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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke
Tags >> chile peppers

Cabe Rawit Peppers at Market

It should come as no surprise that while the global economy heats up again, the prices of chile peppers across Southeast Asia are increasing, too. Rising food costs, a good indicator of economic inflation, have thus far contributed to concern in the Western world and turmoil in the Middle East. It would seem that Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, is no longer immune to the trouble.

Take a moment to chat with one of Indonesia’s many food vendors, and they’ll tell you the hard truth of their trade – food costs are on the rise, and nowhere is this more evident than with chile peppers, a staple of the local cuisine. Recently, chile pepper prices—particularly the price of Thai chiles, called “cabai rawit,” have jumped between three-fold to nearly ten-fold over the last year, making chiles more expensive than beef in some regions.

What’s causing chile pepper price inflation? In a recent article from Bloomberg Businessweek, contributor William Pesek identifies the culprits: Surprisingly, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has as much a role to play in the increase as recent devastation from La Nina weather patterns.

“Asia, with the exception of Japan, is booming,” says Pesek. “Any cursory look at data on gross domestic product and stock performance shows that. The trouble is, the region has too much of a good thing on its hands. Too many investors are seeking higher returns at the same time Europe is quaking and America’s outlook is shaky.”

So while investors are sending a deluge of cash into Asian markets, the cost of living is surging for local inhabitants. This is particularly worrisome for Southeast Asia, where many of its citizens survive on less than $200 a month. A rise in staple food products such as chile peppers, cooking oil, and rice could mean a difficult time ahead.

It’s not just food vendors and economists who are keeping a close watch on chile pepper inflation; even Indonesian leaders, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, are weighing in on the crisis, advising Indonesians to grow their own peppers or look to hot sauces and other fiery substitutes until prices cool off.

But in a region where no dish goes without a spicy condiment, Indonesians are reluctant to turn their backs on such an ingrained culinary staple, making the cost of chile peppers a possible tipping point in the future of Southeast Asia's economic and social stability.


The Soil TriangleWe chile gardeners are getting twitchy. We look at our garden plots, many of which are buried in snow, and we yearn for the growing season. Okay, guys and gals, buck up! You can, indeed, take some action in the "off" season. Here's a quick checklist:


1. Plan your 2011 garden. Select varieties and buy seeds or place your bedding plant order with ChilePlants.com. Decide what companion plants you want to grow. I grow tomatoes, eggplants, colored bell peppers, and lots and lots of herbs. I do not recommend growing potatoes, onions, or corn and I don't even grow New Mexican varieties—saving room for more exotic ones because I know Sichler Farms will supply me with my fresh green and red fixes.

2. Clean up your garden plot(s), removing all dead material to the compost pile. It's okay to add organic material at this time if your ground is not frozen. I recommend aged and sterilized steer manure combined with organic material from your compost pile before you add more non-composted material to it.

3. Plan your garden out for maximum access for harvesting, weeding (for shame—use plastic mulch to eliminate them), and for the viewing pleasure of your envious friends. Tall plants like tomatoes in the background, smaller plants in the foreground.

4. For varieties with long growing seasons, like the Chinense species, you can start seeds now if you have a greenhouse or a sunroom free from cats, who like to graze on the seedlings. Remember to pinch back the seedlings if they get leggy.

5.  Read Paul Bosland's and my three articles, "Preparing the Pepper Garden," here.


Pepper Thieves

Posted by: Kelli Bergthold

Man Eating Pepper

From the pepper bandits who made off with more than 26,000 pounds of red peppers in Adra, Spain, to the pepper thief who stole 128 pounds of sweet peppers – valued at $20,000 – from a farm in California, chile peppers are definitely a hot commodity on the black market. But it’s not just humans who can’t help themselves to a bit of pepper pilfering.

Santa Fe, New Mexico residents Jamie Hascall and Dr. Betsy Brown were amazed not only to find a pack rat’s nest under the hood of their Subaru Forrester, but also by the Rat's Nestartful display of chile pods the rodent had collected from a nearby chile ristra that had fallen to the ground. It turns out that many different animals love peppers just as much as humans do. Birds, rodents, even dogs will grab the chance to sneak a bite of sweet peppers (even jalapeños) if the opportunity should arise. Because birds lack the kind of receptors on their tongues that cause humans to nibble habaneros carefully, they have a much higher tolerance for the capsaicin that makes peppers hot. In fact, many bird seed producers include dried chile pods and seeds in their seed mixes.

