When it comes to peppers, some like it hot; others sweet. But no worries.
At Florida farm stands, farmers’ markets and grocery stores, you’ll find one to fill your needs and tastes. You just have to know which peppers to pick. We offer this guide to peppers, featuring some of the more popular ones you’ll find at farmstands, farm stores and supermarkets today.
GUIDE TO PEPPERS – SWEET PEPPERS
Of course you recognize the green bell, the most commonly grown pepper. It starts out its life wearing basic green. This signals it is a fully developed pepper but not yet ripe, according to Field Guide to Produce.
As green bells ripen, they turn red, yellow, purple or orange depending upon their variety. This colorful assortment of more mature bells tends to be sweeter than its green relatives and, staying longer on the vine, usually costs more.
Good for cooking or eating raw, green bell peppers are a fine source of vitamin C with one pepper supplying 200 percent of the vitamin’s daily value.
They also are low in saturated fat and very low in cholesterol and sodium. A good source of thiamin, niacin, folate, magnesium and copper, green bell peppers also are a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium and manganese as well as vitamins A, K, and B6.
For something a little different, look for red, yellow and orange minis that are bred from traditional bell peppers to be smaller and crunchier with relatively few seeds. Their perfect kid size also makes them good for stuffing as appetizers.
Banana Peppers are another relatively sweet pepper from Florida growers. Named for their elongated shape, the peppers start out yellow maturing to orange and then red. Try them fried, pickled or cut into rings for sandwiches and salads.
If you’ve been to a farmer’s market lately, you may have been introduced to shishito peppers. According to Wikipedia, these are slender finger-length, thin skinned sweet Asian peppers. Although they ripen red, they usually are harvested while green.
For serving, try sautéeing them in oil (put a hole in each pepper before heating or it may explode in the pan), skewering and grilling them or serving them raw in a salad or as a condiment. Their thin skins blister and char more easily than that of thicker-skinned peppers.
However, eating them can be a bit of a gamble when it comes to heat. About one in every 10 shishito peppers proves spicy and that is probably the result of the plant being stressed while growing.
GUIDE TO PEPPERS – HOT PEPPERS
St. Augustine is home to the datil pepper that’s used to make hot sauces.
From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.
If you are in the market for hot peppers, you need to know about the Scoville Scale created in 1912 by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. It uses Scoville Heat Units (SHU) to measure the concentration of capsaicinoids in a pepper. Of course, it’s these irritant compounds that give hot peppers their spirited pungency. The higher the SHU rating, the hotter the pepper.
To give you an idea of how it works, the bell pepper has zero SHU; the jalapeno is rated at 4,500 SHU; and the habanero has 259,000 SHU. For comparison, one of the hottest peppers on the planet, the Carolina Reaper, boasts 2.2 million SHU.
Because we are Floridians, let’s start with a look at the datil that is commonly used to make hot sauce. It’s long been known to people around St. Augustine where you’ll find the majority of producers.
There are legends about how this pepper came to the area starting with one that has indentured workers from Minorca bringing it in the late 18th century. Others claim that it was brought by slaves from Africa or by S. B. Valls, a jelly maker from Cuba who arrived in 1880.
The datil is so important to the area that every October, St. Augustine hosts the Datil Pepper Festival where you can purchase all things made from datils and watch chefs compete using this spicy pepper. Everything from the plant to chocolate-covered datils will be available.
But before tasting be forewarned, at 350,000 SHU, the datil is similar in heat to a habanero but with a little sweeter flavor.
Birds eye peppers, also called Thai chilies, are popular with people who enjoy Thai, Malaysian, Lao, Khmer, Indonesian and Vietnamese cuisines. They are thought to have been brought to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese colonists and traders in the 16th or 17th centuries.
These peppers taste fruity even though they are rated at 100,000 SHU.
A Hungarian wax pepper looks like a banana pepper but has a waxy skin and is about as pungent as the ubiquitous jalapeno at 10,000 SHU. Starting as a yellow pepper, it ripens to orange and then red topping out at about six inches in length.
These peppers are popular in meat and bean chiles as well as for making chiles rellenos in place of poblano peppers that at 2,000 SHU are much milder. The Hungarian peppers also are used on salads and pickled for safe keeping.
This is only a taste of the peppers available in Florida. Don’t hesitate to experiment, but when you do, remember, it’s more soothing to eat a teaspoon of sugar than drink a glass of water when your mouth feels like it’s on fire.