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Jun 24, 2008 04:34 PM

Does cooking calm down hot peppers?

My wife came home from the grocery today with two little orange peppers "because they looked cute". After tasting one (and immediately downing two glasses of water) she asked if I could identify them on the web, and they turned out to be Habeneras (at 250,000 Scovill units!). Nevertheless, she tried a small amount in a stir fry and the heat, though detectable, was nowhere near what the raw flesh produced. Is this true in general, that cooking peppers dissipates some of the "picanteness"?

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  1. Removing the seeds and membrane will reduce but not eliminate the heat. Cooking will only spread it out evenly in the dish you're preparing.

    1. biting directly into the pepper will obviously give you a much more concentrated dose of the chili oils that eating a dish in which the oil has been distributed throughout a much larger volume of food. and the most powerful heat is usually found in the ribs/membranes inside, and in the if you remove those before adding the pepper to the other ingredients, you definitely lose a lot of the kick.

      1. It has always been a theory of mine, although untested, that, yes, cooking hot peppers reduces the heat. I base this on the incredible mildness of breaded, deep-fried, cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers, that took the country by storm about 1995 and are still a standard item on most American and Latino restaurant menus' "appetizers" sections. Of course, I could be wrong: maybe all restaurants serve frozen versions from a standard supplier who gets frozen stuffed jalapeno peppers from a mild jalapeno source. But it seems unlikely. And some of these restaurants tout that they do make these stuffed jalapenos fresh.

        4 Replies
        1. re: gfr1111

          Most (all?) of the mild stuffed ones are the TAM Mild Jalapeno, or its equivalent. TAM as in Texas A&M.

          1. re: paulj

            they are breading jalapenos for less heat these days that's for sure. Serranos are about as hot as jalapenos use to be and I've had serranos that were not hot at all if you removed the ribs. This seems to be the norm today.

            Next time you bite into a habanero pepper Don, you might want to drink some milk or something with fat in it. Water just doesn't cut the heat. Actually habaneros have some of the best flavor of all peppers if you can get past the heat. The trick is to remove not only the ribs and seeds but the inside membrane of these peppers if you are going to use them in a fresh dice. Jamaican cooks often toss them whole into the dish and remove before serving.

          2. re: gfr1111

            Just the reverse is true. Heat increases the intensity of capsaicin. If you meant to say that using hot peppers in combination with other ingredients, I would agree that the pungency may be somewhat lessened, but that depends on the variety of the chile pods and the amount used in any dish.

            More than 30 years of growning and eating chiles in a variety of recipes has given me great tolerance of capsaicin. However, you will not find me participating for hottest chile eating contests. I may be crazy, but not that crazy.

            1. re: ChiliDude

              I thought so, ChiliDude. Once it's there, it can't run or hide. My buddy Java Joe in Mexico ate habaneros like we eat peanuts, may he R.I.P.

          3. on a side note

            water is the worst thing you can do clear pepper heat from your mouth

            the heat is oil. oil and water do not mix

            the oil floats on the water and spreads to cover your whole mouth making it get hotter

            2 Replies
            1. re: thew

              Good point. I always have a giant glass of milk ready for spicy meals.

              1. re: thew

                What about dishwashing liquid? :-)

              2. I don't really know if cooking tames the chile heat, but I have had experience with a tomatillo salsa that just eats up the chile heat. The first day I make it, it is searing hot, and the next day is mild. I don't know if it is the heat (I blend the chiles with the freshly cooked tomatillos) or the sugar/acid inherent in tomatillos. I usually have to add more peppers the second day to this salsa. Other salsas that I make have raw tomatoes, and this doesn't seem to happen.

                1 Reply
                1. re: dkenworthy

                  I've had the same experience - tart, acidic ingredients like tomatillo. tomato and citrus tend to 'cancel' the picante-ness. I don't know if this is a taste bud illusion or acid breaking down the capsaicin.
                  In addition to breeding milder strains, more irrigation will usually reduce the chile heat/varietal character and less will stress the plant (and increase heat and flavor). I've grown jalapenos from seed and noticed this long before the evil TAMs became widespread.
                  Don't forget the 90% rule that applies to chiles - the remaining 10% will be bell pepper mild or will blow your head off.