Next time  you’re prepping a spicy dish, or adding some fresh hatch chiles to the grill, make sure there are no would-be pepper felons hanging around, waiting for a taste!


 

Naga ViperWe wanted to make sure that everyone understands the position of University of Warwick regarding testing of the Naga Viper.  Peter Dunn, head of communications, just sent us this statement:

The University of Warwick School of Life Sciences has been asked by a number of growers to test Chillies to ascertain their heat level on the Scoville Scale. Each of those tests has been done as a commercial service to those clients and the University has not publicized or press released any of the results.

One of those clients recently asked us to test a Chilli they described as a "Naga Viper".  We completed the test and gave the results to the client. We have since seen a number of media publish those results under headlines that this indicates that the tested Chilli is the hottest in the world.

We also understand from news reports that there has been some interest in having this published as a fact in the Guinness Book of Records.

While we cannot release our full report on this Chilli without the commercial client's express permission, we can say that we feel that any result obtained from the Chilli sample that was tested by us should be viewed as only a good indicator that this Chilli could meet the conditions of entry into the Guinness Book of Records. The sample provided to us was relatively small and, while we do not know explicitly what the Guinness Book of Records testing requirements would be, we would expect that they would require at least one more test with a larger sample and possibly a corroborating test in another lab.


Cactus Christmas TreeHere at the SuperSite, we have assembled a tasty array of holiday articles and recipes from many of our writers.  Chile peppers are a common theme and appear in Christmas recipes around the world, from snacks to desserts. Here is a brief overview.

 

Chile WreathRed and Green For the Holidays. Mistletoe and holly are endangered species around here—everywhere we look in the Southwest, the traditional red and green decorations of the holiday season are dominated by the very same colors of New Mexico’s powerful state vegetable, the chile pepper. The abundance of chile gift items boosts the pungent pod to primary status as a New Mexico Christmas symbol.

A Chile PiñataA Chile-Blessed Christmas Around the World. New Mexico is not the only place where the pungent pod plays a roll in holiday fare.  In many countries where Christmas is celebrated, chiles are an integral ingredient in traditional holiday foods.

Deep-Fried Cajun TurkeyDeep-Fried Cajun Turkey for Christmas. Despite the three-day process, it’s well worth the effort to cook turkey this way. Created in the South, this method of cooking a turkey is gaining popularity all across the country. This process produces a succulent turkey and if the oil is at the correct temperature, a crisp, not greasy skin.

It's a Party!Sizzling Snacks for Holiday Entertaining. Ah, the holidays…when friends can drop in unexpectedly and expect to be fed. Don’t be caught unprepared! Here in New Mexico, a really great party always contains some spicy munchies. Chile peppers can be found in every course, from drinks and appetizers to entrees and even dessert.

Old Town FarolitosChristmas Eve Dishes from New Mexico. Christmas Eve in New Mexico is a very special night steeped in tradition and probably no other image symbolizes the season more than the flickering lights from the brown paper bags, called luminarias or farolitos, that line the walkways and outline buildings and houses throughout the state.

Holiday FeastA Multi-Cultural Holiday Feast.  It's the time of year that friends and family gather to enjoy each other's company, to reflect on the year that is passing, make resolutions for the upcoming one, and hopefully, eat way too much hot and spicy food and barbecue. The celebrations seem to be non-stop for the entire month. Ever wonder why there are so many in December?

Spicy TiramisuHeavenly Holiday Treats: Desserts with a Tangy Twist.  As a devout chilehead, I constantly look for a little bit of heat in my food.  I've found my favorite recipes for fiery appetizers, sizzling soups, and exciting entrees.  The only category that I was disappointed with was desserts.  As rich, creamy, and decadent as desserts can be, there was something missing: a little spice, a little zing, a little heat. That's what I was searching for.

Sauza SignSpicy Drinks for New Year's.  Many people compose their New Year's Resolutions at this time of the year, but I prefer New Year's Revolutions: hot and spicy drinks to celebrate in a toast to the coming year, which I vow to make the best year of my life.  Yes, yes, I've been known to be infected with PMA: Positive Mental Attitude.  Salud!


Pecan Grove, Las CrucesChiles had their moments of fame back in the 1980s and early '90s when they were easily New Mexico's number one food crop. But as the pecan groves expanded and the trees matured, pecans have steadily stolen the chiles' thunder. These days, the pecan crop value is nearly double that of chile peppers.

