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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 seeds...so 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.

                2. Any dilution of the heat, reduces it. But if you cook it straight...watch out -the fumes will have you coughing and gaging in no time.

                  1. Water doesn't help, chase them with milk or carbs. The ones you had cooked were diluted by the rest of the stirfry ingredients. Some dishes containing hot peppers become hotter when served the next day.

                    1. like DK, i'm of the belief that chiles become milder with age...i once made a pot of chili that was so hot, i felt it was melting my earwax...after 2 days, it got substantially milder, and by 4, rock my socks off, though was so un-spicy, i actually put some tobasco in it...don't know why, but i'm a true believer in the Too Hot? Let it rest phenomenon

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sixelagogo

                        I've had that same experience with chili - but that's a factor of time, not heat. As far as cooking alone goes, I do not think it reduces the heat, but I've never done a scientific study to compare, so it's possible that it does. As others have pointed out, diluting the pepper by mixing it with other ingredients definitely does.

                      2. I have no idea why it's so - from what little I know, I'd expect capsaicin to be capsaicin and react similiarly wherever it comes from but for reasons I don't know/understand, it doesn't seem to work out that way...

                        Apart from the issue of deseeding/deribbing, some but not all chiles, seem to lose heat when cooked. I don't like jalapeños and try to avoid them, but I have heard that they lose heat when cooked and in my limited experience, that seems to be the case. (I'm not talking about stuffed/fried, but cut/chopped up and incorporated in foods. Others I've used don't seem to change appreciably - serranos, habaneros and relatives, Thai/Tabasco type chiles, tepin/amazona types, etc. - all maintain heat levels hot enough for me not to notice a difference. In fact, sometimes long-cooked foods like stews can end up hotter than you expect, almost as if the "heat" has somehow been concentrated. Maybe more leaches out from the membranes or something?

                        In the OP's case, I'd agree with suspicions that the "little bit" used in the cooked dish could well have been pure "flesh" and especially with hyper-hot chiles like habaneros, that can make a big difference. Also, there really is a big difference between a mouth full of chile and a dish cooked with them...

                        1. Don - I grow habaneros every year and use them all the time. I have noticed that the heat and flavor of habaneros (specifically) calm down when cooking. More so than others. Not sure why.

                          Additionally, when I make an uncooked salsa with them, the salsa is definitely hotter the first day. Seems as if by the third day, there's very little heat left at all. And I use the membranes.

                          As a side note, habanero goes really well with fruit.

                          1. Given capsaicin's boiling point (~ 65°C), cooking will spread the liquified heat throughout the cooking medium. I couldn't find information directly relating to potency, but given its high boiling point (~ 215°C), I wouldn't imagine that cooking would reduce the effectiveness of the molecule. Rather, like others have been saying, I think the fact that cooking has spread the heat around makes the tongue perceive a less intense sensation than if one were to bite directly into a small habañero and receive a large dose of capsaicin all at once.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: JungMann

                              Hot damn! That's science for you.

                              1. re: JungMann

                                Melting point = 65C

                                Boiling Point = 210C

                                1. re: JungMann

                                  My theory- because capsaicin isn't water soluble but is fat soluble, it is possible that the fat content of whatever you are cooking may in fact have more to do with the "neutralization" of the heat. Might explain why a food like chili which typically has a higher fat content might cool down over time as more of the capsaicin is absorbed by the fat.

                                  Makes you wonder as well if you better have whole milk not skim on hand!

                                2. A good habanero trick I got from a Jamaican, if you're making a stew-ish dish, is to prick the peppers with a fork and drop them in whole. When the dish tastes hot enought, you can pluck the peppers out -- and even drop them back in later if the heat has abated. It takes the guess-work out!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: sea97horse

                                    That sounds like a neat trick. I'd be careful stirring though - one broken pepper and you've got all those seeds in the mix!

                                    To be safe, I'd put the pepper (maybe even chopped peppers) into a little cheesecloth bag and tie it up tight.

                                  2. I'm not sure if cooking calms down hot peppers. I have to say that I think chipotle (smoked jalapenos) taste a lot spicier to me than regular jalapenos.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                      To me also - but I wonder if that's because of the smoking, or because I get my chipotles with adobo in cans that come from Mexico, and my jalapeños (fresh or pickled) from US growers. The Mexican ones are probably "original strength," if you will, while US varieties have been bred to be milder.

                                      It could also be because chipotles tend to be ripened to full redness before smoking, and ripe red jalapeños are hotter than those picked still green.

                                      1. re: BobB

                                        I've wiped the adobo sauce clean from chipotles to test out that theory. And I've had the sauce on its own -- not very spicy. So I don't think it's from the sauce. And I'm trying to think of why smoking a pepper would make it spicier. Can't really come up with a reason. But I think you may be correct with the type of pepper used for making chipotles in that they're probably original strength.

                                        Are red jalapenos really hotter than green ones? I actually found them sweeter and tempered the hotness. My preference is actually for the red ones. But I find it's not as easy to find as the green.

                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                          "Are red jalapenos really hotter than green ones?"

                                          I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere. On a Chowhound board. So it must be true! ;-)

                                          1. re: BobB

                                            Each pepper will be different unless it's from the same plant.
                                            I guarantee with 100% accuracy that I can find you:
                                            A green jalapeno that's hotter than a red one.
                                            A serrano that's not as hot as a jalapeno.
                                            A fresh jalapeno that's hotter than a chipotle.

