I was watching a food show on the Travel Channel the other day. It was Adam Richman’s Man vs Food. At one point in the broadcast he mentioned that seeds were the hottest part of the chili pepper and that burns me up because it is not so. I like Adam, and his show – but he is wrong on this one.
The part of the chili pod that has the most heat is the membrane inside that the seeds are attached to. Seeds themselves do not hold much heat if any. The only benefit that the seeds may give you if you leave them in when preparing a dish may be as a source of fiber.
This seed theory is a common misconception, but any expert on capsicum plants will tell you it ain’t in the seeds. All chili peppers are members of the capsicum family and they all pack some level of heat, even bell peppers.
Being a Jersey Girl I had no idea how to prepare chili dishes when I moved to New Mexico. I loved chili, but was clueless on what to do. I used to buy my new found culinary delight – fresh green chili – from the farmer’s market and used them as if they were bell peppers – just chopped ‘em up fresh and threw them in with onions and other veggies when I sautéed. I even did this with spaghetti sauce, using the green chili in place of green bell peppers. I didn’t know any better, and ignorance was bliss for at least a year until a friend told me…”Ya know, you’re suppose to roast and skin those.” Huh? No wonder the skins seemed a little tough.
So I got educated. Now after 30 plus years of practice I’m a pretty good New Mexican food cook, but over these 30+ years I have had a change in tastes, so to speak. In my younger years the heat was a blast – the hotter the better. Now the flavor of whatever kind of chili I am eating is so much more important to me, so I remove the membrane of really hot chili peppers when prepping them for a recipe. The whole chili pepper has heat, but the majority of this heat is packed into the white membrane that the seeds hang onto in the center of the pepper.
I feel I would be remiss in not telling you all that the heat in a chili pepper is no laughing matter when it comes to your delicate body parts, so be very harmful during and after prepping chili peppers of all kinds. DO NOT rub your eyes or touch/scratch any other part of yourself until you have had a change to thoroughly wash your hands, with soap, maybe more than once if the chili is really hot. Don’t change a baby diaper either. If you do experience the burn from any chili (capsicum) variety, use a milk product to soak the affected area until the pain is gone or bearable. This is not just my remedy, but also the advise of Poison Control here in Albuquerque. They get these chili pepper calls all the time.
We had a neighbor from Utah who was very enthusiastic about green chili after moving to Albuquerque. He did the usual New Mexico fall ritual of purchasing a freshly roasted sack of chili for use throughout the year. He brought it home and proceeded to skin and package it for freezing. He didn’t know any better and in the middle of his chili ritual he went to use the bathroom without washing his hands FIRST. We got the phone call of panic. We laugh about it now, but he wasn’t laughing at the time. It is a way too common mistake of new comers to our state. Ouch.
If you will be prepping lots of chili, wear gloves or, at very least, use some olive oil on your hands and work it into your cuticles and under your nails. This helps a lot.
For more info on chili peppers I highly suggest books New Mexico’s own chili gurus, Dave Dewitt and Paul W. Bosland. The best is their collaborative effort and in my opinion THE best book on all things pepper - The Complete Chile Pepper Book: A Gardener’s Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving, and Cooking. Enjoy your chili peppers, and be careful out there!
I know the best things to eat in Albuquerque!
Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!