By Jo Ann LeQuang
In case you do not live in the Southwest, there are about a million kinds of peppers, many of which pack heat. One of the best known is the jalapeno, originating in Mexico, and widely available in the U.S. today. They are most familiar to us as green in color, about 3 inches long, but if left on the vine, they will turn red. Put a jalapeno into a smoker and you get chipotle. However, there are other types of hot peppers as well: poblanos and Anaheim peppers, on the mild side, and Scotch bonnets or habaneros on the hotter end of the spectrum. The heat in any hot pepper comes from capsaicin, a natural substance which on its own is both odorless and flavorless.
Capsaicin is a super-health-nutrient and medicine is more and more using capsaicin in its products. While adding hot peppers to your diet offers health benefits, you may not be able to eat enough of them to get some of these positive effects. That’s why medical products are adding capsaicin to their ingredients. The heat in hot peppers is rated on the Scoville Scale from 0 to over 1 million, based on their capsaicin content. And just so you don’t think you’ve mastered the hot pepper because you can eat a jalapeno—which ranks at around 2,500 on the Scoville Scale—tabasco peppers are 30,000, Scotch bonnets (habeneros) come in at 150,000, and the aptly named Trinidad scorpion tops the list at 1,000,000. As a frame of reference, the pepper spray that the police use is about 5 million on the Scoville Scale. At the tame end of the spectrum, the bell pepper is zero.