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Natural Perspectives: Things get hot at tomato and pepper sale

March 21, 2012|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • The 2012 Monster Tomato and Pepper sale had many varieties.
The 2012 Monster Tomato and Pepper sale had many varieties. (Lou Murray )

I went to the 2012 Monster Tomato and Pepper sale at the Fullerton Arboretum on March 16.

The event featured seedlings of more than 250 varieties of tomatoes and about 200 varieties of peppers. They were grown by volunteers and offered for sale at $3.50 for a four-inch pot as a fundraiser for the arboretum.

The weather was cold and overcast. Vic declined to go, so I went with my friend Larry Rolewic. Vic was kind enough to print out an inventory of seedlings for us. And I'm sure that he'll be happy to eat any peppers or tomatoes that Larry and I grow. But Vic has little interest in the process that comes before the cooking and eating stage. He leaves the planting, tending and harvesting to me.

I was fascinated by all of the different tomato varieties that were offered. But Larry was after the hottest chile peppers he could find. He and Vic will have fun watching tears run down each other's faces when they attempt to choke down those really hot chiles. I guess it's a guy thing. I don't like food that tries to kill me.

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Larry was excited because a chile has been found that has broken the hotness record of habanero chiles. The Bhut Jolokia is 10 times hotter than a habanero. And that's what he wanted.

Chiles are rated by their hotness on the Scoville scale, which was developed by chemist Wilbur L. Scoville in 1912. He diluted solutions of chile peppers with sugar water until a panel of taste testers couldn't taste the heat any more. A rating of 100 means that it has been diluted by a factor of 100 to get it to the point where someone can't feel the heat.

There is an enormous range of hotness in peppers.

For example, a sweet bell pepper has a Scoville rating of 0. Pimentos and pepperoncinis (sweet Italian peppers) are fairly mild with ratings of 100-500 Scoville units. Cubanelle peppers range between 100 and 1,000.

The reason why there is such variation within a given variety is that different peppers of the same variety pack different amounts of heat depending on how they were grown.

Anaheim peppers, the ones that are used in those cans of diced green chiles, range from 500 to 2,500 Scoville units. Poblano and ancho peppers range from 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville units. Poblano peppers are often used to make chile rellenos, those lovely egg-batter-dipped, cheese-stuffed peppers with a lovely enchilada sauce on top. The milder forms of these peppers are at my limit of heat tolerance.

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