Exploring the World of Heat: A Guide to Hot and Spicy Peppers

Exploring the World of Heat: A Guide to Hot and Spicy Peppers


I love a good hot pepper. Peppers are some of the oldest vegetables on Earth, and for centuries, people have been growing them for both food and medicine. Today, hot peppers are used in cuisines from every corner of the globe. They add spice and flavor to everything from soups to salsas to curries—and they can even be eaten raw as part of an appetizer platter! In this article, I’ll tell you all about my favorite spicy peppers: how they got their heat, how much heat they pack, how much heat you can handle without waterworks starting up (or worse), and how best to cook with them so that your food comes out delicious rather than incendiary.

A Brief History of Hot Peppers

Peppers were first domesticated in Mexico around 5,000 years ago. The oldest known evidence of pepper cultivation comes from a cave site in Guatemala, where archaeologists discovered charred remains of Capsicum fruits on pottery dating back to 3100 BC. The ancient Egyptians also used hot peppers in their cooking; seeds have been found inside the tombs at Saqqara and Abydos dating back over 4,000 years ago.

Peppers were introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus when he returned from his second voyage to America with them in 1493 (the same year that he brought back tomatoes). These days you can find hot peppers growing all over the world–from Africa and Asia all the way through Europe and North America!

What Are Hot Peppers?

Hot peppers are a member of the Capsicum genus and are edible fruits that have a spicy flavor. They can be eaten raw or cooked, but they’re best known for their use as an ingredient in hot sauces and salsas. Hot peppers contain vitamins A, C and E; potassium; calcium; folic acid (a B vitamin); fiber; protein; iron; thiamin (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2). The capsaicin found in hot peppers helps lower cholesterol levels while increasing blood circulation around your body.

To learn more about this exciting fruit family–and how to make the most out of them–read on!

Which Peppers Are the Hottest?

The world of heat can be a little confusing, so let me help you out. There are lots of different types of hot peppers and they all have different levels of spiciness. The spicier ones have a chemical called capsaicin that makes them spicy to eat. It’s found mostly in the seeds and inner membranes, but it can also be found on other parts of the pepper like its stem or exterior skin (which is why you may get some mild irritation when eating an extremely spicy pepper).

The hottest peppers in the world come from three main groups: chile habaneros; bhut jolokia (or ghost peppers); Trinidad scorpion butch t’s–all three are super-hot varieties grown mainly in Asia; Carolina reapers which are native to South America but now grown around much of North America as well; then there are others like Scotch bonnets and birdseye chilies which fall somewhere between milder varieties like bell peppers on one end and super-hot ones like ghost peppers on another end

How Much Heat Can You Handle?

So you want to get into spicy food, but aren’t sure where to start? Let’s start with a simple test:

    • How much heat can you handle? To find out, eat one whole dried pepper (jalapeno or serrano). If it doesn’t make your mouth feel like it’s on fire and your nose starts running uncontrollably within five minutes then congratulations–you have the tolerance of an elephant! You’ll probably be fine eating most spicy foods. However if after five minutes nothing has happened and all seems well then maybe try another pepper or two just for funsies (note: this is not recommended as an actual method for determining your tolerance level).
    • What should I eat with my spicy food? Spicy foods are best paired with something creamy like sour cream or yogurt; rice or noodles; cheese (especially sharp cheddar); potatoes; beans/lentils

Cooking with Hot Peppers

Peppers can be used in many different ways. They’re a great way to add flavor to food, whether you’re cooking with fresh or dried peppers. And they can go into both sweet and savory dishes!

Here are some ideas for using hot peppers:


The Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) is a measure of how hot a pepper is. The higher the SHU, the more spicy it is. The average hot pepper has a SHU of 500,000; however, some varieties can reach up to 2 million SHUs!


There are many different kinds of hot peppers, but they all have one thing in common: heat. The hottest peppers on earth are rated as high as 300,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which means that just one drop of their extract would feel like eating a whole pepper! With so much variety and diversity in this family of plants, there is something for everyone–even those who think they don’t like spicy food probably have never tried anything hotter than jalapeño peppers before.

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