About the Journal
Calendar of Events
Things to Expect & Do
Trees for Special Areas
A Date with History
Annuals in the
Buzz; A Book Review
Ask a Master Gardener
How Herbicides Work
Smell of Rain
East Valley Escape
Garden Insects of
Is Your Gardening
P L A N T C L I N I C
by Carole Zajac, Master Gardener
Chilies, or peppers, are the fruit or pods of plants from the genus Capsicum. The term, chili pepper, is redundant,
although you see it written that way a lot; it means pepper pepper. These plants are native to the Americas, but are
now used all over the world in many forms: fresh, dried, canned, pickled, and powdered.
The archaeological record shows wild peppers were eaten as far back as 7000 BC and were probably domesticated by 2500
The Spaniards are responsible for the name, "pepper," which they thought was related to black pepper, Piper nigrum, a
spice they were seeking, among other exotic items, for the spice trading market. Chile plants went back to Europe with
Columbus and within a century peppers were passed along the trade routes and eventually found their way into the
cuisines of India, China, and Africa.
All peppers are in the same genus, from sweet bell peppers, cayenne, jalapeno, serrano, cherry, Fresno, Hungarian wax
(Capsicum annuum), to Tabasco (Capsicum frutescens) and Habanero (Capsicum chinense), the hottest.
Chilies are part of the Solanaceae family (Nightshade) including tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes. Just what are
chilies? To horticulturists they are fruits; to botanists they are berries; to the produce industry they are
vegetables; dried, they are a spice; but to us they can be anything we want them to be.
The compound that makes chilies hot is an alkaloid called capsaicin (cap-SAY-a-sin), which is not found in any other
plant. Glands in the placenta of the pepper fruit produce this compound. It is not surprising that removing seeds and
membranes inside the fruit reduces the heat, or leaving them in increases the heat.
Capsaicin is so powerful that it is used now in products that repel animals or even humans, instead of Mace. Chilies
are ground up with garlic in a blender with water, strained, then sprayed on plants to make an effective non-toxic
Did you ever wonder how chilies are rated on the hotness scale? In 1912 a pharmacologist named Wilbur Scoville came up
with the Scoville Organoleptic test to calculate the temperature of peppers used in HEET, a muscle salve. Back then the
temperature of a chili was subjectively measured by a majority of three tasters of a five-member panel, Today,
computerized liquid chromatography measurement ranges from 0 Scoville units for bell peppers to 5,000 units for
jalapenos to 200,000-300,000 units for Habaneros.
Scoville heat units:
|New Mexico Chilies||250-1,400|
|Chile de Arbol||15,000-30,000|
|Scotch Bonnet||200,000 -300,000|
Antidotes for the heat in chilies are sugar, dairy products (sour cream, milk, yogurt) and starches (breads, tortillas,
potatoes, or rice).
All peppers, mild and hot, grow well in our climate. Sometimes plants can be grown as perennials if you can protect
them from frost damage in winter. However, each year the fruits get a little smaller. Peppers, okra and eggplant do
just fine in 100 F plus temperatures. Hot pepper seeds, however, are very slow to germinate. They should be soaked for
a few hours prior to sowing. Many seed companies are doing extraordinary things with colors, shapes, and flavors. Check
out Burpee Seed Company, Park Seed Company, Johnnyıs, and Seeds of Change for some interesting new varieties of both
sweet and hot peppers.
Following is a list of chilies found in our area. The numbers following them are a ten-point scale (0 = mild; 10 = very
hot) developed by Mark Miller, chef and author of THE GREAT CHILE BOOK.
|New Mexico (chili Colorado)||2-4|
|Ancho (dried Poblano)||3-5|
|Pasilla (chili negro)||3-5|
|Chipotle (dried smoked jalapeno)||5-6|
Enjoy the chilies of your choice!!
Photo by Candice Sherrill.
Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated November 21, 2004
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopafirstname.lastname@example.org 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092