Chilies: Chefs Like it Hot

By Joanna DeChellis, Restaurant Hospitality Magazine

 Chilies are hot. They were January 2016 Herb of the Month for the Herb Society of America and are 2016 Herb of the Year for the International Herb Association. Chefs around the country concur. Learn more about the trend in this excerpt posted Feb 4, 2016, by Restaurant Hospitality magazine. 

hotOnce reserved for thrill-seekers and chili-heads, fiery foods have officially gone mainstream. According to market research firm Datassential, chefs are hardwired to look for new and interesting ingredients to elevate their cuisine. “Chilies offer the perfect playground. There are many varieties with vastly different flavor profiles from all corners of the globe,” says Datassential’s Colleen McClellan.

Very specific ethnic peppers are being used in non-traditional ways, like as a garnish or an accent point, she says. “Peppers like the Calabrian chili, ghost pepper, and shishito peppers are seeing triple-digit growth over a four-year period. The habanero pepper has seen 90 percent growth in only the past year.”

In addition to peppers, chefs are also turning to hot sauces to spice up menus. Gochujang, for example, has experienced triple-digit growth since last year.

For a fiery dish to work, though, it must be balanced. Heat for the sake of heat is rarely a recipe for success. So, as chefs look at temperature-pushing possibilities, many are drawing inspiration from personal experiences.

Ashok Bajaj, restaurateur

Restaurant: The Bombay Club, Washington DC (Knightsbridge Restaurant Group)

Favorite Fiery Ingredient: Green Chili

Favorite Fiery Dishes: Chicken Tikka Hariyali; Lamb Vindaloo

Born in New Delhi, India, Ashok Bajaj, who has owned and operated award-winning restaurants in London and the United States for more than 25 years, doesn’t actually like very spicy foods. For him, it’s all about balance.

“Heat is subjective,” says Bajaj. “The way I experience spice is completely different from how you experience spice. I don’t like dishes that burn your palate the moment you eat them.

“Growing up, my mother liked spicy foods, but my father did not. I learned from her how to use chilies to enhance flavor. They add complexity and give a glow that can’t be replicated. As I began to experience other types of cuisine, I was able to see how other cultures use chilies and find ways to fuse the different styles to add flavor without fire.

“When we develop dishes at The Bombay Club and other restaurants through our group, we adjust the heat based on our guests’ preferences. If they want it hot, we’ll make it hot. If they don’t, we won’t.”


Edward Lee, culinary director

Restaurant: Succotash, National Harbor, MD

Favorite Fiery Ingredient: Gochujang

Favorite Fiery Dish: Dirty Fried Chicken with Spicy Gochujang Honey Glaze, Blue Cheese, and Pickles

Edward Lee focuses on spice when developing dishes more than any other taste profile at Succotash, which features a progressive perspective of classic Southern favorites.

“Almost any dish can be enhanced by spice,” says Lee. “You just have to be careful to add the right amount. My goal is never to melt someone’s lips off.  It’s to add complexity and enjoyment to a dish.

“One of my favorites is our Dirty Fried Chicken, which is inspired by buffalo chicken wings. The contrast of crunchy fried skin and a thick hot sauce always pleased me when I ate wings. But I always want the hot sauce to have more depth. So we take our house recipe fried chicken and dip it into our dirty gochujang sauce right before serving.

“The sauce starts with gochujang and butter, but we add a ton of other ingredients like soy sauce, ginger, yellow mustard and pickle juice. It’s isn’t just spice for the sake of heat. It’s nuanced and layered. It has a sweetness to it and umami—lots of umami.

“I ate spicy food all the time growing up but always in Korean dishes that were balanced with other flavors like acids and fermented fish. I’ve had a lifelong appreciation for spice not as a main ingredient but as part of a backbone to complement other flavors.

Read about the favorites of top chefs.

Posted with the permission of Restaurant Hospitality magazine

Hot Stuff: Chile Pepper, Herb of January and 2016

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

Jan2016_screensaver_1440The chile pepper is hot.

It’s January 2016 Herb of the Month for The Herb Society of America AND 2016 Herb of the Year for  the International Herb Association.

I’ve been herb gardening since 1990 and never would have considered the chile to be an herb. Piper Zettel, assistant to the curator of the National Herb Garden, says I’m mistaken. And, I’m OK with that.

“Chile peppers are considered an herb because they’re used to enrich human lives,” she says. “Herbs are plants used to enrich lives in ways that are not strictly edible or ornamental. Chile peppers are used medicinally and industrially.”

Thus, an herb.

“There are more than 30 species and probably a couple 100 different varieties,” she notes. “The National Herb Garden plans to grow 100 varieties to celebrate the herb.”

Chile peppers may be one of the most global of herbs. Consider their use across cultures – starting in South America thousands of years ago and traveling around the world during the last 500. Today, Americans are fascinated by the chile-pepper-spiked foods such as  hot wings, hot sauces, chili,  infused vodka, flavored cocktails.

I recently had a jalapeno-cucumber mojito. The heat of the pepper with the cool of the cucumber created a balance that was delish.

Food fascination aside, chile peppers are being studied for medicinal uses.

A February 2015 news article in The Scientist notes:

“Initially causing a burning hot sensation, the compound [capsaicin] is used as a topical pain medication because, when applied regularly, results in numbness to local tissue. Despite being widely used, researchers have previously not known how capsaicin exerts its pain-killing effects.”

While medicinal uses may be significant, some folks use them to torture themselves and, perhaps, unsuspecting exes.

Fear holding you back? Search “Hot Pepper” on YouTube to watch capsaicin masochists in action..  Apparently, you’ll find popular videos reaching millions of viewers. One chilehead has gathered more than 34 million – yes, million — views.

While the hottest pepper of  2016 hasn’t yet been determined, the hottest pepper in 2015 was the Carolina Reaper, checking in at more than 2.2 million Scoville units.

For the initiated, the Scoville scale measures ‘hotness’ of a chile pepper or anything made from chile peppers. Developed in 1912, it’s named after founder William Scoville.

Pure capsaicin – which determines the hotness of peppers – is 15 to 16 MILLION Scoville units. No pepper has gotten even close. And, that may be a good thing.

Several sources agree the 10 hottest peppers are

 1 Carolina Reaper 1,200,000 ~ 2,100,00
2 Moruga Scorpion 1,200,000 ~ 2,009,231
3 Choclate 7 Pot 1,169,000 ~ 1,850,000
4 Trinidad Scorpion 1,029,000 ~ 1,390,000
5 Naga Jolokia “Ghost Pepper” 1,020,000 ~ 1,578,000
6 Naga Gibralta 900,000 ~ 1,086,844
7 Naga Viper 800,000 ~ 1,382,118
8 Infinity 800,000 ~ 1,067,286
9 Dorset Naga 800,000 ~ 970,000
 10 Naga Morich 770,000 ~ 1,034,910

For the record, the jalapeno checks in between 2,500 and  8,000 Scoville units. That’s hot enough for me.

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