Hot Peppers and Capsaicin

By National Gardening Association Editors

Peppers burn our mouths because of capsaicin. It's present in most peppers, but in much greater quantities in hot peppers, which is why they're, well, hotter than sweet peppers. Capsaicin is so strong to the human taste bud that we can detect a dilution of one part per million.

It's found in tiny blister-like sacs between the lining and the inner wall of the pepper. If you cut a pepper in half lengthwise, you'll see the inside partitions that divide each pepper into lobes and surround the seed cavity. The clear membrane that covers these partitions also covers the blister-like capsaicin sacs. These sacs are easily broken if the pepper is handled roughly, releasing the capsaicin throughout the inside of the pepper and spreading the hotness.

Hot pepper seeds cause a burning sensation if they come into contact with your eyes or mouth, so remove the stem and seed core when preparing peppers. Wear latex gloves when working with the extra hot varieties because the seeds and skins can burn your hands.

It's not possible to take the fire out of a canned, pickled or store-bought chile pepper. But if you grow your own and want to eat some fresh out of the garden, there is a way to take out some of the hotness.

In an 'Anaheim' pepper, most of the capsaicin is contained near the stem end. Cutting off an inch of the pepper from the stem end makes for a milder-tasting 'Anaheim'.

Roll a fresh chile pepper between your hands, or roll it on the table as if you were rolling dough. This dislodges the seeds and breaks the capsaicin sacs. After rolling it for a while, take a razor blade or sharp knife and cut the pepper from near the stem end down to the bottom. Cut only through the wall of the pepper; don't cut the pepper into pieces. Repeat this cut in two other places. You now have a pepper that's in three sections, held together by the stem end. Holding it by the stem, dunk the pepper in a glass of water. After 30 seconds to a minute the pepper should be ready to eat. The water will wash out the seeds and a lot of the capsaicin. If the pepper is still too hot for your taste, dip it into a fresh glass of water for another minute or so. This will remove even more capsaicin.

Photography by National Gardening Association.

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