A Guide To Pepper Varieties

Peppers (capsicum) are members of the nightshade family and have been cultivated for thousands of years. Varieties range from very mild bell peppers to extremely spicy chilies and have a wide variety of culinary applications.

Selecting and Storing Peppers

When choosing peppers at the market, look for one that has taut skin, a fresh green stem and no soft spots or blemishes. The shape of a pepper is usually irrelevant; just look for those that are firm and heavy for their size.

Store peppers, unwashed, in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator for up to a week. Peppers can also be stemmed, seeded, diced and frozen with little loss of flavor or nutritional value.

A Guide To Pepper Varieties: Scoville Scale

A Guide to Heat Levels: The Scoville Scale

Just how hot is “hot”? A pepper’s heat, or piquancy, is measured in Scoville units. Capsaicin, the chemical compound in peppers that inflames your taste buds or nerve receptors in skin, is measured in Scoville heat units or “SHU”.

A chemist named Wilbur Scoville developed the scale and although it is not 100% accurate, a pepper’s Scoville rating will help you determine how hot a chili really is. The higher the number the hotter the pepper.

Pepper Name Scoville Rating
Bell Peppers 0
Pepperoncini 100 to 500
Anaheim Pepper 500 to 1000
Poblano Pepper 1000 to 1500
Jalapeno Pepper 2500 to 8000
Pepper Name Scoville Rating
Serrano Pepper 10,000 to 23,000
Cayenne Pepper 30,000 to 50,000
Thai Bird Chili 50,000 to 100,000
Habanero Pepper 100,000 to 350,000
Ghost Pepper (Jolokia) 855,000 to 1,041,427

How To Handle Hot Peppers

When handling chilies with high capsaicin content, be extremely careful. If possible, wear gloves to protect your hands, and do not touch your face or eyes. If you come in contact with a chili, try soaking your hand in a bowl of milk to help neutralize the burning sensation, then wash thoroughly in soapy water.