Monthly Archives: March 2014

Week 19: Chilies vs. Peppers


What is the difference between chilies and peppers? They are actually the same thing and are differentiated by their potency. Chili peppers are fruit from the plant from the genus Capsicum which are members of the nightshade family. Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. They originated in the Americas and there is archaeological evidence at sites located in southwestern Ecuador that chili peppers were cultivated more than 6000 years ago. A physician on Columbus’ second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chili peppers to Spain and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494. They were likely introduced to Asia by Portuguese traders in the 16th century.

 Peppers are commonly broken down into three groupings: bell peppers, sweet peppers, and hot peppers. The substances that give chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin and related chemicals, referred to collectively as capsaicinoids. When consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are responsible for sensing heat. These receptors send a message to the brain that the person has consumed something hot and the brain responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and releasing endorphins.

 The “heat” of chili peppers was historically measured in Scoville heat units (SHU), a method developed in 1912, which is a measure of the dilution of an amount of chili extract added to sugar syrup before its heat becomes detectable to a panel of tasters; the more it has to be diluted to be undetectable, the more powerful the variety and therefore the higher the rating. Smaller chili peppers are usually hotter than larger varieties.The modern method for measuring the SHU rating uses liquid chromatography.

 Some of the more common chili peppers are:

 bell peppers

Bell Pepper- (SHU 0) red, green and yellow varieties add color and texture to recipes.


Cayenne – (SHU 30,000-50,000) often used in Cajun recipes.  Green cayenne peppers ripen in the summer, while hotter red cayenne peppers come out in the fall. They are also dried and ground.


Chipotle – (SHU 3,500-8,000) a smoked, dried whole jalapeno pepper, usually canned.

 ghost pepper

Ghost Pepper (SHU 855,000-1,463,700) – the hottest of all peppers, with no culinary nor medicinal uses.


Habanero – (SHU 100,000-350,000) extremely hot chiles with a fruity flavor.


Jalapeno – (SHU 3,500-8,000)  spicy chiles with rich flavor.  Green jalapenos are best in the late summer, while red jalapenos appear in the fall.  Canned jalapenos aren’t as fiery as the fresh ones.


Poblano –  (SHU 1,000-2,500) These mild, heart-shaped peppers are large and have very thick walls, which make them great for stuffing.  They’re best in the summer.

Paprika peppers in Central Market in Budapest

Paprika peppers in Central Market in Budapest

Paprika – (2,500-8,000) Common in Hungarian cuisine. Usually sold dry or ground, with some versions smoked.

 scotch bonnet

Scotch Bonnet – (SHU 100,000-350,000) almost indistinguishable from the habanero, except that it’s a bit smaller;  popular in the Caribbean.


Serrano – (SHU 10,000-23,000) These have thin walls, so they don’t need to be charred, steamed, and peeled before using.

 banana pepper

Sweet Banana Pepper – (SHU 100-900) long, thin-skinned yellow pepper with a mild, fruity flavor often used in salads.

 Culinary Uses

Chili peppers are used both fresh or dried. The leaves of every species of Capsicum are edible and do not contain any toxins. They are often cooked as “greens” or added to soups. Fresh or dried chilies are often used to make hot sauces that can be added to other foods to add spice.

Red chilies contain large amounts of Vitamin C and small amounts of Vitamin A. Yellow and especially green chilies (which are essentially unripe fruit) contain a lower amount of both substances. In addition, peppers are a good source of most B vitamins, in particular Vitamin B6 and are very high in potassium, magnesium, and iron.

Chili peppers contain oils which can burn skin and especially eyes. Avoid direct contact as much as possible. Many cooks wear rubber gloves while handling chilies, or generously grease your fingers with any kind of shortening (even the cooking sprays can help). In any case, after working with the chilies, be sure to wash your knives, cutting board and anything else thoroughly with hot soapy water.

 Medicinal Uses

Although chilies have been used as a topical analgesic to ease the pain of arthritis, herpes zoster (cold sores) and headaches, a study done in 2008 linked it to skin cancer. Capsaicin extracted from chilies is used in pepper spray.



Rosemary Shortbread Cookies


2 c all-purpose flour
3/4 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 c (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 T sugar


Preheat oven to 300°F. Blend together flour, salt, baking powder, and rosemary in a bowl.

Using an electric mixer, combine butter, honey, and powdered sugar at low speed. Add flour mixture and mix until dough resembles coarse meal. Gather dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead dough until it just comes together, about 8 times. Divide the dough in half.  Set one half of the dough aside at room temperature while you work with the other half.  The dough will be sticky. To make it easier to handle, roll out half of the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper or waxed paper until it is 1/4 inch thick. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. Use a floured cookie cutter to cut shapes in the dough. Transfer to a baking sheet with a spatula. Sprinkle dough with 1/2 T of sugar. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner.

Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Slide shortbread on parchment to a rack and cool 5 minutes.

Week 18: Rosemary

Rosemary is a perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, , needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers.  The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin word ros for “dew” and  marinus for “sea”  or “dew of the sea”. Rosemary is used as a decorative plant in gardens and can grow quite large and retain attractiveness for many years.  It can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges, and therefore is used for topiary. Rosemary also has many medical and culinary uses.


Health Benefits

In the lab, rosemary has been shown to have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants can neutralize harmful particles in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Also in the lab, rosemary oil appears to have antimicrobial properties (killing some bacteria and fungi in test tubes).

Rosemary contains substances that are useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation, improving digestion, relieving heartburn, flatulence, liver and gallbladder complaints, and loss of appetite. It is also used for gout, cough, headache, and high blood pressure. It improves blood flow to the head and has a reputation for improving memory and has been used as a symbol for remembrance during weddings, war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. During the Middle Ages, a bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this association with weddings, rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newlywed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew, it was a good omen for the union and family.

Rosemary is applied topically to the skin for preventing and treating baldness; and treating circulation problems, toothache, eczema, and joint or muscle pain, such as myalgia, sciatica, and neuralgia. It is also used for wound healing, in bath therapy, and as an insect repellent.

Culinary Uses

Native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary leaves are used as a fragrant flavoring in foods such as eggs, potatoes, roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Rosemary is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6.

Fresh rosemary should be stored in the refrigerator either in its original packaging or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. You can also place the rosemary sprigs in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried rosemary should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.


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