Post #721 Why Peppers Are Hot

May 27, 2020 at 5:30 PM | Posted in Easy, Standard, Vegetable | Leave a comment

I had a request recently about why foods behave the way they when they interact with our bodies.  Oddly enough, or maybe it was serendipitous (nice word, huh?), I’ve been recording a PBS show called The Science of Food, and the most recent episode was pretty fascinating.  It told us all why peppers are hot.

I already knew that.

But I did learn some things from it.  The heat from the pepper comes from one place only, and it’s not the place most people, me included, always thought.

Inside every pepper (and many other fruits and veggies) is a rib, kind of a pith.  It gives structure to the pepper and holds the seeds in place.  The seeds have no flavor, and no heat.  Those ribs are what hold it all.  They contain varying amounts of capsaicin.  Capsaicin is what makes the pepper hot.

Here’s why.  Everyone knows the tongue is full of little bumps commonly called taste buds.  Those taste buds have almost microscopic papillae on them numbering in the thousands.  These are the real taste receptors.  It happens that there is a receptor shaped in a particular way that matches capsaicin exactly.  The chemical make up of capsaicin makes the receptors feel like they are on fire.  But it gets worse than that.

When those receptors are triggered, not only does the tongue feel like it’s on fire, the brain reacts as though the whole body is on fire.  They’ve actually watched brain imaging that shows this.  Because of this reaction, the whole body responds.  You start sweating; your eyes water; your nose runs; and if you have a bad reaction, everything swells.

But not every pepper is created equal.  So they created a scale of heat called the Scoville scale, named for the guy who invented it.

There are several different iterations of the scale depending on who drew it up and what they wanted to show.  This one is my favorite because it has all my favorites on it.  Bell pepper is the most innocuous of the pepper family.  I don’t like them because I don’t like their flavor.  They got no heat so as far as I’m concerned, they’re just a waste of space.  On this scale, cayenne is usually as high as I’ll go.  Habaneros I won’t go near.  The Ghost Pepper is scary.  And I’ve only just heard of the Carolina Reaper which is the highest on the scale.  So far.

So, let’s say you’ve taken a bit out of a pepper and you hate it.  Your mouth is on fire.  Instinctively, you reach for something to cool the burn and latch onto ice water.


Capsaicin ignores water since saliva is 90% water.  More water is just more saliva.  And even the icy coolness is only momentary relief since it vanishes as soon as it’s swallowed.

Something like this happened to my niece when she was about four years old or so.  Her parents took her and her brother to our family favorite Mexican restaurant in our home town.  Standard operating procedure was for the waitress to bring ice water, chips and salsa, and a jalapeno mixed dish before ordering.  The pepper dish was a mix of jalapenos and other veggies in the jalapeno pickling dish.  My niece saw a whole jalapeno and thought “Pickle!”  She reached for it since everyone in our family loves dill pickles beyond all reason.  My brother stopped her.

“I want you to know that you can have that, but it’s not what you think it is.  It’s not a dill pickle, it’s a hot pepper.  You won’t like it.”

She teared up. “But dad, I want it.”

He grinned.  He told me the waitress immediately went to the kitchen to get something to help her even before she had taken the first bite.  He also told me the county sheriff was sitting nearby and and turned to watch.

“You can have it, sweetheart, but it’s going to be very hot.”

She grabbed it and took a big bite, like she was used to doing with the pickles.  Then she spit it out and immediately started crying and rubbing her tongue.  She reached for, you guessed it, ice water, but my brother stopped her.

The waitress was already there with the right cure, ice cold milk.

Yup, milk, cold or not, will turn the heat off.  The reason for that is that there’s a substance in milk that counteracts capsaicin.  It’s called casein.  It surrounds the capsaicin, neutralizes it, and washes it away.

I don’t like milk, but I will admit that it has its uses.

