Tip of the Week: Unpacking Myths About Common Ingredients – Pepper

Exactly how many “hard truths” do we believe or have heard to be real about ingredients we use every day. Everyone has heard of the five second rule if food is dropped on the ground, but where did that originate? And what is the GMP standard for food on the ground.

Our latest Tip of the Week series will cover industry myths we’ve collected. Some are half-truths, myths, or even complete fabrications. This week we’ll explore pepper myths.

Myth #1: High quality black peppercorn is not important, since the purpose of pepper is to add heat to the food product.

The heat level of black peppercorn is actually mild compared to any other pepper, but it does have a level of kick to it. The spiciness doesn’t come from capsaicin, the power behind hot peppers. Rather it’s a chemical compound named piperine that gives black peppercorn its heat. Piperine is what triggers the mild heat experience while eating black peppercorn.

While the full flavor of the pepper will not be released until the outer shell has been cracked, whole peppercorns reveal much of their character by aroma. The outer shell serves to seal in freshness and once this protection is lost, flavor diminishes rapidly. Some individuals claim to notice a difference within 30 minutes, and most agree that much of the rich aroma and flavor is lost within 30 days of being ground. Whole peppercorns are considered higher quality and will help to ensure that you have the greatest aromatic and pungent characteristics, since ground pepper is often an older blend of peppercorns. If you want to add high quality peppercorn and heat to a food product it is best to source freshly ground peppercorns based on piperine content or grind them at the facility.   

The quality of the peppercorn is dependent on the unique aromatic and pungent flavor it delivers to various foods such as: sauces, soups, vegetables, meats, and beverages. It does not take a highly refined sense of smell to distinguish the differences in aroma. Try having a "pepper tasting" some time by first smelling different varieties directly from an open bag. (If you try smelling some roasted coffee beans between peppers you will have less carryover from the previous sample). You may finish by tasting in your mouth the variety that your nose prefers, but it is difficult to taste more than one pepper without having the flavors intermingle.

Myth #2: Capsaicin pepper should not be used in desserts, because of the heat it adds.

False! Capsicum is the name of a genus of tropical pepper plants, commonly known as chili peppers, that grow in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The word capsicum also refers to the fruit produced by any of these plants, in particular the dried fruits or peppers that are typically used in cooking or as medical supplements and remedies. Capsaicin, an alkaloid oil, is a compound that is responsible for the pungency of the chili pepper which makes them quite hot to the taste, though different varieties have varying levels of heat. Capsaicin cannot be neutralized in water, which is why drinking a glass of ice water to try and drown out hot food is unsuccessful. Habaneros and ghost chilies tend to be the hottest, while bell peppers are on the low range of heat. Your tolerance, however, is very individual.

Fruits of Capsicum can vary tremendously in color, shape, and size. Capsaicin chili peppers produce the seeds and white membrane that contain the greatest concentration of the heat-inducing compounds. The burning sensation you feel is doing you no physical harm, but it sure can feel intensely painful as it triggers a chemical response in your neurological system.

Many desserts use sugar as a hot food neutralizer, notes the "Journal of Physiology and Behavior" study. Honey and granulated sugar are both effective in modifying your pepper experience. How much sugar you need depends on how intense your pepper was – to squelch a scotch bonnet you need more than you would for a jalapeno. Combining sugar and dairy – in ice cream, flan or a pudding -- is a very effective way to neutralize heat while enjoying the wide variety of flavors that come from varieties such as Habaneros, Tabasco, Ancho, New Mexico, Cayenne, Pablano, or Guajillo Chili Peppers. Overall, peppers can be added to desserts as long as there is a hot food neutralizer.

Sources:

  • http://pepper-passion.com/peppercorn-varieties
  • Peter KV. 2006. Handbook of herbs and spices.Sawston, UK: Woodhead Publishing
  • Parthasarathy VA, Chempakam B, Zachariah TJ. 2008. Chemistry of spices. London: CABI
  • Gaikar VG, Raman G. 2002. Process for extraction of piperine from piper species. Google Patents
  • Agarwal OP. 2010. Chemistry of organic natural products. Meerut, India: Goel Publishing House

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