Some Like It Hot - Growing Hot Peppers

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Master of the Pit
Original poster
Feb 17, 2008

Some Like It Hot - Growing Hot Peppers
Phillip Peters
Adams County Master Gardener


Thank heavens for Wilbur L. Scoville! If you like the pungency of hot peppers, you know Wilbur L. Scoville. Donâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]t know him? Maybe itâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s time you got acquainted.
Hot chile peppers have been part of the diet in the Americas for about 8000 years. In that time the plant has migrated from its Amazon origins to all parts of the world where a bit of ‘heatâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji] gives piquancy to the food. Carried north by birds whose digestive systems have no receptors sensitive to the ‘heatâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji] in the plant and do not destroy the seeds during digestion, the hotter capsicums became a staple of Southwest native diets centuries ago.
Today you can have the joy of growing these hot little gems in your own garden. Itâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s fun and rewarding. February and March are the months to get started. Since our last frost date is mid-May, you want to start 8-10 weeks before that, although you can wait until late March to sow seed.
Sow the seed according to package directions in a standard seed-starting medium. Moisten and cover with a piece of loose plastic until the seeds begin to sprout. Pepper seeds germinate best when soil temperature is between 70 and 80̊F so place the medium in a sunny location or on a heating mat. In about ten days the plants will germinate.
They are ready to transplant when they have 4 to 6 leaves. Use pots that will offer ample room for root growth; pepper plants are not happy when they are root-bound. If you buy the plants, make sure the leaf structure and the root system are full and healthy. Keep the young plants moist and give them plenty of sun. When the danger of frost is past and nighttime temperatures are above 55̊F, harden off the plants by gradual exposure them to the outdoors, then transplant them to your garden plot, setting them about 12" apart, or pot on in containers or pots.
Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10, 5-10-5). Avoid excessive nitrogen (the first number) as the plant will produce leaves at the expense of fruit. As the nights warm to between 65-80° F, the plants will set fruit.
Now that you know how to plant them, what peppers do you want? Or, how hot do you like it? Hereâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s where Wilbur Scoville comes in. A chemist with the Parke Davis pharmaceutical company, in 1912 he devised a method for measuring the ‘heatâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji] of a pepper. The ‘heatâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji] we feel is caused by capsaicin produced in glands that line the inner walls of the pepper. There are five capsaicinoids produced by peppers, yet they make up only .1-1.0% of the fruitâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s content. Talk about bang for your buck!
Scoville developed a scale to rate the various peppersâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji] ‘fire.â€[emoji]8482[/emoji] It goes up from 0 in increments of 100 units, called Scovilles or Scoville units. The higher the number, the hotter the pepper. The bell pepper so familiar in the supermarket is rated at 0 Scoville units. Most sweet peppers are in the 0-100 range. Anchos and Pasillas are in the 1000-2000 range. The much-touted jalapeños rate from 2500-5000 Scoville units with Jalapeño M being near 5000 units.
If you think a jalapeño is hot, weâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]re just getting started! The Super Hybrid Cayenne and Tabasco peppers rate from 25,000-50,000 units. But we still have a way to go. Thai peppers and the Scotch Bonnet are in the 100,000-350,000 class. And the redoubtable habanera? It comes in on top, consistently measuring between 200,000-300,000 Scoville units with the "Red Savina" habanera rated in excess of 577,000 Scoville units. Pure capsaicin? 16,000,000 Scoville units!
Based on this scale you can make more sense of the catalog descriptions and choose peppers that will suit your taste. You can get a more complete listing by going to the Internet and searching Scoville units.
Since the capsaicin is produced by glands in those four ribs that divide the cell of the pepper, scraping the inside and removing the seeds will remove the source of the heat and a lot of the pain. The seeds have some, but not excessive amounts, of the chemical. However, the flesh of the hotter peppers retains a lot of bite. Always taste a tiny amount before popping the entire pepper in your mouth.
Capsaicin does not break down very readily in water. Dairy products are much more effective since the chemical is soluble in fats, oils and alcohol. If you eat one that is too hot, drinking milk or eating yogurt or even bread will help mitigate the pain. The bread absorbs and dilutes the capsaicin.
Always remember to protect your hands with rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. I get a pack of those thin, slip-on plastic gloves in the paint department of the local hardware store – very economical and fast on, fast off. Protect your eyes as well if you are cutting up the peppers. And always wash your hands thoroughly before wiping your eyes or touching your body.
Want to get more fruit from your plant? Plant in a bed covered with black or red plastic mulch. It keeps the ground warm. Then, harvest some of the fruit when it is in the mature green stage (just before it turns red). Peppers stop setting fruit when the bush is loaded. Harvesting the mature green fruit encourages the plant to continue producing. If left on the bush, virtually all peppers will turn red.
Try some homegrown chile peppers. There is a ‘heatâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji] suited to you. And thank Wilbur L. Scoville while youâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]re at it.
Well, like the article, we can't start planting out here until mid May. We're done around the end of Sept. when we get our first hard freeze. I just put in 4 Serranos and 10 Thai Dragons which are my favorite.