I was talking to a customer the other day.  He was buying pounds and pounds of various peppers so I asked what his plans were for them.  He asked what I’d do with them and I said I’d probably dry them for later use.  He said he used them in smoothies.  I was taken aback quite a bit and told him I’d never ever thought of putting a pepper in a smoothie.  He said it gives them a real kick.  I bet it does.

My favorite way to use peppers is either in salsa fresca or in chili con carne.

The easiest way I’ve stumbled on to make chili con carne is in the oven.

Take a 2-3 pound chuck roast and season it with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Place it in a heavy dutch oven with about a cup of water and cook it covered in a slow oven for about 3-4 hours.  A slow oven means an oven temp that cooks slowly, so no higher than 300.  Once the roast is done to fork tenderness remove it from the oven and allow to cool for about a half hour.  Shred the roast into the broth that’s collected and mix it up well.  Then add two medium jars of your favorite salsa.  You can mix it up and use a red and a green, or whatever you like.  Mix that up, then add a small can of jalapeno peppers or green chilis.  Cover it again and cook for another hour.  Take out of the oven and add a small can of tomato sauce, and if you like them add a medium can of red beans or pinto beans.  Stir the beans carefully into the chili so they don’t turn to mush.  Serve hot with whatever sides you like.  Mostly I’ve seen cornbread, corn chips, grated cheddar cheese, chopped onion, salsa fresca, chopped cilantro, and the like.  Easy peasy cuz while it’s cooking, you can ignore it.

So, that’s the scoop on peppers.  Next time, I’ll be dishing on one of my favorite things: chocolate!

So, an update on the plants around the house.  Everything seems to be sprouting!  We’re still waiting on the roses to send out buds, but we may not have wintered them properly.  We’ll see.  I’ve got a whole planter full of my favorite Bachelor Buttons.  Once there are blossoms I’ll post pics.  In the meantime, here’s the lilac which just two weeks ago was covered in snow.


In two weeks, the FIL arrives and the vegetable garden is his to plan and enjoy.

Feel free to share the post far and wide.

As always,


Post #683 Top Five Favorite Salads

December 15, 2019 at 1:02 PM | Posted in Basics, Main, Vegetable | 6 Comments

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about a salad.  It’s one of my favorite things to eat and I’ll get into that in a minute, but I thought I’d let you know how I’m feeling after the operation.  In a word, weird.  I’ve got four “hole” in my abdomen that are healing up.  These holes are where the instruments went in and the diseased gall bladder came out.  Should have only been three but years ago I had an umbilical hernia repaired so the fourth hole was to make sure that nothing happened to that.  Since the gall bladder is gone, I’m having to rediscover the things I can eat and tolerate versus those I should avoid.  So far, it’s all been good, no real troubles.  I haven’t had any cheese yet.  I’ve had real butter once and did okay.  I had some pre-processed foods and didn’t act up, but I was still pretty doped up too.  I’ve also had a glass of wine that was so much fun!  But it’s time to get serious about this and figure it out.  Partner/Spouse has been Tony the Tiger Grrreat! throughout all this.  So, once the full recuperation is completed we’ll both be paying close attention to what goes in and what goes out.

Luckily, salads can be as no-fats as you need the to be.

Whenever I say “salad” there are a few memories that come rushing to the front of my brain.  As a kid, salad was always eaten with anything that was cooked on the outdoor grill.  Didn’t matter if it was burgers, hotdogs, steak, chicken, or anything else.  If it was cooked outdoors, there was a salad.  And it was always the same salad.  Iceberg lettuce torn to shreds, chopped tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and onion of some kind.  There might be other things in there, but those four were the basic.  If they weren’t there, it wasn’t salad and wasn’t put on the table.  The dressing was typically Italian, French, and/or Thousand Island.  We weren’t too adventurous or inquisitive in those days.  In my teen years, we branched out more.

