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Hot Stuff

Is it hot in here, or is it chile peppers?

When you’re hot you’re hot, and chile peppers are rarely shy about calling attention to themselves. Beloved worldwide and considered an essential ingredient in favorite dishes of all kinds, chile peppers are the go-to vegetable anytime you want to turn up the heat. But wait. Chile peppers aren’t vegetables at all. They’re fruit. And that’s just the start.

Fired up for healthy meals.

Chile peppers belong to the nightshade family, Solanacea, the same family that includes tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes. The specific grouping in this case, however, is the genus Capsicum, and the compound in chile peppers that makes them hot is called capsaicin. Medical researchers are finding more and more benefits of capsaicin, even indications that it supports better heart health. Peppers, both hot and sweet varieties, also boast high levels of vitamins and minerals.

Mild to manic and all points in between.

Your choices are nearly endless with as many as 3000 varieties grown internationally, but a few commonly found chile peppers include the ones shown here. From left to right: Anaheim, güero, poblano, jalapeño, Fresno, serrano, chile de árbol and habanero. Many have nicknames or names from other regions (the güero is also called Caribe, cera wax chile or huchiango), but if you’re shopping for fresh chile peppers and aren’t quite sure what they are, a general rule of thumb is smaller peppers are often hotter.

When you’re at the grocery or farmers market, the best quality peppers will have shiny, unwrinkled skins.

Handling the heat.

The oils of a chile pepper carry the heat, and it takes soap and warm water to effectively clean your hands after working with peppers. For handling very hot peppers such as habaneros, which are among the hottest in the world, some people often wear gloves. And if you’ve ever thought, there has to be a better way to slice and chop peppers, try this method. Keep slicing from the sides, and you’ll leave the stem and core intact for disposal or composting.

Be mine.

Chile peppers transform the ordinary into the amazing. Whether a casual meal or a special occasion, chile peppers chase away winter chills and turn up the heat. Cupid, meet Capsicum. Some things are meant to be.