Growing, Drying And Using Homemade Jalapeno Peppers

Background on chili peppers, why some are hot and why some are not. Advice on how to dry them using three methods.

You probably associate chili peppers with one word: hot. Contrary to popular belief, not all chili peppers are spicy. Many varieties of peppers are extremely hot, but there are others which are mild and even sweet. Additionally, the color of the pepper has no specific bearing on the level of hotness. The heat of the chili is located not in the exterior or even in the seeds, as many people tend to think. The interior veins surrounding the seed heart are the source of the heat""the seeds only taste hot because of their proximity to the veins. To tell if you've got a particularly spicy pepper simply slice it open and look at the veins; if they are yellowish or orange then it's likely you have a hot one.

So why are hot peppers veins so darn hot and why is it that bell peppers are mild? The sensation people receive when they consume hot peppers is due to a cluster of compounds called capsaicinoids. The capsaicinoids grow in the placenta of the fruit, near the veins. The only difference between bell peppers and hot peppers is the presence of these compounds which are associated with the presence of one dominant gene""a gene that hot peppers have and bell peppers lack.

If you want to be really specific about the hotness of a pepper you can actually measure it. The Scoville Unit scale is used to describe the relative hotness of all types of peppers. Bell peppers are zero since they lack the capsaicinoid gene, jalapeños are ranked at five, serrano peppers are a six, cayenne peppers receive a rating of eight, and at nine you have the chalet pin peppers and Thai hot peppers. Habanero peppers are considered a ten by most chili experts, as they are the hottest chilies known to man. When you are using habenero peppers use extreme caution during preparation and cooking.

Now that you know a bit about hot peppers, what is the best way to enjoy these spicy fruits? Brave souls eat hot peppers a la carte, but most find hot peppers to be the perfect additive to give a little kick to already tasty recipes. The addition of peppers to soups, stews, and sauces can result in a wonderful and complex taste.

Some people enjoy the taste of fresh chili peppers with their meals, while others prefer to use dried peppers in their recipes. Drying your own peppers at home is a relatively easy process. There are three main ways of drying peppers. You may use an oven or a dehydrator, or you may opt to air-dry your fruits. Drying peppers in an oven or dehydrator takes a much shorter time than air-drying, but produces a less vibrantly colored fruit.

If you opt for speed then you will need to prepare the chilies before you put them in the oven or dehydrator. First you must wash and towel dry the fruits. Second, cut off tops, slice them in half, remove the seeds and placenta, and place the halves in a single layer on the dehydrator screen or flat oven dish. 140-155 degrees is a good temperature range to stay in for drying peppers. Dry four to seven hours in a dehydrator or six to ten hours in an oven for the best results.

If you have more patience and do not mind having fruit hanging from your ceiling you may opt for air-drying. Simply bind the stems of several peppers together with twine and hang them in an area where warm air circulates freely. You may also use a needle to thread the peppers together. As the days and weeks go by the chilies will lose their brilliant hue and will transform into a dark, glossy, crimson color. The chilies are ready when they have this appearance and when they are smooth and dry. The process usually takes three to five weeks, depending on the amount and type of peppers.

Once the process is complete you can either store or use your newly transformed peppers. You can use the peppers for cooking or you may choose to grind them into chili powder. Peppers can also be re-hydrated by soaking them in hot water for fifteen minutes. Re-hydrated peppers are perfect for adding a hot flavor to sauces, stews, and even soups. As you can see the pepper is a diverse fruit and can be enjoyed in many ways.

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