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Produce 101: Peppers

Produce 101: Peppers — Let’s Start with Chile Peppers

Chile peppers have long been used as a flavoring agent in cuisines around the world.  Food anthropologists believe that the cultivation of peppers began in Central Mexico around 6,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest domesticated crops still in production. Peppers were not only used for flavoring, they also have the ability to preserve foods.  Peppers traveled the world along the established trade routes, spreading the crop far and wide.



What makes a pepper “hot”?

Peppers contain a chemical known as capsaicin, which is where the species Capsicum derives its name. Capsaicin triggers a burning sensation in humans and some animal species, binding with temperature sensation receptors.  The heat is in the membrane, not the seeds. The seeds do get hot too, but they are more “guilty by association” since they are next to the membrane. Take the membrane out, as well as the seeds to reduce the heat levels of peppers.

So what’s the best way to deal with the heat?

If it is on your hands or skin, fat seems to work best, olive oil and dairy in particular, if neither are handy, go with dish soap.  To help slow he burn in your mouth, consume some dairy.  Dairy has a protein known as casein that strips the capsaicin from the receptors on your tongue—just remember the hotter the pepper, the more dairy you’ll need. Capsaicin is also used to make tear gas and analgesic creams, these creams are used to reduce the pain of arthritis.

Are dry lines or striations a defect?

Dry lines or striations are not defects, they are naturally occurring and do not affect the quality. Cracks in the skin can indicate either:

  • Heat level: hotter peppers can have dry lines or striations
  • Weather during growing: dry lines or striations can form based on growing conditions


Are cracks an indicator of poor quality?

Produce 101: Peppers — How do you measure heat?

The Scoville Scale is the language we use to communicate the heat level of peppers.  Created in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville, this started off as a subjective taste test with a 5 person panel.  A solution of the pepper was made, and then a number of equal dilutions were made until there was no longer any perceptible heat.  We now utilize high performance liquid chromatography in order to more accurately measure a pepper’s heat level.  The scale starts at 0 with bell peppers and goes all the way up to the super-hot varieties that register in the 1,000,000+ range.


Fresh peppers need to be kept cool and dry, 45-50 degrees F is the optimum storage temperature range, but you absolutely can go a little colder, just don’t go below 34 degrees.

All start green

All fresh peppers start green and then color up as they ripen. You can allow a green pepper to ripen to red, but it is far more challenging than simply letting the fruit hang on the vine until fully mature.

Peppers can be a variety of colors when ripe, and can turn yellow, orange, white, or even shades of purple. They can also be a mix of colors, like in the case of the Suntan pepper, which is a mix of green and red peppers. Chile peppers can also be a mix of color.


Starting green, peppers turn color as they ripen.

Bell peppers

This is the most common of all fresh pepper varieties, sold in a myriad of colors, but all starting off as a green pepper.  The grade standards are US Fancy, US #1 and US #2, with the standard relating to size, shape and color uniformity.  US Fancy is the highest grade, and as such, commands the highest price.

Hot house grown peppers vs. field grown

If picture perfect is what you’re after, look at hot house grown peppers.  These are typically very uniform in size, shape and color, and often times, offer the best yield. Hot house peppers are grown in controlled situations (a greenhouse) and are generally more attractive and uniform. They are better suited for applications that require a more uniform end-result: uniform rings, uniform julienne, or whole applications where visual matters. Field grown peppers have a less-uniform shape (think: lumpy) and are less expensive and better suited for applications where appearance does not matter.


Dan talks about Produce 101: Peppers



Content provided by Chef Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years, and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Additional contributions by Lisa Pettineo.

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