Capsaicin - Also spelled capsaicine, CAPSAICIN is the most abundant of the pungent principles of the chile pepper (Capsicum).It is one of several organic nitrogen compounds in a pungent lipid group known as capsaicinoids. These compounds are generally concentrated in the placenta to which the seeds are attached. A smaller amount is found in the veins or white lines running from the top of the pepper to the bottom. The seeds contain only a small portion of capsaicin.

Capsaicinoids - A group of chemicals called CAPSAICINOIDS are responsible for the heat in chile peppers. Each one produces a slightly different burn. The hottest and most famous of the five is called capsaicin. This is the magic bullet that produces the sensation of fire in your mouth. When the fire hits, your mouth sends a signal to your brain that signals the release of natural pain relievers, which we all love. The amount of capsaicin in a hot pepper is expressed in Scoville Units.

Capsicum - The genus CAPSICUM is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) as is the potato, tobacco, petunia and others. Native to Central and South America and widely cultivated throughout the world, the genus Capsicum consists of perrenial herbaceous to woody shrubs. Although there are many wild Capsicum species, only five are domesticated.

Color - In all shades of brilliant red, yellow, green, purple, orange and brown, the color of chile peppers is important both gastronomically and aesthetically. As a pepper ripens, its color changes and its distinctive flavor develops, reaching its peak at maturity. Generally peppers start out green, ripen red and dry to brown but there are many variations depending on the pepper.

Cultivars - A cultivar is an organism or hybrid that has originated and persisted under cultivation. The word comes from "cultivated variety" and is abbreviated as "cv." Each cultivar must be named in conformance with the International Code of Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants and that name comes after its scientific name, regulated be the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (i.e. Capsicum frutescens cv. 'Tabasco') Got all that?

Other Names - The name you use for a particular pod may not be the name used for the same pepper in a different country, or different state, for that matter. Sometimes the same name is given to different chiles. We have listed all the names we know for each pepper profiled. Do you know any more?

Scoville Heat Units - SCOVILLE UNIT MEASURING was invented in 1912 by Wilbur L. Scoville, a pharmacologist for the Parke- Davis Company. Willie's original test consisted of a panel of tasters who would systematically taste for detectable "heat" in a solution of extract of chile and slightly sweetened water. The idea was to determine how far the chile extract could be diluted and still have a detectable burn. For example, a Jalapeno pepper rated at 4,500 Scoville units tells us that 4,500 parts sugar water are needed to dilute one part Jalapeno extract to the last point that hotness can be tasted. Add any more sugar water and according to this subjective test, you would not be able to taste any hotness.

Confused? You bet you are! That is why the food industry no longer uses this archaic test, but chile heat is still given in Scoville units. Today, machines use high- pressure liquid chromatography to measure chile heat. This method takes out the guess work, but one should keep in mind that it only rates the heat of the sample being tested, and not the absolute fire power of every chile in that variety. Climate, soil, weather, geography and harvest time all affect how hot a pepper can be. Heck, even chiles on the same bush can have different heat levels.

savina pepper

SO, when you're trying to grasp how hot that Red Savina is at 500,000 Scoville units, think of this: If you took a beer can full of Red Savina pepper extract and poured it into a large vat (it must be a very large vat), it would take 500,001 beers to dilute the extract to the point where there was no heat tasted. A bit mind boggling, isn't it?

Species - Species is a category of biological classification ranking immediately below the genus (ie. Capsicum) which relates all organisms potentially capable of interbreeding. All domesticated chile peppers are classified into five species: C. annuun var. annuun, C. frutescens, C. chinense, C. baccatum var pendulum, and C. pubescens. There are many more wild species, only a few of them domesticated (i.e. chiltepin). Virtually all of the Capsicums found in markets around the world are C. annuum var annuum, although there exist many cultivars within this species.

Substitutes - While enthustiastically preparing an enticing recipe, it is every cook's dilemma to suddenly discover that one or more of the ingredients are impossible to find (unless, of course, you happen to have a copy of the Mo Hotta- Mo Betta catalog nearby!). Some chile peppers substitute very well for others, depending on the recipe, and sometimes no substitute will suffice. We have suggested substitutes where applicable, but keep in mind that the flavor and heat level will vary if substituting in a recipe.