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Detecting Heat in Chiles

OK, so I was watching a Throwdown episode, and two chefs originally from Mexico said that you can tell how much heat is in a Poblano by whether the stem is straight or curved. Supposedly, if the chile is mild, the stem is straight, and if the chile is hot the stem is curved.

They made an amazing dish in the show and really seemed to have their cooking chops.

So, do we think this is legit? If so, does it apply to other chiles, as well? So cool if it works! I've encountered a HUGE range of heat in peppers in my life, and I'd like to be able to tell in advance how much they're going to burn!

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  1. Wow, never heard of that. I always thought you just had to taste them.

    I'm going to stop by my mother's this weekend and conduct an experiment. She has 4 or 5 different types of chili peppers growing and I'll see if she'll let me pick 2 of each--one straight, one curved stem--and I'll compare and report back!

    1 Reply
    1. I've never heard that before - sounds like old kitchen lore to me.

      1 Reply
      1. re: thimes

        You're, right, it does. That's why I put it here for evaluation!

      2. At first glance that looks bogus to me, but then I thought about it and realized that there might (in Mexico, at least) be two varieties of poblano, one hotter than the other, and the hotter one has curved stems where the mild one doesn't. Just a theory, but it would explain this (if it's true at all, that is).

        Of course, if you get both straight and curved stems on the same plant, my theory goes out the window.

        1. I work with them all the time and this has not been my experience. I find peppers like all plant products to be fairly unpredictable. On the other hand I have never been consciously testing this theory. Thanks for my spring/summer project!

          1. Monica and Bill could provide an answer...just kidding.
            I'm a huge fan of poblanos, but I'm skeptical of the stem test. 90% are quite mild. But one time I made my shrimp, corn, and poblano soup and it scorched. One must test along the way.

            1. I have heard that with serranos and jalapenos, the smaller and the pointier they are, the hotter they are. No idea if true or not, but I always seek out the smallest, pointiest serranos/jalapenos on the odd chance that it is.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                Thus spake Zarathustra, the king of chili heat!
                A lot of it I'm told is weather related - the drier the growing season, the hotter the pepper.

                1. re: Veggo

                  I have also heard that hot, sunny growing seasons conduce to capsaicin development. However, there is a law of diminishing returns with regard to the more succulent peppers, which will actually burn up if subjected to excessive heat and sunshine. Then again, many of the succulents aren't particularly hot to begin with, so who needs 'em!

                  1. re: Veggo

                    I've wondered about this; perhaps when the growing season is dry, the stem is less vigorous and plump and therefore bends under the weight of the pepper more easily. Also, water then doesn't get to the pepper to dilute the heat - ? Or maybe it's a natural defense in the plant to make itself hotter and less desirable to predators during a time of crisis (not enough water).

                    1. re: sandylc

                      As Tom Petty sang:
                      It's one of those things
                      you can never explain.
                      Like an angel in tears,
                      or a runaway train.

                2. I have lived, cooked, and eaten in Mexico for 33 years, am blessed with dozens of friends who are Mexican chefs and extraordinary home cooks, and have never heard of or experienced this idea.

                  Poblano chiles are generally quite mild and extremely flavorful. Once in a while I find one with more heat than the rest of the batch I've purchased, but still--not much.

                  Another poster mentioned that the smaller and pointier the chile, the more likely it is to be hot. This is usually true of the jalapeño (larger and more rounded on the end) and the serrano (smaller and more pointed), but not always. Especially in the USA, the jalapeño has recently been bred 'dumbed down'--very little if any heat.

                  Take into account the chiles that are neither particularly small nor pointy but which are really very hot: the scotch bonnet, the habanero, the sabino rojo, the chile de agua, and the chile perón.

                  Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: cristina

                    I would add chiles de arbol to the hot list.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Along with the fatali, the bii jolokia and the Trinidad scorpion.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        Indeed, although they are not Mexican.

                      2. re: Veggo

                        Yesterday I took a friend to Mexico City's Mercado de Jamaica. He paused at a stand selling mountains of fresh chiles and I found myself face to face with a huge pile of chiles poblano and the chile vendor. It occurred to me to ask her the question posited by the OP. I picked up a chile with a very curved stem and another with a straight stem. "Which of these two chiles is hotter?" She said, "It's not possible to tell. And of course the chile poblano normally isn't hot at all, just flavorful."

                        I told her what had been mentioned here about the stems. She looked at me as if I had just fallen from a distant planet. "No, señora, you can't tell anything by the stem." We ended up having a good laugh about the ideas some people come up with. Even chefs from Mexico...

                      3. re: cristina

                        Blame the market for mild baseball game nachos for the dumbing down of japs.