials if the conditions are favorable (no frost or freezing temperatures). Southern California and Florida (here in the continental U.S.) are probably the only places where you can grow peppers as perennials.
Q. What does capsaicin do for the chile plant? Or in other words, why did evolution produce hot peppers?
A. We believe that chiles evolved pungency to protect the fruits from being eaten by mammals. Capsaicinoids, the compounds that cause the burning sensation, are the only alkaloid chile produces. Birds, the natural dispersal agent of chiles, can not feel the heat and thus disseminate the seeds; however, when mammals eat chiles the seeds are destroyed in the digestive tract.
Q. Where does the "heat" reside in the chile pepper? Many claim it is ALL in the seeds. I have also heard that the capsaicinoids are stored in the membranes of the chile.
A. Capsaicinoids are located on the chile membrane, or in the placental tissue, which holds the seeds. Although many people believe the seeds to be the hottest, seeds do not produce any capsaicin, but do absorb some from the placental tissues during processing.
Q. We have harvested a large amount of green chile from our small garden this year and would like to save them for the winter. Is it possible to FREEZE them?
A. Yes, after roasting and peeling you will be able to freeze them in air tight containers for up to six months.
Q. What is a "New Mexico Green Chile"?
A. Around 1888, Fabian Garcia, a horticulturist at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (NMSU today), began his first experiments on breeding a more standardized New Mexican chile. In 1896, Emilio Ortega (at the time, sheriff of Ventura County, CA), after visiting southern New Mexico, brought back chile seeds and planted them near Anaheim. They adapted well to the soil and climate, and this New Mexican chile adopted the name of Anaheim. This name has stuck with this particular pod type for many years. In 1907, Fabian Garcia was finally able to release his first standardized New Mexican pod type, after experimenting with many strains of pasilla, Colorado, and negro chiles, he released New Mexico No. 9. This was the granddaddy of all future standard New Mexico pod types, and became the standard New Mexican chile until 1950. In 1987, Anaheim became a variety under the New Mexican pod type category.
Q. I have a small chile garden and have noticed that many of the jalapeño chiles get black or dark areas on them as they near maturity. Other than these spots, the chiles seem fine. Can you explain what these are? Is there anything I can do to prevent them?
A. This purpling or blackening is due to direct sunlight, and can be avoided by producing a bushier canopy that shades the pods.
Q. What causes flower drop?
A. The four main causes of flower drop are: night temperatures exceeding 80 F, night temperatures falling below 65 F, excessive nitrogen, or lack of pollination. Changing any one of these factors, or pollinating by hand, would be the best answer to this problem.
Q. How do you preserve a large amount of harvested chiles?
A. There are a few different methods including drying, freezing, canning, and smoking. Large, thick-fleshed fruits are best canned or smoked (like jalapenos). New Mexican pod types can be dried, roasted, frozen, or canned. Habaneros are best dried, canned, or smoked. For more information on this subject, see Fiery Foods and Barbecue Business Magazine issue 21 Fall 2001, contact your local Extension Home Economist, or refer back to the Chile Pepper Institute's publication list.
Q. If a person eats many, many peppers over a lifetime, do they develop a tolerance for capsaicin?
A. There has been a correlation between eating hot chiles over long periods of time and building a sort of 'resistance' to the heat.
Q. Are there any products containing capsicum on the market as a pain reliever for arthritis-related conditions?
A. Yes, there are many. "Capsaicin D" and "Heet" are just a couple of them.
Q. What is a Chipotle?
A. Usually a smoked jalapeno, or other thick-meated varieties of chiles that have been smoked to preserve them.
Q. Are fish able to feel the "heat" from chiles?
A. No, fish do not have the pain receptors (like birds) that mammals do that "feel" the heat. Many species of fish, like koi and other colorful fish, are fed food with chile powder in it to keep their scale colors bright.