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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 10, Summer 2003   
Hot PepperHot Pepper Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 9, June 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 11, September 2003

Hot Pepper

Certainly one of the most famous and used spices, known in almost every country of the world, it is now part of the cultures of our planet

 Hot Pepper belongs to the family of “Solanaceae”, a very numerous family which counts 85 genders and 2200 species. The plants usually have the aspect of a bush with light green colored leaves and delicate stems. Their height varies from 40 to 80 centimeters (1.3-2.6 feet) and their width, depending on the species, is always variable from 40 to 80 centimeters. (1.3-2.6 feet)


Historical Facts

 Hot pepper was used as food since very ancient times. According to the witnesses of archaeological evidences, it is believed to be known in Mexico 9000 years ago and in 5500 BC was already present in those areas as a cultivated plant. A precise witness is offered by Montezuma's biography, last lord of Aztecs, while he was prisoner of Cortez, he spent his time joking with his concubines and eating foods with hot pepper.

 In Europe hot pepper was introduced by Christophorus Columbus, who brought it from America, whereas in Asia and in Africa was already known. This spice did not spread like the other spices, that is by means of the usual European trading and commercial ways, but it appears and gets spread in many parts of the world even at the same time. A classic example is offered by the so called “Cayenne pepper” or paprika (capsicum frutescens), originated from tropical America and was known in Asia and in Africa and it spread from one tribe to another.

Hot pepper: these colored
fruits are concealing a burning fire
Hot pepper: these colored fruits are concealing a burning fire

 By reading diaries of the first Columbus' expedition, it can be found out that Bartolomeo de Las Casas wrote: «the spice they eat is abundant and more important than black pepper…The doctor of Columbus' fleet, Diego Alvaro Chanca of Seville, observed that indigenous people were used to eat a very hot spice called “Agi”. It was hot pepper, he brought it to Europe where it rapidly spread with the name of “pepper of the Indies”, it was 1494.

 English, Spaniards, Portuguese and Dutchmen competed in acquiring the best spices' markets, bringing them from the countries where they spontaneously grew up and were cultivated, to the countries where they were unknown. Hot pepper, being a very adaptable plant, has been cultivated in many parts of the world and therefore vanished the dream of richness of many spices traders. Because of its adaptability and spreading, hot pepper became the spice of the ones who could not afford the expensive oriental spices. Mexicans used it to taste tortillas, Africans to taste manioc and Asians to taste rice, and it however became the common way to taste a simple and monotone cooking, as well as poor in proteins, a characteristics of poor people's habits in every part of the world.


A Little Chest Full of Fire

 Every plant belonging to the “Solanaceae” family have something particular in common: they all contain alkaloids, therefore they all have some effects on the human nervous system. Of course, not all of them contain the same quantity of alkaloids and some of them are even used for medical preparations, such as belladonna, tobacco and stramonium. Other plants of the family have more “normal” characteristics and have become part of human nutrition, such as potato, eggplant and tomato. One of the 85 genders is capsicum to which belongs hot pepper. In the capsicum gender we have capsicum annum, capsicum frutescens, capsicum pubescens and capsicum pendulum. Capsicum annum regroups some varieties such as capsicum abbreviatum, acuminatum, fasciculatum, cerasiferum, bicolor and christmas candle.


 The other hundreds of capsicum spread all over the world gave origin to many types of hot pepper, having countless dimensions, shapes and tastes, which are practically impossible to categorize. Not even botanists in some cases agree. Concerning the “hot” taste, it is caused by the presence of capsaicin: there are sweet peppers, hot peppers and very hot peppers; it seems that the intensity of hotness is indirectly proportional to the size of the fruit, therefore a smaller hot pepper will be hotter than a big one.

 Before considering the many qualities of hot peppers, it would be appropriate to mention how the intensity of hotness is measured. The first ones to use a scale for evaluating the level of “hotness” in hot peppers were Aztecs. In their “Nahuatl” language, they could distinguish six levels: coco (hot), cocopatic (very hot), cocopetz-patic (very very hot), cocopetztic (hot fire), cocopetzquauitl (extremely hot) and cocopalatic (hot to make you flee away).

