Monday, November 05, 2012

Some Like It Hot

photo of chili peppers
A peck of ghost peppers picked in my garden on November 1st.
There are several staff members at the Springville Road Library that absolutely love spicy foods and when I say spicy, I mean foods with a whole lot of heat. We go through bottles of sriracha the way most workplaces go through bottles of ketchup. Wasabi mashed potatoes are popular at our potlucks and many of our staff consider Red Hots to be a mild-mannered after dinner mint.

However, Springville Road staff recently encountered a food so hot that it gave pause to even the most diehard heatseekers among us.

This is the time of year that hot peppers are the only summer crops that are still doing well in my garden. I have dozens of jalapeños and thai chili peppers ripe for the picking.  I even have two habanero plants that are still full of those devilish little orange peppers.

The plant that is doing the best in my garden this year has been the bhut jolokia plant—a plant that is more commonly known as the ghost pepper. Ghost peppers are the third hottest pepper known to mankind and the single plant in my garden that I grew from seed has produced bushels of them since early September.

The heat level of peppers is measured in what are called Scoville units and ghost peppers are routinely rated at over one million Scoville units. Compare that to the jalapeño pepper’s eight thousand Scoville units.

When you have a large crop of ghost peppers,  there are few friends and neighbors whom wish  to share in such a fiery bounty.  So I have been making ghost pepper jelly, saving seeds for next years garden, and sharing the peppers with my heatseeking colleagues here at the Springville Road Library.

Several staff members were brave enough to consume a ghost pepper or sample some of the the ghost pepper jelly.  The resultant streams of tears can provide ample testimony to the strong level of heat that these peppers can unleash on the human body.

Some of the staff—including myself—have utilized the ghost peppers in finding some relief from a vicious round of sinus infections that were plaguing the library about a month ago. A little research on capsaicin—the active ingredient that produces the heat from a pepper—in several Birmingham Public Library linked databases such as Medline Plus  and PubMed indicates that this substance is being utilized for a variety of medical and research purposes - including weight loss and pain relief.  It turns out that relief of sinus congestion is not mentioned in any of the articles returned by searches on these particular databases.

Of course the primary use of ghost peppers should be in the culinary realm and the Birmingham Public Library has many books devoted to cooking with hot peppers. While none of the books in our collections specifically mention ghost peppers (as of this writing), there are plenty of books covering the cultivation and preparation of hot peppers (as well mild peppers for those who cannot handle much heat).

Further reading:

Complete Chile Pepper Book: A Gardener’s Guide by Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland

The Peppers Cookbook : 200 Recipes from the Pepper Lady's Kitchen  by Jean Andrews
Chile Peppers: Hot Tips and Tasty Picks for Gardeners and Gourmets edited by Beth Hanson and Janet Marinelli

Hot peppers : Cajuns and Capsicum in New Iberia, Louisiana by Richard Schweid (Library Use Only)

A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider (for the Wasabi Mashed Potatoes recipe)

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