Usually, I get a quart of powder out of the Thai's and this is the first year I've done Serranos. They're great to eat so I figure I'll try smoking them and going the powder route as well with some of them.

Here's the class of 2008:

Here's what they look like in August/September:
Blaahaahaa we took some folks that moved from up north to pick chiles at the farms,we make a day out of it pick 160 lbs then roast and pack them. when they arrived they all had rubber gloves and my three kids and wife went in to the fields and started picking in no time they lost the goggles and rubber gloves. they are not hot till ya break em open and rub em around on yer self.
ABELMAN I see you have your two favorite gardeners with you. I have a chocolate and a small Beagle. the lab will walk thru every now and then. but missy beagle has to sniff and dig where we have worked.we just let her think she is happy to be with us..I have a bunch of thais planted this year also. never done anything with them as they are ornimental make for a pretty garden when they bloom are yours the ornimental type that you use? I have noticed that a bunch of smokers seem to like the thais, will have to plant some if they are not the same..

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by ornamental. So, I'll just tell you what I do in any event. Once the first fruit starts to appear, I taste test them until we're getting some good heat. Then I'll start picking them off each plant. They're pretty hardy and new peppers spring up quickly. I have found that the green peppers are just as hot as the red ones so I really don't let them go to red as I can get bigger yields by picking mature greenies.

Once picked, I put them in a dehydrator and dry them. After that, I put them in a blender or a coffee bean grinder and make powder out of them. I use that on/with all kinds of food and cooking.

I sent some to Flash last year (actually Kung Pao's, less heat but similar pepper, as I couldn't find Thai's last year) so he can give an opinion as well.

Lastly, it's nice having gardening buddies as you pointed out.
For a similar variety of Capiscum frutescens better known as peri-peri, see African birdseye.
Chili Padi / Bird's Eye Chili / Thai pepper

Bird's Eye Chili
Scientific classificationKingdom:Plantae

Thai pepper (pronounced: Prik ki nu) in Thai refers to any of three cultivars of chili pepper, found commonly in Thailand, and also in neighbouring countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore. It is also found in India, mainly Kerala, and is used in traditional dishes of kerala cuisine (pronounced in Malayalam as kanthari mulagu).


[edit] Bird's Eye Chili Pepper (Chili padi/ Cabe Rawit)


Bird's eye Peppers


Heat: Very Hot (SR: 50,000-100,000)
The hottest form is the Bird's Eye Chili Pepper, which is also known as Chili padi. This refers to the small size of the chili that reminds people about the small size of paddy (rice), the staple food in the region. It is also known as cili padi (Malay), cabe rawit (Indonesian), phrik khii nuu (พริกขี้หนู, literally "mouse **** chili"), Thai Hot, Thai Dragon (due to its resemblance to claws), Siling Labuyo (Filipino), Ladâ, and Boonie pepper (the Anglicized name).
These tiny little fiery chilis point downward from the plant and their colors change directly from green to red. This type of chili can be found in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines but most commonly in Thailand. Although small in size compared to other types of chili, the chili padi is relatively strong at 50,000 to 100,000 on the Scoville pungency scale. Malaysia consumes about RM140 million worth of chilies each year.[citation needed]

[edit] Malay and Indonesian proverb

This chili is commonly found in Malaysian and Indonesian markets sold alongside the larger chili. As the small chili turns out to be hotter than the larger counterpart, this often surprises people that don't expect such a small chili would pack a very hot taste. This is the source of the Malay proverb "Kecil-kecil cili padi" and Indonesian proverb "Kecil-kecil cabe rawit", which refers to something small in size or stature that contains something unexpected for its size.

[edit] Thai Ornamental


Thai Ornanmental hot peppers growing wild on Saipan.

The more decorative but slightly less pungent variety, sometimes known as Thai Ornamental, has peppers that point upward on the plant, and go from green to yellow, orange, and then red. It is the basis for the hybrid Numex twilight, essentially the same but less pungent and starting with purple fruit, creating a rainbow effect, and among the group of capsicum annuum. These peppers can grow wild in places like Saipan. Despite their size, these tiny peppers pack a VERY potent punch. A window-box can provide a perfect environment for this particular plant...Low-maintenance, high yield, diabolically hot peppers that produce for months on a single, tiny plant that never gets taller than 18".

