What makes a pepper a pepper – Capsaicin

Capsaicin – Why Do Hot Peppers Burn?

Capsaicin is an oil soluble compound that gives hot peppers their characteristic spicy heat. It is the reason certain peppers are hotter than others.  The more capsaicin in the pepper, the hotter it is.

Burning sensation felt while consuming capsaicin occurs as the body is fighting the heat of the pepper. “When you eat a hot pepper, endorphins work to block the heat,” says Paul Bosland, co-founder and director of New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute.

 chille pepper

Those that can’t get enough of spicy foods can’t get enough of capsaicin. The compound stimulates the production of endorphins in some people. Which is why they report experiencing a sense of euphoria when eating spicy foods.

This unique, natural chemical compound is concentrated in the seeds of the pepper. For this reason most people prefer to avoid the seeds while others yet prefer the seeds for it’s punch.

I personally have developed a tolerance for capsaicin so I can eat a boat load of the most spicy peppers at each meal. I feel a little bit of discomfort which goes away pretty quickly.

Since capsaicin is an oil soluble, drinking water after eating a spicy chille pepper will not cool the heat. Unless it’s ice cold water. Capsaicin however is milk and alcohol soluble. A sip of cold milk or a cold beer can soothe the burning feeling from capsaicin.

Why Hot Peppers Burn; The Heat of the Pepper; Acapulcos Mexican Restaurants, MA & CT



Capsaicin is the chemical in chili peppers tha



Get your hot sauce recipe here: Hot sauce

What makes a Chilli: Capst makes them spicy. Specifically, capsaicin occurs in the fruits of plants in the Capsicum family. Peppers like bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers and other chili peppers all belong to the capsicum.

This compound is measured on the Scoville Scale and expressed in terms of Scoville Heat Units. Bell peppers are the only members of the capsicum family that don’t contain capsaicin. And thus register zero Scoville units.

The white fleshy membranes inside a pepper contain the most capsaicin. and the actual flesh of the pepper contains less. The seeds of the pepper don’t contain any capsaicin at all.

Interestingly, all mammals are sensitive to capsaicin, making it unappealing to rabbits and other such garden pests. Mean while birds are immune to its effects.

What makes a pepper: How do you identify a pepper?

What makes a pepper chile

Related Reading: The Best Gifts for Hot Pepper Obsessives

  • Poblano Pepper (a.k.a. Ancho Chile)

Average Size: About 4 to 5 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 2 to 3

A good, easy-to-find grilling pepper that’s ideal for stuffing. Use it to make chiles rellenos with a kick of heat (but another classic use is in Mexican rajas). Poblanos get fairly big and are usually sold fresh. While they are younger and dark green. At their red, mature stage they are usually dried (and in their dried form they are called ancho chiles). Their skin is easy to blister and peel. Winsberg says they have a good flavor, with enough heat to be zesty but not scorch anyone.

  • Guindilla Verde

Average Size: About 6 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1

From the Basque area in Spain, this is a tender pepper with a distinct sweetness. The variety shown is from the Bilbao region, and Winsberg says it’s a good fryer served alongside lamb. It shouldn’t be confused with the more widely available jarred guindillas. Winsberg says guindilla is a name applied to several distinct regional varieties in Spain. Ranging from marble-size scorchers to these sweet large fryers, which he says are similar in flavor to a Hatch chile but without the heat.

  • Chilaca (a.k.a. Pasilla Chile)

Average Size: About 7 to 9 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 2 to 3

This is a Mexican variety that matures from dark green to dark chocolate brown. It’s a versatile pepper that’s good for sauces, roasting, and grilling when fresh, says Winsberg. Chilacas are medium hot but “not so much that they are scary.” When dried, they are called pasillas and are common in recipes. Pasillas (also known as chiles negros) are available both whole and powdered.

