CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's winter and it's hard to come up with "timely" topics for a gardening column. With the cold temperatures comes a lot of cooking, instead of gardening, at my house. While making a pot of chili recently, I started to think about hot peppers. And, of course, I started a list of the peppers I plan to plant this spring.
It's capsaicin that makes the peppers hot. It's a colorless crystalline compound that's highly stable, retaining its potency for long periods of time and despite cooking and freezing.
We've grown good ol' bell peppers and some jalapeños. Last year we added Anaheim. My husband loves hot food (he's learned, however, to avoid insulting the cook -- me -- by at least tasting his food before adding Tabasco sauce), so I'm hoping to add some spicy peppers to our garden. I visited www.growhotpeppers.com and found there are varying degrees of "hot" peppers. It's just a matter of how hot you like it!
Habanero: This is the king of the hot peppers. Slightly wrinkled fruit grows 1 inch long, turning from light green to a fiery orange when ripe.
Thai: Many people grow this plant as an ornamental. Thai peppers grow about 1 inch long, and are bright red. Not quite as hot as habaneros, but close. Plants grow about 18 inches tall.
Tabasco: Best known for its use in Tabasco sauce, Tabasco peppers are also good in salsa and stir-fry dishes. Plants grow up to 4 feet tall. As the 1 1/2-inch fruits ripen, they turn from green to orange to red.
Cayenne: This pepper is fiery hot. Fruit grows about 5 inches long, turning from deep green to a brilliant red. It's best known for heating up chili.
Serrano: One of the hottest around, Serrano chili pepper plants produce an abundance of small fruits, ripening from dark green to crimson. As its name implies, it is used to make chili sauce and pepper sauces.
Jalapeño: One of the best known, most people think this is a pretty hot pepper. Growers pick the dark green fruit when it reaches 2 to 3 inches long. If left on the plant, it turns a fiery red when ripe.
Hungarian wax: Medium-hot, these are especially zesty and attractive when pickled. It is good raw and cooked. Five to 8 inches long, fruit has a smooth skin. They turn from bright yellow to red when fully ripe.