When I moved to go to college, I was living with my sister and her husband and one of the weekend go-to dinners was what she called The Big Salad.  They’ve always eaten fairly healthy, but in those days it was a religion for them.  I dubbed it the Garbage Salad because they put things in it that I would have tossed, but I quickly grew to enjoy the salad.  The base was a whole red cabbage sliced thinly.  They did that so it would last a couple of days without wilting.  They also put grated cheese in it, something I’d never done before but made absolute sense when I thought about it.  They put in every fresh vegetable they could find in their garden and from the produce section of the store.  Tomatoes were always in there, the fresher the better.  And they put bacon-flavored soy bits in it.  I hated those things.  And they put firm tofu chunks in it.  And something called vegetable protein bits.  And if we’d planned it right, seed sprouts, which were actually kind of good.  The only dressing was lemon juice from fresh squeezed lemons.  I became addicted to these salads.  For years, the only dressing I’d have on salad was fresh lemon or lime.  I’d never had a salad as a meal before this and it’s still a staple for me now.

When I moved to DC, the two guys I shared the apartment with nominated me to be the cook, which was fine.  They said they liked salad with their meals, so I kept putting salad on the table, which they ignored.  After a couple of weeks, I stopped.  There was no comments made either way, until after several months they started complaining about the meals.  I asked them again what they’d like, and they again asked for salads.  I explained they hadn’t eaten a single mouthful of salad I’d made and they said, “You put stuff in it I don’t like.”  When we finally pared it down to the what would be eaten, it was shredded lettuce.  When I put out a bowl of shredded lettuce, it disappeared.  Go figure.  But that’s what they’d eat, so it made an appearance a couple of times a week.

When I was traveling for the State Dept, I was in Northern Ireland for a couple of weeks by myself.  When I was with a team, we usually would find a restaurant for meals, but when I was alone, I’d find something cheap, easy, and cheerful.  There was a convenience store on the walk back to the hotel that had a nice sandwich counter at the back.  I ordered a sandwich and they asked if I wanted salad?  I said, yes, absolutely, whereupon they put a pile of veggies on top of my sandwich.  I mentally shrugged and accepted it, went back to the hotel, scraped my salad into a bowl and ate it separately alongside my sandwich, which had just enough veggies on it to be interesting.  I did that every night I was there, partly because the shop owner kept me a copy of the USA Today paper every day.  She was sweet.

So, now, when I eat salad, it’s either as a side, or as a meal.  We usually have it with the grilled flesh of some animal on top of it.  We’ve become quite attached to the salad kits because they’re the perfect size for the two of us with no leftovers.  They’re also pretty versatile.  In recent years, we’ve steered clear of any kit that has Romaine lettuce, indeed, Romaine lettuce of any kind, but that’s only re-opened our eyes to all the other fun salad greens out there.

If you like a nice wilted spinach salad, instead of making a hot bacon vinaigrette, try heating a half cup of your favorite dressing, whatever it is.  Use that to wilt the spinach, then top with whatever will complement the dressing.  We’ve used Catalina, blueberries, walnuts, and gouda to create a different salad with spinach that tasted great.

We’ve also started making our own croutons.  My younger brother, when we were in our early twenties, went with his welding crew to our state capitol to work on a job.  He was gone a week and was telling us about his adventure.  They ate at McDs for the most part to save money, but on their last night decided to treat themselves to a nice dinner at Denny’s.  Yeah, I know.  He said, “They put dried up stale bread crumbs all over my salad.”  I laughed and explained what they were, and that they were supposed to be there.  “I don’t care what you call ’em,” he said. “I made them take it back and take them off.”  He eats croutons these days because I showed him how to make them properly.  So easy.  Heat a couple of crushed cloves of garlic in oil until they start to sizzle and remove them.  Cut some bread into half inch squares.  When the oil is shimmering and just starting to smoke, add the bread and stir them around till they brown.  Take them out of the oil and drain them, then add to the salad.  He eats them now like popcorn.

We also make taco salad with the leftovers when we make tacos for dinner.  When you look at it, tacos are designed for leftover taco salad.  I used to think that when I was a kid, but wasn’t allowed to try it out.

So, what are your favorite salads?  Do you prefer fruit salads or vegetable?  Combination?  Let us all know.

as always,


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