  • Basque Fryer (a.k.a. Piment d’Anglet, Doux Long des Landes)

Average Size: About 6 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1

A French pepper used in many French Basque recipes. It is a twisty, long pepper that when green has a “very distinct peppery taste. This pepper has a very tender skin, and lend[s] a nice chile zest without adding heat,” says Winsberg. When it turns red, it gets very sweet. It excels in sauces, chopped up and sautéed for a pipérade. The Basque fryer would replace the bell peppers in our recipe, or fried with meats.

  •  Anaheim Chile

Average Size: About 5 to 6 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1

Named after the city in Southern California, the Anaheim is a big, mild chile that’s good for stuffing. Its skin is a little tough, but it peels pretty easily if you roast it first. Anaheims are good roasted, cut into strips, and thrown into a salad; stuffed with meat and grilled. Use in salsa verde; or add to cheese enchiladas.

  • Cayenne

Average Size: About 2 to 6 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 4 to 5

This bright red pepper is usually consumed in its dried, powdered form, known as cayenne pepper. When ripe and fresh, cayenne chiles are long, skinny, and very hot. Winsberg says they are relatives of wild chiles from South and Central America.

  • Guernica

Average Size: About 3 to 5 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1

The Guernica is a Spanish pepper similar to the Padrón in flavor but bigger and without any heat, says Winsberg. It is often served fried like the Padrón or stuffed with cheese or other fillings. It develops a tougher skin as it matures, and then is best roasted and peeled.

  • Hot Banana Pepper

Average Size: About 6 to 7 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 2

Happy Quail grows both sweet and hot varieties of the banana pepper, known as bácskai fehér in Hungary. They are often used in Hungarian lecsó (a dish of stewed peppers and eggs), pickled, or served grilled with meats.

  •  Jalapeño (a.k.a. Chipotle)

Average Size: About 2 to 3 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 2 to 3

Familiar stuffed with cream cheese and deep-fried as a bar snack, or chopped up in salsa. The jalapeño is probably the best-known pepper in the States. It gets its name from Jalapa (also spelled Xalapa), the capital of Veracruz, Mexico. Harvested at both its green and red stages. Jalapeño is spicy but easy to seed and devein if you wish to remove some of the heat. When dried and smoked, it’s called a chipotle chile.

  • Serrano Pepper

Average Size: About 1.5 to 2.5 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 3


Spicier than the jalapeño, the serrano is a small Mexican pepper with thick, juicy walls. This makes it a great hot-salsa pepper that is widely available and versatile. It is most commonly sold in its green stage (it turns red and then yellow as it gets older). You can also find serranos pickled or dried.

  • Habanero Chile

Average Size: About 2 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 5

Native to parts of Central America and the Caribbean, this little pepper packs a lot of heat. But contrary to popular belief, the Red Savina habanero is not the hottest type of chile. That distinction now goes to the Indian bhut jolokia, or ghost chile. And Jamaican jerk mainstay Scotch bonnet peppers are almost twice as hot as habaneros. Still, habaneros add a lot of fire to cooking and should be used judiciously. You’ll find different colors, ranging from red to white-yellow and even brown, but orange is the most common. Great for salsa, hot sauces, or a tongue-blazing jerk chicken (if you can’t find those Scotch bonnet chiles).

  • Pimiento de Padrón (a.k.a. Padrón Pepper)

Average Size: About 2 to 4 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1 (but the hot ones, even when young, can be 2 to 3)

This pepper is a specialty grown in Galicia in northern Spain. It is traditionally eaten as a simple tapa, fried in olive oil and tossed with salt. This is best harvested young and small, with a tender skin and no mature seeds. So it’s perfect for eating whole, bitten right off the stem. It is generally mild with a nutty flavor at this stage, but it gets hotter as it matures. Part of the fun of eating these peppers is that about one in a dozen will be pretty hot, says Winsberg.

  •  Aji Rojo

Average Size: About 2 to 3 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 4

Common in a lot of Peruvian cooking, the aji rojo is more of an orange-red than a true red pepper. It has a similar heat level to cayenne and can be chopped finely and added to ceviche. Also tastes great mixed with cheese or cream to make a sauce to serve over potatoes or chicken.