[edit] Non-pungent "Thai Pepper"

"Thai pepper" can also refer to a different type of pepper that is non-pungent, larger, and grows hanging down. This kind of pepper is found in Thailand[citation needed].
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Just joking. Man, that's a lot of info for one word, LOL.

To answer your question, no they are not. Here's a batch of Kung Pao's I had on the smoker last year. Look just like a Thai Dragon but a tad longer.

For some reason, the color in this picture is really strange.

I was not sure what the thais were. And in the very distant past, Ornamental peppers (there are many varietys) were supposed to be unedible as they were supposed to be just to hot and unflaverable for human consumption. I believe in Panama (they looked the same and grew up right) the same pepper grew there except that it was called "pecapahado" (my spanish) "bird bites" the indians loved them and would pick them by the sack full. (the plants there grew to almost tree size and would last several years before croaking). I am now wondering if they are the same?
any how, the ones at my home are the ones that grow pointing upwards. I guess yours grow pointing to the ground. I will have to go to the univercity and get the correct seeds and then some as I would like to start trying to make my own rubs now that I have small working knowledge of how it is done.
but I am thinking the habs and scotts have more flavor and more Heat,so I might use a smaller amout to make a rub. but not sure if that would give up on the flavor at the same time.
Lots of good info there. Mine do grow down ward. They can get some pretty serious heat going and very good yields. I've done Habs before but my growing season is too short to get a good yield from them.

As we get near the end of summer, I will certainly send you some dried peppers (with seeds) as well as some powder and you can decide what you want to do with it. You just have to remind me in August.
Thank you. looking forward to it.. some how I may be able to reciprocate..
Frequently Asked Questions about hot peppers