                                            These peppers are all different hybrids of a species. Just because a store calls it a Jalapeno, it doesn't mean that every jalapeno in every store in every country has the same exact lineage, and will have the same exact heat profile as all of the others. I've had PLENTY of experience with jalapenos that were SIZZLIN hot, and some that were not hot at all. Serranos too. Habaneros, not so much, they all generally sizzle if eaten with ribs / membranes intact, but I'd guess that there have not been many hybrids made yet. I'd like a pepper that had the flavor of a habanero, but a tad less hot. I think the habanero flavor is exceptional. Very fruity.

                                          2. re: Miss Needle

                                            A red jalapeno IS a green jalapeno that has aged longer. The flesh is generally sweeter. Much like a green bell vs a red bell.

                                      2. It's probably more a question of what it is cooked with, rather than simply being cooked.
                                        These are general observations, not scientific fact:
                                        Cooked with anything sweet lessens the impact. The sweeter the dish the less "hot" is felt.
                                        Cooked with dairy lessens immediate hot, but does nothing to quell cumulative hot.
                                        Cooked with bitter increases the heat.
                                        Cooked with sour seems to increase cumulative heat but not initial heat.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: hannaone

                                          while we're on the topic of jalepenos:
                                          1. I do think chipoltes are far spicier than their fresh variety

                                          Now some "Is it just me or?...." questions
                                          2. has anyone else noticed that how mild jalepenos have gotten recently? I used to put 1 maybe 2 in a 2 avacado guacamole...now i need 4-5 and it's still not really spicey.
                                          3. Same goes for tobasco sauce: has it gotten mild as well? I Or have I burnt my tastebuds off over the years? I swear i could drink the stuff now, where a couple of years ago, a drop would have sent me through the roof..

                                          1. re: sixelagogo

                                            2. Yes there are milder Jalapenos on the market. There are also "normal" Jalapenos, but without taste testing I don't know how to tell them apart.

                                            3. Tobasco does seem milder now, but that may be that my taste buds have "burnt off" also. ;-)

                                            Your tolerance for spice can go up quite a bit if you eat a lot of spice. When I notice my sons or wife leaking tears when I cook a spicy dish, I realize that it's time for me to take a break and let my taste buds normalize again.

                                          2. re: hannaone

                                            hannaone, would the dairy include coconut milk?

                                            1. re: dimsumgirl

                                              yes. coconut milk is made with coconut and milk. it is a dairy product.

                                              1. re: thew

                                                The type of coconut milk used in Thai cooking, canned or powdered, does not contain milk. However it has a significant fat content, which should help disperse the capsaicin.

                                                1. re: thew

                                                  Coconut milk is NOT dairy, it is made from grinding the flesh of a coconut and squeezing out the "milk"

                                                2. re: dimsumgirl

                                                  I haven't really used coconut milk and spice, so couldn't say if it acts like dairy. It may act more like sweet since (to me at least) coconut is sweetish.

                                              2. I have had the same experience that cooking seems to tame the hot peppers. Some peppers more than others. The cooking temperature also plays a factor.

                                                The hotness in the peppers come from volatile oils, and I think some species have oils that are more move volatile.

                                                On occasion, I have fried dried red chilli peppers used in oriental cooking until they are burnt black to drive out the hotness and give it the roasted flavor. I do that for whole and for crushed red peppers. If you do it with crushed red peppers, you have to be extra careful, since the evaporating oils can be extremely irritating if you happen to breathe it. At a minimum, it will give you a choking or coughing fit. You should have a good range hood, unless you want to drive everybody outdoors.

                                                1. No, the dissipating of "picantenness" is simply a matter of dilution or the ratio of peppers to the other ingredients. One pepper in a quart of sauce will be less spicy than one pepper in a gallon of sauce.

                                                  1. No, but dilution does. Dissipation of "picanteness" is achieved by dilution. One pepper in a quart of sauce will generate less "picanteness" than one pepper in a gallon of sauce.

                                                    1. Heat intensifies the effect of capsaicin, the compound that creates the pungency, so cooking will not help tone done the spiciness, just intensify it. Cold chili is not as spicy as heated chili.

                                                      Cuteness can be dangerous! Water will not dissipate the effect of capsaicin. Try bread or a dairy product, but not butter. Capsaicin is fat soluble.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: ChiliDude

                                                        It's true that the same bowl of chili will be hotter (in the piquancy sense) if served at a hotter temperature. But whether cooking affects capsaicin is another question.

                                                        I searched around and found a few sources describing capsaicin as "very heat stable", so no, I don't think cooking breaks capsaicin down.

                                                        Capsaicin is volatile enough that cooking drives some of it off into the air. (A fact I learned as a teenager when I tapped some drops of Tabasco onto a hot plate to see what would happen. Answer: much coughing and sneezing.) The fact that you can sometimes smell the piquancy of something as it cooks tells you that capsaicin is being lost to the air. But the same is true of a great many flavor compounds -- flavor *is* being lost to the air in cooking, but generally not enough to be significant. I suspect the same is true of capsaicin.

                                                      2. I frequently use Serrano and pequin chilis and find that they do not lose their heat after cooking. In fact, leftovers seem even hotter the 2nd day.

                                                        1. Where is chemicalkinetics when we need someone to comment on chemical kinetics???