September 2003 Edition
The Popularity of Peppers

Just peek into any foodservice kitchen these days or browse through the menus of fast food, casual, or fine dining restaurants and you’re bound to see that peppers are playing a prominent part on the menu.

And while peppers are nothing new to foodservice, increasingly varietal peppers and chili (hot) peppers are being used to flavour everything from the most basic sandwiches to soups, stews, and chowders, not to mention jelly, salsa and stir-fry.

Peppers are grown all over the world. Asia produces the largest crop in terms of production but peppers are also a favourite with people in the south western United States and Mexico where they’ve been enjoying the fiery flavours of chili peppers for generations. The popularity of chili peppers on the Canadian menu today is in no small part a result of the increasing popularity of Mexican cuisine.

Of course not all peppers are hot, and the most popular pepper in North America is the Green Bell pepper, which is classified as a sweet pepper. Peppers are usually described as sweet, mild, hot or very hot. The amount of 'heat' in the pepper is a result of the chemical known as capsaicin which is found in the pepper pod. The more capsaicin that is present, the hotter the pepper will be.

Identifying a hot pepper by sight is challenging, because colour and shape are not good indications of the amount of heat found in the pepper.

When cooking with chili peppers, start with milder peppers or smaller amounts of hot pepper, gradually increasing the amount as the flavour of the pepper is imparted into the food.

The most recent pepper to win favour with the palates of Canadians is the Chipotle pepper. Chipotle's are quite simply a smoked jalapeno, and it is this smoky flavour that has made them a sought after commodity. Chipotle's are usually smoked over mesquite or pecan wood and are a staple in South Western and Mexican cooking. Chipotle's may be sold dry or powdered though they are most often sold canned with Adobo sauce (seasoned tomato sauce). Because of their heat, they should be used sparingly.

Jalapeno peppers are also a popular chili pepper though they are not nearly as hot as some hot peppers such as Scotch Bonnets which are native to the Caribbean, or Habanero peppers which are blistering hot.

All peppers are high in vitamin C and hot peppers have an even higher concentration of Vitamin C than their sweet counterparts, leading some people to proclaim chili peppers as a cure for the common cold.

In fact chili peppers have a long history of being used in folk medicine and scientists are currently studying capsaicin as a possible cure for cluster headaches, relief for sore mouth, and symptoms of the head, nose, mouth and respiratory tract.

The medicinal effects of capsaicin are good news for those chili lovers who can’t get enough of these hot treats. And, as the Canadian craving for 'hot' foods and the popularity of regional cuisines such as Mexican and Asian is creating an ever increasing demand for pepper varietals, they're sure to be an integral part of the foodservice kitchen for years to come. ¨

Pick a Peck of Peppers

Bell Peppers

The most common type of pepper in North America. Green, red and gold bell peppers add vivid colour and excellent flavour, whether as a garnish or main ingredient.

Pimiento

Dark red, sweet, heart-shaped thick walled pepper. Often used to stuff olives and in canning. Grows to be 3 -4 inches long.

Chipotle Peppers

A smoked jalapeno pepper, often used in southwestern and Mexican cooking.

Jalapeno Peppers

Very versatile hot pepper. Often deep fried. Also popular in the making of jalapeno cornbread. 2 inches long, often used raw.

Anaheim Peppers

Long thin green peppers that are very mild. Often used to make Chile Rellenos - a classic Mexican recipe of breaded chile pepper stuffed with cheese and fried. Approximately 5 to 8 inches long. Sometimes called New Mexico or California chili.

Cubanel Peppers

Similar to Anaheim peppers, they are slightly less flavourful than Anaheim peppers and so are considered a sweet pepper.

Hungarian Wax Peppers

Also called Banana peppers because of their shiny yellow colour. This pepper is mild and stuffs well. About 2 to 3 inches long.

Scotch Bonnet Peppers

One of the hottest peppers. Use sparingly as it can overpower foods.

Serrano Peppers

A very hot pepper often used in salsas. It is thin skinned and can be used without removing the skin. About 2 inches long, green when immature and yellow, to red orange when mature. Can be eaten fresh, often used in Mexican sauces, relish or chili.

Capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes hot peppers hot, is used in products such as anti-mugger aerosols, powdered foot warmers and warming back plasters.

Southwest Seafood Chili

Serves: 24

Ingredients

Metric Imperial

Fresh diced tomatoes 2.2 kg 5 lbs

Fresh diced green, sweet red peppers,

onion 2 L 2 qt

Sysco Naturalâ peeled garlic, minced 45 mL 3 Tbsp

Olive oil 125 mL 1/2 cup

All purpose flour 175 mL 3/4 cup

Chili powder 125 mL 1/2 cup

Dried oregano 15 mL 1 Tbsp

Dried cumin 15 mL 1 Tbsp

Salt 7 mL 1 1/2 tsp

Ground black pepper 7 mL 1 1/2 tsp

Canned beans, drained 3 L 3 qt

Sysco Imperial seafood or vegetable

soup base 3 L 3 qt

IQF Imitation crab, leg style 800 g 1 lb, 14 oz

Fresh green onion, diagonally sliced 1/4" 375 mL 1 1/2 cups

Preparation

  • Sauté tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic in hot oil in stock pot until tender.
  • Mix in flour and seasonings. Add beans and broth; mix well. Bring mixture to boil and simmer 30 minutes.
  • Add imitation crab to broth mixture and simmer about 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
  • Portion 12 oz (360 g) into rimmed soup plate; sprinkle with 2 Tbsp (30 mL) sliced green onion. Top with portion of cornbread, if desired.

Measuring the Heat of a Jalapeno

Besides taste, various chemical tests are use to measure the amount of heat in a chili pepper. The most common test is the Scoville Organoleptic Heat Test developed in 1912. In this test a taster is given a chili sample to taste and then he is asked to record the heat level. The sample is then diluted in a laboratory until heat can no long be detected by the taster. This unit is called the Scoville Unit. A chili with a mild taste has about 100 - 500 Scoville Units, while a Habanero has 200,000 to 300,000 Scoville Units. This type of test is subjective because it depends upon the taster's palate to establish the initial potency or heat of the pepper. The most accurate method for measuring heat is High-Performance Liquid Chromatography whereby chili pods are dried and ground and the capsaicin is extracted and analyzed.