 The gustatory perception is a personal attitude, therefore a classification based on subjective perception is anyway approximate and certainly relative. A pharmacist from Detroit, in 1912, tried to set a method in order to measure the intensity of hotness that could be as objective as possible, at least, according to him. He investigated on what was the substance that caused hotness and how it could be possible to measure it. He took some hot peppers, among the hottest, and he singularly left them in infusion in alcohol for one night long. He used this method because, being a pharmacist, he knew capsaicin, the substance responsible for hotness, was soluble in alcohol. The morning after he took an exact quantity of liquid and he added some sugared water in definite proportions until the hotness was just perceptible. With this experiment he realized the higher the quantity of water added and the higher the hotness sensation of hot pepper was. For Habanero, considered as the hottest in the world, are needed 300.000 units of sugared water in order to have the sensation of hot just perceptible, whereas it takes 5000 units for mitigating the hotness of Poblanos species.

 There is another method for measuring the intensity of hotness sensation in hot peppers, also based on empirical factors: the “Dremann's Hotness Scale”, abbreviated as DHS. This method is based on the diameter of the hot pepper, without considering its length, and its capacity to increase the hotness in a sauce for units of weight. The scale used by this method indicates the ounces of sauce that can be “flavored” by adding just one ounce of fresh green hot pepper. In case of mature hot pepper the quantity must be multiplied two or three times, in case of dried hot pepper it must be multiplied ten times. However it should be observed that both methods are based on personal sensations and therefore highly empirical and relative, and that some species of hot pepper have different positions in the hotness scales used by the two methods.

 Among the many varieties of existing hot peppers, we will mention the characteristics of the most known and spread ones.


  • Paprika - (Capsicum annuum) Powder obtained by drying and subsequently grinding a particular species of sweet pepper. The plant originates from Mexico and it was introduced in Hungary where it became a symbolic ingredient of the local cooking
  • Ancho - Red-orange colored and heart shaped, has a length of about 12 centimeters (4.72 inches), and a sweet and fruity taste. In Mexico certainly is the most popular hot pepper, excellent for stuffing and for aromatizing sauces. When it is still green it is called “Poblano” and can be also consumed fresh. It is usually sold ground
  • Aji - With this name are known a wide variety of Peruvian hot peppers, such as ajì heuacatay, verde molido and limo amarillo, has a red color as well as an intense aroma and a very hot taste
  • Chipotle - Mexican hot pepper having the color of coffee. Indeed, it is a big sized mature and dried jalapeño. Before being used, stalks and seeds are to be removed, then it is mashed while adding some water
  • Guajillo - Dark brown colored hot pepper from Mexico. It can be 10-15 centimeters long (3.90-5.90 inches) and has a slightly curved shape. Its aroma vaguely resembles the one of green tea but in mouth has a sweet taste and it is good for preparing sauces
  • Habanero - It is cultivated in Yucatan and in the Caribbeans, It is believed, according to its name, it originates from Havana, Cuba, but in Mexico Mayans claim its paternity because of the fact it grows up almost exclusively in Yucatan. Considered as the hottest of the world, has an orange or red color, the shape of a lantern and the length of 5 centimeters (1.9 inches). It is good for hot sauces because, no matter its strong hot taste, it is a variety having a rounder taste in regard to others, its hot taste is not persistent nor pungent, it does not irritate the stomach and it can be perceived in mouth only. It is used toasted or mashed
  • Jalapeño - It is cultivated in Oaxaca and in Chibuabua (Mexico), Texas and south-west USA. It probably is the most known Mexican hot pepper in Europe and in the United States, has a dark green color, thick pulp and a length from 5 to 7 centimeters (1.9-2.7 inches), is moderately hot and it is preferably consumed “en escabeche” (pickled), dried under the sun and then smoked with particular woods. It became famous as pickles, in the Mexican “nacho” (a Mexican food prepared with a tortilla stuffed with cheese, soy and Jalapeño hot pepper) and in “hot dogs”, it certainly is the most known American hot pepper. No matter it is adopted by Americans, its origin is from Mexico, precisely from the city of Jalapa to which is named to. In the Veracruz state are cultivated about fifty species of hot peppers
  • Kayenna - (or Cayenne) It is cultivated in Louisiana, Mexico, Asia and Africa. It derives from the ancient Jalapeño. It is one of the hottest of the world, green or red-orange colored, with an particular aroma, and it is very good for making hot the dishes of the African and Caribbean traditions
  • New Mexico - It is cultivated in Rio Grande Valley, Mexico
  • Jamaikan Hot - It is cultivated in Jamaica and in other Caribbean islands
  • Scotch Bonnet - It is cultivated in Jamaica, Caribbeans and Belize
  • Prik Chee - Typical in the Thai cooking, has the size of a finger and it is moderately hot. According to the level of ripeness it can also get green, yellow or red colors
  • Prik Kee Noo - Thai hot pepper having little size but, as opposed to Prik Chee, this one is very hot, it can have red, green or yellow-orange colors, it is very used in cooking, from curry to sauces
  • Pasilla - Long and thin Mexican hot pepper of dark brown color, has an unmistakable licorice taste. When mashed is good for aromatizing dishes made with sea foods as well as “ceviche”
  • Poblano - It is cultivated in Puebla, Mexico City and California, has a dark green color and a length of about 10 centimeters (3.9 inches). It is never consumed raw and is excellent roasted in the oven
  • Serrano - It is cultivated in Mexico and south-west USA, green or red colored, and it is a very hot variety. Has a strong taste and it is good for salads, marinades and sauces
  • Wax - It is cultivated in Mexico, California and south-west USA
  • Rocotillo - It is cultivated in South America
  • Thai - It is cultivated in south-east Asia and California
  • Sweet Bell Pepper - It is cultivated in the Mediterranean and California. It is not hot