In 2007, New Mexico pecan growers were dancing in their groves this spring after becoming the leading U.S. pecan-producing state in 2006, displacing Georgia, typically the national champ. The 46 million-pound crop was valued at about $85 million, with grower prices at about $1.85 per pound. Last year, New Mexico produced 68 million pounds of pecans in the shell in 2009 to rank No. 2; Georgia produced about 79 million pounds to comePecans in Husks in first. Texas came in third. But New Mexico recorded the highest price per pound in the shell — $1.76. Arizona ranked second at $1.72 per pound, and California was third with $1.51 per pound.

But I'm not sad for the chiles—after all, it's quality, not quantity. So, as the pecan harvest begins, let's combine the two favorite crops of New Mexico.

Pecan and Chile Cheese Roll
Pecan and Chile Cheese Roll

Although it’s easy to prepare and extremely tasty, believe me, this ain’t your grandmother’s cheese ball. Although this type of appetizer has graced party tables for years, this one will soon become a new favorite. I use pecans because they are so plentiful here, but substitute walnuts or almonds if you prefer.  Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

1/2 cup chopped green New Mexico chile, which has been roasted and peeled
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons ground red New Mexico chile
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Combine the chile and the cheeses in a bowl and mix well. Refrigerate until firm.

Toss the pecans in the ground chile until well coated.

Roll the cheese between 2 pieces of wax paper to form a log. Then roll the log in the crushed nuts and chile for 8 hours before serving.

To serve, place the cheese log on a platter and arrange crackers around the cheese and place a knife on the platter for spreading.

Yield: 1 log
Heat Scale: Medium


The Pepper EaterSometimes it’s easy to forget that producing fiery foods is more than just a passion – in many parts of the world, chile production and processing is a necessity. Dried red pepper is the one of the most widely consumed spices in the world, eaten daily by one-quarter of the world’s population. Chile peppers are one of the oldest domesticated crops. Civilizations in South America grew chile peppers for food and medicinal purposes, and after peppers were introduced to other parts of the globe more than 500 years ago, chiles became important in developing nations for their economic value. Ethiopia alone consumes 466 million kilograms of pepper annually, with an estimated 400,000 women in Ethiopia processing peppers for income.Women Processing Peppers

Inspired by stories of Ethiopian women bringing in income by processing peppers by hand, a team from the Hassno Plattner Design Institute at Stanford University developed the Pepper Eater—an affordable hand-cranked pepper grinder. Pepper processing is exhausting work that turns fresh peppers into higher-value products: dried flakes, seeds, and powder. The procedure can cause severe irritation in the skin, eyes, and noses from exposure to pepper oil containing capsaicin, pepper dust in the air can cause respiratory issues. The Pepper Eater produces dried pepper flakes about 2-4 times faster than current manual methods while greatly reducing the health risks associated with processing chiles.

The design team included Samuel Hamner, Megan Kerins, Siobhan Nolan, and Scott Sadlon, a group of Stanford Engineering and Business grad students. After successfully conducting an on-the-ground feasibility study in September 2009, Sam and Scott are continuing as an independent design and strategy team with the goal of implementing the Pepper Eater in Ethiopia and other developing markets. Most recently, they have partnered with Compatible Technology International and have been featured in National Geographic Magazine to help them achieve their goal and gain exposure for the project.

Interested in learning more about the project, or donating? Visit: www.thepeppereater.org.

Sources & images for this article provided by:

www.thepeppereater.org

http://socialelab.org/?page_id=103


Cabbage Field Near Las CrucesWe hear so much about New Mexico chiles that we tend to forget that many other crops are grown in our state.  The number one ag crop is alfalfa and the number one food crop, in value, is pecans, and chiles are second now.  But we also grow lots of fresh market crops like, believe it or not, cabbage, seen at left.  Farmers in New Mexico also grow lots of onions and peanuts.


On a recent trip to Las Cruces, I encountered the Cotton Field Near Salemthree fields in this post from Arrey south to Las Cruces.  A very important non-food crop in New Mexico is cotton, and the brilliant white bolls really stand out, as you can see in the next pic, at right.

That said, we are most famous for chile peppers and rightly so.  The green chile harvest is mostly over now, and Red Chile Field, Arrey, New Mexicogrowers are letting the pods turn red and they partially dry on the plant.  These pods can be machine-harvested, unlike the green pods, which are hand-picked because they are more fragile. The large field at left, near Arrey, will be harvested soon and the pods placed in tunnel dryers to complete the process.  Then the pods will be bagged and sold, or ground into powder, or made into ristras for home decoration.


