Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Herb of the Year - Hot Peppers, Number 1 - Rocoto Pepper

I am launching my Herb of the Week in 2016 posts with the Herb of the Year, which is a genus Capsicum (that is hot peppers.) I will do 12 posts this year on the Herb of the Year, as I choose my favorite hot peppers, from mild to hurtful and post them on the first Wednesday of the month for the Herb of the Week.

Image taken by JoeCarrasco

I am going to start with a hotter pepper, one used to make hot sauces – The Rocoto Pepper (Capsicum pubescens.)

While Rocoto peppers look somewhat like bell peppers, it can be dangerous to get the two mixed up. While bell peppers aren't hot at all, the Rocoto pepper is extremely hot. Between 100,000 and 250,000 on the Scoville Heat Index*, this pepper is about the size of a bell pepper but is rounder and is typically only red or green. Some people use this pepper to make very spicy sauces.

Even in the notorious world of chile peppers, the rocoto chile (Capsicum pubescens) stands out. The pepper comes with black seeds, hairy leaves and a shape that resembles a small apple or pear. The flesh is relatively thick, like a bell pepper. Known in Peru  as rukutu, ruqutu (in Quechua, hispanicized rocoto) and in Mexico known as the "Manzano" pepper which means "apple" for its apple-shaped fruit. This species is found primarily in Central and South America, and is known only in cultivation.

The species name, pubescens, means hairy, which refers to the hairy leaves of this pepper. The hairiness of the leaves, along with the black seeds, distinguish this species from others. As they reach a relatively advanced age and the roots lignify quickly, sometimes they are called tree chili. Of all the domesticated species of peppers, this is the least widespread and systematically furthest away from all others. It is reproductively isolated from other species of the genus Capsicum. A very notable feature of this species is its ability to withstand cooler temperatures than other cultivated pepper plants, although it cannot withstand frost.

Growing Peppers

Any pepper plant out of the ordinary will probably not be available from your local nursary, meaning you will need to grow them from seed.  Most of us must start our own plants indoors about 8-10 weeks before transplanting, which should be done 2-3 weeks after the expected last frost. Most pepper seeds sprout in about a week at a temperature of 70-80 degrees F, but germination can be spotty depending on variety. Hot peppers can be very finicky.

Plant peppers in a bed that receives full sun. Provide a sandy loam soil that drains well and contains plenty of organic matter. Depending on the size of the pepper varieties planted, spacing should be 12-18 inches apart. Peppers can double as ornamentals, so tuck some into flowerbeds and borders. Most sweet peppers mature in 60-90 days; hot peppers can take up to 150 days. Keep in mind, however, that the number of days to maturity stated on the seed packet refers to the days after transplanting until the plant produces a full-sized fruit. You must add 8-10 weeks for the time between sowing and transplanting which means most of us will be starting pepper plants indoors in January or February!  I will talk about how to start them from seed in my February Pepper post.

If you’re looking for seeds in your area be sure to check under other names including: Manzano, Locoto, Rocoto, and Ricota.

Hotish Pepper Sauce

This version is only slightly hot, but if you really want that fire use all of the rocoto pepper.
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red, orange or yellow Rocoto pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

In a saucepan over low heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, cumin, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and sauté until the onions start to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and rocoto pepper and sauté for 2 minutes more. Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, vinegar, and water. Mix well, and simmer until it starts to thicken, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer all the ingredients to an upright blender, add the white pepper, and puree until smooth. Season with additional salt to taste. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the ­refrigerator up to 4 months.

*Scoville Heat Index - The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers or other spicy foods as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville.  His method, devised in 1912, is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test.

Unlike methods based on high-performance liquid chromatography, the Scoville scale is an empirical measurement dependent on the capsaicin sensitivity of testers and so is not a precise or accurate method to measure capsaicinoid concentration.

In Scoville's method, an exact weight of dried pepper is dissolved in alcohol to extract the heat components (capsinoids), then diluted in a solution of sugar water. Increasing concentrations of the extracted capsinoids are given to a panel of five trained tasters, until a majority (at least three) can no longer detect the heat in a dilution. The heat level is based on this dilution, rated in multiples of 100 SHU.

Bell pepper - 0 units
            Banana peppers and Pepperocini – 100 to 900 units
Pablano and Jalapeno peppers - 1,000 to 4,000 units
Serrano peppers – 10,000 to 23,000 units
Habanero peppers – 100,000 to 350,000 units
Ghost peppers – 850,000 to 1,299,999 units

·        Charles M. Rick: "Capsicum pubescens, a little-known pungent pepper from Latin America". In: Missouri Botanical Garden Bulletin, Band 36, 1950. pp. 36–42.
·         Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland (2009). The Complete Chile Pepper Book: A Gardener's Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving, and Cooking. Timber Press.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...