 A particular mention should be said about the most famous sauce made of hot pepper: Tabasco sauce. For its preparation are used only hot peppers from Avery Island, Louisiana. The fruits are harvested at full ripeness, then ground, added to salt and then aged with wheat vinegar in oak casks. Tabasco has a hot taste and a pungent aroma, it is usually consumed in drops.


Using Hot Pepper

 To attenuate the hot sensation in the mouth it should be avoided to drink water, beer or wine: in this way things will only get worse. Put a pinch of salt in the tongue and then eat some bread, in particular the pulp. In Indian restaurants it is usually served yogurt in order to mitigate the effects of hot pepper. In medicine, hot pepper is used in phytotherapy, it is particularly good for alleviating muscles pain and the ones caused by arthritis, it is also a normalizer of blood pressure, benefits to blood circulation and to the heart.

 Capsaicin, one of the active substances of hot peppers, is contained in the placenta, a thin veil attached to the inner part of the fruit which holds seeds. Hot pepper is rich in vitamin C, which is however lost during the drying process, has antibiotics qualities and also protects from bowel diseases such as salmonella. It seems, besides for their organoleptic qualities, spices are also used because of their medical properties. Hot pepper has antibiotics, antisclerosis and anesthetic qualities. The intensity of hotness varies according to the quality and the level of ripeness, as well as seasonal conditions: drought increases the concentration of the alkaloid responsible for the hot taste.

 Some believe that eating spicy substances helps to eliminate calories in excess; in fact the ones who eat hot foods would eliminate more than 45 calories more than the ones who do not eat them. Hot spices would increase metabolism of about 25%. However it must be said that it is not certain yet what spices can “burn calories”. Hot pepper seems to belong to this category whereas ginger does not.

 The best method for keeping hot pepper in order not to have it loosing its organoleptic properties are in oil or dried, it must be used as soon as it was harvested in order to preserve its taste. In order to obtain a hot taste it is advisable to dry hot peppers under the sun and to ground them few days after harvesting. The ones who prefer to keep hot pepper in pickle, it is better to harvest them without removing stalks and seeds and to scald them in water and vinegar for one minute. Therefore boiling one liter of water in a pot (33.8 fl.oz.), stop fire and add 250 grams of salt (8.8 oz.), cool them down and put hot peppers in a glass pot.

 In cooking it is better to use it as a whole in order to esily spot it and to remove it at the end of cooking. It should be remembered that the more hot pepper is cooked the more it passes its hot taste to foods, therefore it is preferable to add it almost at the end in case it is wished a food not excessively hot.


 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 10, Summer 2003   
Hot PepperHot Pepper Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 9, June 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 11, September 2003

Wine Parade


The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.

Rank Wine, Producer
1 Capo di Stato 1998, Conte Loredan Gasparin
2 Masseto 1998, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia
3 Teroldego Rotaliano Granato 1998, Foradori
4 Château Laroque Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classè 1998
5 Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto Superiore “Prova d'Autore” 2001, Bonfiglio
6 Shiraz 2000, Plantaganet
7 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac 2000
8 Semillon Sauvignon 2001, Cape Mentelle
9 Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Cakebread
10 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley 2001, Grgich Hills
11 Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 1996, Ca' del Bosco
12 Trentino Bianco Villa Margon 2000, Fratelli Lunelli
13 Muffato della Sala 1999, Castello della Sala
14 Margaux 2000, Ségla
15 Pinot Noir 1998, Mountadam

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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 10, Summer 2003   
Hot PepperHot Pepper Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 9, June 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 11, September 2003



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  Not Just Wine Issue 10, Summer 2003   
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