Gardening Fast Facts: Hot Peppers

What makes hot peppers hot? The answer is a chemical compound called Capsaicin, which is found in the inside wall of the pepper and in its white lining. Capsaicin is odorless and tasteless, except for the hot, tangy sensation it yields. The true flavor of a pepper comes from its outer walls.

The degree of hotness in a pepper varies between pepper types, and is measured in Scoville heat units. Wilbur Scoville was a pharmacist who studied the pungency of peppers and developed the rating system in use today.

Scoville units range from 0 for the common bell pepper, to 350,000 for the Mexican habanero. The Anaheim chile pepper ranges between 500-1000 units, and the popular Cayenne is 20,000 units.

Wear disposable gloves in the kitchen when cutting hot peppers. Contact lens wearers especially should heed this warning, because the Capsaicin is easily transferred from the fingertips to the lens during handling, and the same burning sensation felt in your mouth will be in your eyes, unless you're careful!

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