Color Change in Bhut Jolokia

Harald Zoschke, our key chilehead correspondent in Europe, reports:

  • Our Calabrian-grown 'Bhut Jolokia' tested at 818,386 SHU (twice the result of Assam-grown 'Bhut' analyzed at the same lab in Hamburg, btw.!)
  • The Indians' superhot 'Chocolate Bhut' that I had tested gave only 417,888 SHU at the Hamburg lab.
  • This year, red 'Bhut' powder from Assam (directly from the grower/producer) traded to Germany as having "850,000 SHU," was tested in Hamburg and it delivered only 373,821 SHU - even some Chocolate Habaneros are almost that hot.  
  • Harald also notes: "Returning to my 'Fatalii' theory... A customer who purchased original Assamese 'Bhut' seeds from our shop complained that the pods weren't red but yellow. Bhut MutantHe was kind enough to send me some of those pods, and here's a red pod from my test plant, and his yellow mutant (both grown from from the same seed batch). While red is a dominant gene, obviously this (recessive) yellow gene came through on that other plant. Looks quite 'Fatalii', doesn't it? So who knows.... A friend of mine from Italy also reported about a yellow Bhut  just a few weeks ago. I sent our customer  a replacement pack of seeds, but I'll sure test-grow seeds from that yellow pod next year.  When comparing Scoville results, it is important which HPLC standard is used. Our food lab in Hamburg, Germany uses the defacto standard ASTA 21.3."


 

Jonah 7 Superhot ChileFor the 5+ years that the rumors and then stories about the  superhot 'Bhut Jolokia' from Assam in northeast India have surfaced, I've wondered about its origin.  Pods of Capsicum chinense are found all over the Caribbean, from the Scotch bonnet in Jamaica to goat peppers in Haiti to bonney peppers in Barbados.  However, it is the country of Trinidad & Tobago that seems to have the largest number of land races of that species, including the Congo pepper, the Scorpion, the 7 Pot, and now the Jonah 7, pictured here.  Of all of these, it's the Jonah 7 which most resembles the 'Bhut Jolokia', and the India connection to Trinidad is very clear: 40% of the people have an Indian ancestry, as compared to 37.5 % with an African ancestry.  So it's my theory that sometime after the Indian migration to T&T began in 1845, some enterprising person took Jonah seeds to India and they ended up as Bhut Jolokia, or "ghost pepper" in Assamese.  Recently, Marlin Bensinger, a friend of mine and the world's foremost expert on capsaicin extraction and testing, performed HPLC tests on the Jonah 7, and it was in the precise heat range of 'Bhut Jolokia'.  So maybe a mystery has been solved!  Thanks to Jim Duffy in San Diego, who grew out the pods and photographed them.

My esteemed colleague in Germany, Harald Zoschke, comments: "My theory is that Bhut evolved from Fatalii (which, of course could very well come from Trinidad, brought home to Africa by returning slaves). Please take a look at the attached picture - a Bhut Jolokia and a Bhut and Fataali ComparisonFatalii pod from my greenhouse. To me, they look like close relatives (and there's a Red Fatalii around, too). Now, what if Bhut is a Red Fatalii that trade ships brought from its home, Central Africa, to India, hundreds of years ago. And there, it just got cross-pollinated to receive the C. frutescens gene traces that Paul Bosland's DNA test revealed. Or maybe those genes were in the Fatalii already, which a DNA test could easily prove, providing evidence for my theory. Remember, besides C. chinense, Bhut's Innards of Bhut and FataliiDNA includes 7% of C. frutescens. Fatalii could have picked this up from Malagueta, which had spread early in Africa, becoming pili-pili or peri-peri. Also, while Fatalii isn't quite as hot as Bhut, both share that intense "instant burn," as opposed to the Habanero's delayed burn. And as my pic #2 shows, both share the poor innards, with very few seeds.  Who knows, maybe all three are very closely related."                                                  Fat Bhut

My comment back is that in this particular instance, Harald's 'Bhut' certainly does resemble a 'Fatalii', but pod variations within a land race are common, and sometimes the pods on the same plant have different forms.  See another pod shape of the 'Bhut' at right.  This is because they are land races--adapted varieties that have been growing in the same geographic area for hundreds of years--and not recently bred-to-be-true varieties.  The only way to really figure this out is to compare the DNA of all these varieties.

 


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