Chili peppers are well known for their red hot reputation. Many are indeed fiery, but many others are sweet, mild, or richly flavored. No matter what end of the spectrum you prefer, you can’t escape chili peppers in Mexican cooking. There are over 140 different types of chili peppers grown throughout Mexico; from the extremely hot habanero to the sweet bell pepper.
The burning sensation that makes chili peppers so appealing to culinary thrill-seekers comes from a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin develops in the placenta or cross-ribs of the pepper. Since the ribs have the highest concentration of capsaicin, this naturally makes them the hottest part of the pepper. Many people believe that the seeds are the culprits to a peppers hotness, it seems that way because of the seeds close proximity to the ribs. Bell peppers are just like jalapeno peppers and serrano peppers but bell peppers taste bland instead of pungent because they lack capsaicin.
Jalapeños and other hot chilies can bite you before you bite them. Capsaicin can irritate your skin and especially your eyes. Cover your hands with plastic bags or thin rubber gloves, or wash your hands well and scrub under your nails after handling hot chilies; otherwise, an inadvertent rub of the eye could cause a three-alarm mishap.
With over 140 varieties of chili peppers it seems impossible to find a favorite. The following is a list of the most popular in the United States and used in most Mexican recipes.
Probably the most familiar pepper in the United States, the green and red bell peppers are squarish and fist-size. Green peppers turn red in the fall, becoming sweeter and milder, yet retaining their crisp, firm texture.
This chili looks and tastes very much like ordinary bell pepper but can be considerably more peppery at times. Tapered rather than square, it is firmer, less crisp, more waxy-looking. It turns a bright red and sweetens up in the fall. When dry, it assumes a flat, round shape and wrinkles up like a prune.
California Green Chilies (Anaheim)
Fresh, these peppers are 5 to 8 inches long, 1 ½ to 2 inches wide, tapering to a point, usually a bright, shiny green. The flavor ranges from mild and sweet to moderate hot. To use fresh peppers, peel the skin from the chilies. When using fresh or canned, taste for hotness – they can vary greatly from pepper to pepper.
Chile de Arbol
Also known as the «Cola de Rata». Often dried, toasted, used to decorate Mexican dishes.
Made from jalapenos that have been dried and smoked. Sold both dried and canned in adobo, or a rich smoky dark reddish-brown sauce.
Fresno Chili Peppers
Bright green, changing to orange and red when fully matured. Fresno chilies have a conical shape – about 2 inches long and 1 inch in diameter at the stem end. They are often just labeled «hot chili peppers» when canned or bottled.
Smooth-skinne, brick or cranberry red chiles, a bit spicier than anchos and not as sweet. Because of their tangy brightness, they are often powdered over fruit or vegetables or added to stews and soups.
Jalapeño Chili Peppers
These peppers have thicker flesh, darker green color, and more cylindrical shape than Fresno chilies; however, the heat level of the two varieties is about the same – HOT! Canned and bottled peppers are sometimes labeled «hot peppers» with jalapeño as a subtitle. They are always available in sauce form as salsa jalapeño, and pickled.
These heart-shaped chilies are purchased canned in the United States. The flesh is softer and a little sweeter than the common red bell pepper.
Dark green, about the size of a bell pepper but tapered at one end, can be mild or hot. Often used in «Chile Rellenos»
A small 1 ½” fresh HOT pepper. The smaller they are, the more kick they have. Most often used in Pico de Gallo. Dynamite -hot is an understatement for these tiny 1-inch peppers. When new on the vine, they are rich, waxy green, changing to orange and red as they mature. They also sold canned, pickled, or packed in oil. A great source of vitamin C.
Yellow Chile Peppers.
Many short conical-shaped yellow peppers with a waxy sheen go by this name-Santa Fe grande, caribe, banana pepper, Hungarian, Armenian way, floral gem, and gold spike. Probably most familiar are the canned pickled wax peppers. Their flavor ranges from medium-hot to hot.
To date these are the Hottest chili peppers know to man, HOT – HOT – HOT. Use extreme caution when using. Marble-shaped chili peppers, ranges in color from unripe green to full ripe red.
Chili Pepper Addiction
My husband has always claimed that he is addicted to Mexican food. I always laughed that statement off until I read an article that explained my husbands craze. Studies have shown that, yes, eating spicy food is addicting. What happens after eating something hot, is your body nerves feel pain. These pain signals are immediately transmitted to your brain. Your brain interprets this signal and automatically releases endorphins (the body's natural pain killer). The endorphins kick in and act as a pain killer and create this temporary feeling of euphoria. Hot and spicy food lovers soon begin to crave this feeling and are hooked! So if you know someone who can’t enjoy tortilla chips with out heaps of salsa, or who can’t find a salsa hot enough you may want to inform them that they are suffering from an addiction.
When it’s too Hot
If you ever find yourself eating a chili pepper that is way too hot, do not drink water. Capsaicin—which is an oil will not mix with water but instead will distribute to more parts of the mouth. Drink milk, rinsing the mouth with it while swallowing, or eat ice cream or yogurt. Eat rice or bread which will absorb the capsaicin. Drink tomato juice or eat a fresh lime or lemon (the acid will counter act the alkalinity of the capsaicin).
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