Q. How do you get the burning sensation to stop after consuming chile peppers?
A. The best way to ease the burning sensation is to drink milk, or eat yogurt or any other dairy product. A substance found in dairy products known as casein, helps to disrupt the reaction. This substance, which is a lipophilic phosphoprotein, acts like a detergent and literally strips capsaicin from its receptor binding site. If you get the oil on your skin, you may want to rub it with rubbing alcohol first, then soak in milk, this seems to alleviate the burning. If you get it in your eyes, the only thing you can do is repeatedly rinse with water or saline. Be very careful when handling hot chiles, especially pod types like habanero as there are reports of these chiles actually blistering the skin. Gloves are recommended when handling or peeling any types of hot chile.
Q. What is a Scoville Heat Unit, or HPLC test?
A. The Scoville Organoleptic Test is a refined, systematic approach. With this method, human subjects taste a chile sample and record its heat level. Samples are then diluted until heat can no longer be detected by the taster. This dilution is called the Scoville Heat Unit, named for the man who invented it, Wilbur Scoville. A more technologically advanced test is an HPLC test, or High Performance Liquid Chromatography. An HPLC "sees" the heat compounds and records the amount in parts per million (ppm). A quick conversion from HPLC to Scoville is to multiply the ppm by 15 to get the Scoville Heat Unit.
Q. Are ornamental varieties of chiles poisonous?
A. There are absolutely no varieties of peppers that are poisonous; all capsicum species are edible. Some of the ornamental varieties just don't taste very good, while others are extremely hot or pungent, which may lead to this misconception; however, there is an ornamental plant called a False Jerusalem Cherry, botanical name, Solanum Capsicastrum, which is poisonous and not intended for consumption. It is not a chile plant, only a relative.
Q. How do I know when to pick green chile, before it starts to turn red?
A. As chiles ripen, the pods become more firm. A gentle squeeze of the pod is the best method to test when to pick a chile. If the pod is firm with a slight crackling sound when you squeeze it, it should be ready.
Q. What is the best method to dry chiles?
A. It really depends on what variety you want to dry. New Mexican varieties dry well in the form of ristras, hung or laid out in the sun. Other thick walled pods of different varieties like jalapeo, are smoked to preserve them, because the thick walls hold so much more moisture and are very hard to sun dry or dry with dehydrators. Also, depending on whether they are partially dried on the plant or harvested while still succulent, moisture must be reduced to about 10-11% for proper storage. Large processors are now using dehydrators to dry pods; temperatures for dehydrators range from 140-150 F.
Q. I heard that some chile pepper plants are perennials, are they, and if so, which ones?
A. All pepper plants are perennials if the conditions are favorable (no frost or freezing temperatures). Southern California and Florida (here in the continental U.S.) are probably the only places where you can grow peppers as perennials.
Q. What does capsaicin do for the chile plant? Or in other words, why did evolution produce hot peppers?
A. We believe that chiles evolved pungency to protect the fruits from being eaten by mammals. Capsaicinoids, the compounds that cause the burning sensation, are the only alkaloid chile produces. Birds, the natural dispersal agent of chiles, can not feel the heat and thus disseminate the seeds; however, when mammals eat chiles the seeds are destroyed in the digestive tract.
Q. Where does the "heat" reside in the chile pepper? Many claim it is ALL in the seeds. I have also heard that the capsaicinoids are stored in the membranes of the chile.
A. Capsaicinoids are located on the chile membrane, or in the placental tissue, which holds the seeds. Although many people believe the seeds to be the hottest, seeds do not produce any capsaicin, but do absorb some from the placental tissues during processing.
Q. We have harvested a large amount of green chile from our small garden this year and would like to save them for the winter. Is it possible to FREEZE them?
A. Yes, after roasting and peeling you will be able to freeze them in air tight containers for up to six months.
Q. What is a "New Mexico Green Chile"?
A. Around 1888, Fabian Garcia, a horticulturist at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (NMSU today), began his first experiments on breeding a more standardized New Mexican chile. In 1896, Emilio Ortega (at the time, sheriff of Ventura County, CA), after visiting southern New Mexico, brought back chile seeds and planted them near Anaheim. They adapted well to the soil and climate, and this New Mexican chile adopted the name of Anaheim. This name has stuck with this particular pod type for many years. In 1907, Fabian Garcia was finally able to release his first standardized New Mexican pod type, after experimenting with many strains of pasilla, Colorado, and negro chiles, he released New Mexico No. 9. This was the granddaddy of all future standard New Mexico pod types, and became the standard New Mexican chile until 1950. In 1987, Anaheim became a variety under the New Mexican pod type category.
Q. I have a small chile garden and have noticed that many of the jalapeo chiles get black or dark areas on them as they near maturity. Other than these spots, the chiles seem fine. Can you explain what these are? Is there anything I can do to prevent them?
A. This purpling or blackening is due to direct sunlight, and can be avoided by producing a bushier canopy that shades the pods.
Q. What causes flower drop?
A. The four main causes of flower drop are: night temperatures exceeding 80 F, night temperatures falling below 65 F, excessive nitrogen, or lack of pollination. Changing any one of these factors, or pollinating by hand, would be the best answer to this problem.
Q. How do you preserve a large amount of harvested chiles?
A. There are a few different methods including drying, freezing, canning, and smoking. Large, thick-fleshed fruits are best canned or smoked (like jalapenos). New Mexican pod types can be dried, roasted, frozen, or canned. Habaneros are best dried, canned, or smoked. For more information on this subject, see Fiery Foods and Barbecue Business Magazine issue 21 Fall 2001, contact your local Extension Home Economist, or refer back to the Chile Pepper Institute's publication list.
Q. If a person eats many, many peppers over a lifetime, do they develop a tolerance for capsaicin?
A. There has been a correlation between eating hot chiles over long periods of time and building a sort of 'resistance' to the heat.
Q. Are there any products containing capsicum on the market as a pain reliever for arthritis-related conditions?
A. Yes, there are many. "Capsaicin D" and "Heet" are just a couple of them.
Q. What is a Chipotle?
A. Usually a smoked jalapeno, or other thick-meated varieties of chiles that have been smoked to preserve them.
Q. Are fish able to feel the "heat" from chiles?
A. No, fish do not have the pain receptors (like birds) that mammals do that "feel" the heat. Many species of fish, like koi and other colorful fish, are fed food with chile powder in it to keep their scale colors bright.

thought this might help a few folks that were a winderin about these wonderfull plants. Hey, if the wimin folk don't find ya handsome at least let em find ya handy..
Thanks Coyote,

The bad news is I might just have to use it. We had snow last night and lots of rain today. The high was 50 and 35 degrees was the low last night. The good news is that it's good sleeping weather
Looks like more snow tonight which isn't as bad. The bad news is we might hit 32 degrees. If so, I'm most likely done.

I have all 14 plants covered wtih plastic pots and at night, my welders blanket.

I hate this time of year
as far as peppers go.

if you can get it to grow..culantro is one great herb/spice.. plus this place has a bunch of neat pepper seeds that I have not heard of. unless they are making up PR names.

good luck on the crops..sounds like you are doing everthing you can to keep the plants from freezing. is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

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