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Peppers - Sweet and Heat!

Karl Foord

Photo 1: Sweet peppers

Karl Foord, UMN Extension Educator

I traveled to Bagley, Minnesota to Ter-Lee Gardens, the home and farm of Terry and Loralee Nennich. Ter-Lee Gardens offers Pick-Your-Own strawberries at the farm and almost every vegetable that you can think of, most of which is marketed at the Bemidji Area Farmers' Market. I had heard that Loralee was growing more than 50 varieties of peppers and was intrigued. Terry is a colleague of mine and he persuaded Loralee to give me a tour of the two high tunnels where she was growing her peppers. You can see the peppers she showed me on photos 1 and 2.

Karl Foord

Photo 2: Hot peppers

Most pepper cultivars come from the species Capsicum annuum, whose center of origin is Mexico. The Habanero and Tabasco peppers come from C. chinense and C. frutescens, respectively. The center of origin for these species is the Amazon River basin in northern South America. The amount of variation in size shape and color is impressive. Especially fascinating are the color changes that many of the cultivars go through as they ripen. Most but not all start out green and then turn various shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple. Others start out purple, chocolate, or gray green and stay that color. Beyond color and size C. annuum peppers can be divided nicely into those that are sweet and those that "bring the heat". Loralee had plenty of each.

Karl Foord

Click to enlarge

The spicy heat of a pepper is a function of the amount of the compound capsaicin present in the pepper; the more capsaicin the hotter the pepper. Capsaicin stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes. Each hot pepper variety is characterized by a range of capsaicin that it may contain as denoted by the Scoville scale measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). The scale was named after its creator Wilbur Scoville. There is also a rating scale from 1 to 10 also based on SHU (photo 3).

Karl Foord

Photo 4: Cayenne Pepper 'Andy'

Although the genetics determine the potential of heat, the environment can significantly modify the production of capsaicin. Growing temperature, hours of sunlight, moisture, soil chemistry, and the type and amount of fertilizer used can all be influencing factors. The conditions under which it a pepper was dried can also influence heat. The habanero pepper seems particularly sensitive to environmental factors and can vary in heat by a factor of 10.

Karl Foord

Photo 5: Anaheim pepper

The names of many of the pepper types and or varieties reflect where they were developed. For example:

These peppers came from the Cayenne district of French Guiana (photo 4).

Karl Foord

Photo 6: Jalapeño pepper

Anaheim: this green pepper was cultivated for a canning factory in Anaheim, California. (Editor's note: The first American canning factory was constructed in New York City in 1812. The canning industry moved westward and became active in the latter part of the 19th century). These peppers are also known as California Chile and Chile Verde and are used in the making of chiles rellenos. If Anaheim peppers are left on the bush to ripen, dried and ground into pepper, the product produced is Chile Colorado (photo 5).

Karl Foord

Photo 7: Paprika pepper

Jalapeño: When dried, the Jalapeño is known as "Chipotle" and around 20% of the Jalapeño harvest is dehydrated for Chipotle sauce (photo 6).

Paprika: Paprika is the Hungarian word for pepper, and the actual pepper was developed in Hungary (photo 7).

Pimiento: "Pimiento" is the Spanish word for "bell pepper" while "Pimento" or "pimentão" are the Portuguese words. Pimento peppers are the familiar red stuffing found in prepared Spanish green olives.

Padron: These peppers came from the Padron region in the province of Coruna in Spain.

Habanero: traveled from South American and is postulated to have come from Cuba and named after Havana thus the name "Habanero".

Karl Foord

Photo 8: Bell pepper 'Lilac'

Check out a nearby farmers' market to see the variety of peppers available. If your market produces anything close to the variety that Loralee grows, you are in for a treat.

If you are interested in growing some of these varieties please see the publication: Growing Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant in Minnesota Home Gardens

Special thanks to Loralee and Terry Nennich of Ter-Lee Gardens for sharing their time and expertise on peppers.

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