If you’re a lover of hot sauces and flavorful foods, don’t discount the power of locally grown peppers. You can find a variety of spicy peppers at the Countryside Farmers’ Market this time of year, so let’s see how you can put them to use.


Spicy Farmers’ Market Peppers

Luckily for us Ohioans, there is a large variety of spicy peppers that grow well in our soil. Be on the lookout for:

  • Jalapenos
  • Hungarian Hots
  • Cubanelles
  • Poblanos
  • Serrano Hot Blocks
  • Shishtos
  • Anaheims
  • Habaneros
  • Cayennes

While this isn’t an extensive list, and where there’s a will there’s a way to grow just about any hot pepper anywhere on the globe, this is a pretty common list of what you might expect to find from the farmers at the market.

And of course the farmers’ market will have a variety of bell and sweet peppers for those of you who aren’t testing their taste buds or trying to best the Scoville Scale!


What’s the Scoville Scale?

The Scoville Scale, created to rate the heat of chili peppers, was created by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. Scoville held an experiment where he asked participants to taste each pepper, ground up and diluted with sugar and water. 

Each participant sipped each sugar-water pepper concoction, and reported how hot each pepper was. Scoville would continuously dilute each one until the heat was completely diminished by the sugar and water. This way, he could depict which peppers were the spiciest depending on the amount of dilution each pepper required to totally eliminate their spice. 

Since everyone has different tolerance-levels of spice, the Scoville Test is considered to be more subjective depending on the individual. 

Today, we have even more advanced forms of rating heat. A more modern method of testing the spiciness of hot peppers is the use of HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography). This type of test is considered to be the most accurate method in determining the amount of capsaicinoids (the pepper’s spicy component) that are present. 

Since HPLC is a very complex and expensive process, let’s just stick to the Scoville Scale to depict just how hot much pain we can expect from our pepper experience. 

Check out this more extensive Scoville Scale if you’re interested in the intensity of other peppers.



The Science Behind Spice

As mentioned before, spice is considered to be a subjective concept, since everyone’s tolerance levels vary. What’s even more interesting is how spice affects the human body, and what chemicals are produced during the process of eating something extremely spicy. 

The chemical responsible for the spicy sensation is called Capsaicin. According to NOVA, “Capsaicin is the chemical responsible for the “heat” in chili peppers. Like many over-the-counter muscle rubs—think “IcyHot”—capsaicin can bring on both tingling sensitivity and numbness.” 

One common misconception about spicy peppers is that the capsaicin is held within the seeds, making the seeds the spiciest part of the pepper, when in fact it’s the placenta, the membrane surrounding the seeds, that carries the heat. 

Photo via Birdhouse Chillies

So what exactly happens to our bodies when we encounter the heat? When in contact with capsaicin, our nervous system sends out responses that activate our senses of touch and smell. 

The receptors that block topical pain signal to you that you are being burned when eating a spicy pepper, altering and heightening the sensitivity of your taste buds and the sensations in your mouth.

If not careful, peppers that fall at the top of the Scoville Scale can actually cause bodily harm. Since capsaicin is considered to be toxic (mildly – meaning it’s dangerous to be consumed in massive quantities), it’s important to limit the amount of spice you are subjecting yourself to.

There have been hospital cases of individuals who consumed an entire Carolina Reaper pepper, considered to be the spiciest pepper in the world, where people required a complete flushing of capsaicin from their bodies because the pepper caused severe reactions like severe head pain, along with fever, blurred vision, and in rare cases, even seizures. 

That being said, it’s best to utilize the spiciest peppers in small amounts to add just the right amount of kick to your food.


What to do with Peppers in the Kitchen?

Once you’ve found your spicy peppers and you know what to expect from their spiciness, what are you going to do with them? First, you can store your peppers in the refrigerator for a week or two, just make sure they’re dry before storing them in the drawer. Next, consider if you’re going to use your peppers raw, roasted, stewed or stuffed—although you probably did that before you shopped the farmers’ market. And think about the flavors you’re going to mix with your peppers too to make sure your dish is well balanced. If you find the spice is going to be too much, you can remove the seeds and membrane before preparing your peppers.

Peppers are very high in vitamins C and A, along with folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin E and fiber, but did you know the riper the pepper the more nutritional value it provides? Colorful peppers are high in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant too. So don’t go light on the peppers this season…well, maybe just a little when it comes to those more intense varieties!


So now you’re ready to shop for spicy peppers at the farmers’ market to make your favorite sauces, dishes, and spices! Some peppers are still in the harvesting process, so visit the market throughout the season to find your next spicy pepper fix! And remember, each season is different, so ask your farmers which spicy peppers they have and how they recommend using them!  

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