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Start thinking about the heat of summer

Carolina Reaper ghost peppers strike an excruciating punch of heat. John Zvirovski / The Sun

This is the time of the year to start thinking about what plants you want to grow in the garden and which ones need to be started early inside to be placed outside in May. Peppers take a while to get established. Many hot peppers need a long season to bear ripe produce.

Hot peppers love to be grown in full sun with lots of moisture and heat. They are upright plants that have small, white star-like flowers that fruit into small pods. These pods will grow into the pepper, which turns to green, yellow, orange, red and purple at maturity. Make sure you do not feed them too much fertilizer high in nitrogen as this will produce more vegetation and less fruit. An organic, well-drained soil is also beneficial to the success of these vegetables.

The “heat” of hot peppers is very subjective to the individual tasting them.

A few years back, a friend of mine used to eat hot peppers like candy, fresh off the plant. She was eating a habanero pepper and I asked her how she could take it. She seemed to love to bite into them and enjoyed their flavor without any repercussions. Thinking I was man enough, I asked if I could have a bite also. I took a small bite from this harmless orange pepper and noticed it had a nice peppery flavor to it in its crispness. Then, about 30 seconds later, my face got hot, the sweat started to form on my brow and the heat rose to an unstable level. I thought I was going to burn up right there! The heat just got hotter and hotter and the only thing I knew to do was to drink a dairy product to cut the bite. Now, I love hot things, but this took me to my testing limits. I have yet to eat another one by itself again. In fact, I am starting to sweat again just thinking of that episode!

What is it that makes these peppers so hot? Well, these types of peppers have what is called capsaicin oil in them. This oil is only present in the hot pepper varieties. The level of “heat” a pepper contains is rated on what is known as the Scoville Scale. This is the measure of capsaicin oil contained in the pepper itself, which ranges from very mild to very wild.  

For example, a Tabasco pepper contains 30,000 to 50,000 scovilles. This means that the capsaicin oil needs to be diluted 30,000 to 50,000 times to become undetectable for the individual eating them.  

To give you a general idea of where certain peppers fall in the scale, here is a general outline. Bell peppers and sweet peppers contain no scovilles. The rest of these peppers contain a varying level from Anaheim peppers (500-2,500), Jalapeno(2,500-8,000), Serano (10,000-23,000), Cayenne (30,000-50,000), Thai Hot (50,000-100,000), Habanero and Jamaican hot (100,000-350,000), to the ultra hot Red Savina Habanero (350,000-580,000). If you know some of the peppers you enjoy, these would be the categories you could put them in for hotness.

Of course there are now the Ghost peppers that will set your hair on fire. This group of peppers is like no other and will take you to your ultimate limits. Here are some of the varieties and their heat ratings: Bhut Jalokia (1 million), Trinidad Scorpion (1.5 million), Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (2 million) and the hottest pepper around called the Carolina Reaper (2.2 million) which I tried last year and it literally is extremely hot. I use these only for cooking, not just eating raw, and it doesn’t take much to create a sweat. Of course, after I planted this plant for the 2017 season, I found out that in May of last year they created another hot ghost pepper called the Dragon’s Breath which came in at 2.4 million scovilles!! Test this group at your own discretion!!

Peppers can be used fresh or be frozen or dried. Always be careful when handling hot peppers and wear protective wear on your hands as the oils can irritate and actually burn sensitive skin on certain people. Never rub your eyes, nose, mouth or other sensitive areas before thoroughly washing your hands well to eliminate the capsaicin oil.    

Always dry your peppers in a warm dry area with plenty of air circulation for best results. While freezing peppers, wash and dry them before placing them into a ziplock bag or freezer container. When the time comes to use them, simply take them out and cut them before thawing for easiest use.

Hot peppers can be used for a variety of things. Use them fresh out of the garden, dry them and add them to any type of dish as a ground powder or rehydrate them in water for other dishes. Frozen peppers are great for any type of meal that asks for a couple of hot peppers to keep the body warm in the winter months.

Whatever use you find for these versatile and wonderful vegetables, they are sure to warm your hearts and ears for many months to come. Just remember, some of these small peppers pack a powerful punch!