  • Thai Chili (a.k.a. Thai Bird’s Eye Chili)

Average Size: About 1 to 2 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 5

This tiny chile adds serious amounts of heat to Southeast Asian cuisines. You may find either green or red Thai chiles; both are very spicy. Throw them whole into Thai soups like tom kha gai, purée them for curry pastes, or chop them up for any dish where you want to add heat without a lot of pieces of pepper.

  • Bell Pepper

Average Size: About 3 to 6 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1

The most common sweet pepper, bells are usually seen in red, green, and yellow. But there are also purple, brown, and orange varieties, even striped orange-red. They are a crunchy, juicy pepper that is great for eating raw on salads and for sautéing. As well as roasting and chopping up to throw on a pizza or a sandwich.

  •  Hot Cherry Pepper

Average Size: About 1 to 2 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 4

These vary in size and shape and are very hot. They are usually round, though sometimes more of a triangular shape. Cherry peppers can also be sweet. Most often used in pickling. You can throw one in a jar with cucumber pickles to spice things up, or pickle them with other, more mild peppers.

  •  Hungarian Pimento Pepper

Average Size: About 4 to 6 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1

This is a type of pimento (or pimiento) pepper, which is what you often find stuffed in green olives. It is a large, sweet red pepper, similar to a bell but with an extra-thick, juicy wall. The skin comes off easily, so this is an ideal pepper for roasting. Also great to eat raw with dip.

  • Piquillo Pepper

Average Size: About 3 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1

The ultimate pepper for roasting. This Spanish piquillo has become very popular because of its intensely sweet flavor and bright red color. It is usually only available canned or jarred, but it’s becoming easier to find fresh. Often roasted, peeled, and stuffed with a variety of fillings like salt cod, tuna, or cheese. But is also good stuffed in other things.

  •  Shishito Pepper

Average Size: 2 to 4 inches long

Spiciness Scale: 1 to 2 (with the occasional 2 to 3)

Popular in Japan, the shishito has thin walls, mild heat, and a little sweetness. It is good served like the Padrón. Simply fried, roasted, or grilled, drizzled with some soy sauce and sesame oil, and eaten whole. It also makes very tasty tempura.

Is pepper made from pepper?

What makes a pepper peppercorn

 Black Pepper

Black pepper is a relative of a few other pepper-like plants. Scientific name Piper nigrum, the pepper which produces black, white, and green peppercorns is a spice from Indonesia. Some varieties including cubeb and long pepper.
These are however, unrelated to chili peppers from the New World, which belong to the Capsicum genus. Black pepper is a vine native to southern Asia. They are picked as black or green berries containing a single seed.
Those berries are dried and may be otherwise processed to produce peppercorns. Its spiciness comes from a compound called piperine as opposed to capsaicin in the chilli peppers. If the black coating on the berries are removed before grinding it’s called white pepper.
Chili peppers got the name “pepper” from the resemblance of their spiciness to that of peppercorn. But they’re entirely different plants. Chiles are larger fruits containing a great many seeds and get their spiciness from capsaicin.
what makes a peppercorn

 Red Pepper flakes

They are made from crushed dried chili peppers usually cayenne peppers but other hot peppers may be used as well. I like to crush mine in a mortar and pestle.

what makes a pepper mortar pestle

You can use them to spice up spaghetti sauce, soups and stews.

for a comprehensive explanation of red pepper flakes see: What Is Crushed Red Pepper?

Dried chilli pepper

Dried or “crushed” red pepper is indeed made from real capsaicin pepper. it’s tasty, spicy, and a staple in my household. Most is cayenne pepper. Although some mixes may contain serrano chilies, jalapeños, ancho and even the no-heat bell pepper may be added.

With cayenne being a typical staple, you’ll get a heat somewhere in the 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat unit range. That’s 6 to 10 times hotter than a normal jalapeño on the Scoville scale. If you are simply looking for the normal pizzeria type, you can pick up a jar nearly anywhere. All grocery stores carry it, and it’ll taste pretty much like you expect it to.

Pepper flakes

This can be easily made at home by crushing dried store bought peppers in a mortar and pestle.


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