Last night, my friend Alma expressed an interest in learning how to dice a small pepper, since I had covered the larger ones earlier. So I said okay, and because I am a woman of my word, here it is!
Jalapenos and serranos are two quite spicy, small peppers. We use them a lot here in Texas for things like chili, guacamole, and as toppings for cereal and pie. Kidding. (Maybe.) Contrary to popular belief, the heat in these little chilies is not contained in the seeds, but rather in the white pith that holds the seeds in place. What’s making that heat? A fiery little enzyme called capsaicin. Each type of pepper has a different amount of capsaicin, which is why there are varying levels of spicyness. There’s even a handy-dandy scale to measure the heat in peppers, called the Scoville Scale. So, obviously, bell peppers are at the bottom of the scale, containing zero units of capsaicin. Clearly, bell peppers lose at everything. Moving up the scale, we see jalapenos, which have 2500 to 5000 scoville units, putting them at the lower end of the spicy chilies. Serranos are a bit hotter, generally ranking between 6000 and 23000 scoville units. That’s a pretty broad range. The very hottest pepper is the ghost pepper (Naga-Bih Jolokia pepper) with 1,001,304 scoville units. Seriously hot. Like, people get sick from eating ghost peppers but they do it anyway because people are CRAZY. Here is the Food Network’s Sunny Anderson eating one. It’s pretty tame, but some of the other videos are kinda gross:
So now that we understand why peppers are hot, let’s talk about chopping them! If you are particularly sensitive skinned, I recommend wearing latex gloves when handling peppers, especially once you cut into them. If you don’t wear gloves, just avoid touching your face, eyes, or putting your hands in your mouth until you’ve washed your hands about 25 times. Even then, it takes a bit for the capsaicin to wear off. It isn’t common for the outer skin of the pepper to be hot, but again, if you’re sensitive, wear gloves when touching the pepper or use a bag. In the photos, I’m not wearing gloves because a) it would look weird in pictures and b) I’m a bad-a$$.