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No relation to black pepper

The burning sensation chili peppers produce comes from a single molecule, one that's found in different densities in all the different members of the chili pepper family except for bell peppers. This molecule is called capsaicin. It gives the chili pepper family their formal name, the Capiscums, or "Capis" for short.

Capsaicin is a different molecule than the one that produces hotness in black pepper. That molecule is called piperine.

The capsaicin molecule is both more complex than the piperine molecule and much more potent when it comes in contact with human tissue.

Capsaicin contains 1 more carbon atom than piperine and 8 more hydrogen atoms. Molecule for molecule, capsaicin produces 100 times the burning sensation of piperine when it comes in contact with human tissue. That's right: 100 times. That's why the pepper sprays used for self-defense are made from chili peppers, not black pepper.

Chili peppers thermometer

Here is that thermometer we promised you. It shows a dozen different chili peppers, plus a bell pepper, that you can often get in the produce section of a supermarket near you.

These peppers cover a very wide spectrum of hotness, going from "you can barely taste any hotness at all" to "you're going jump around wishing you had never put this thing in your mouth" hotness.

Next to each pepper we put a number that estimates that pepper's burn power compared to jalepenos, which are about in the center of the overall range.

Some people eat jalapenos straight, as a snack, like regular people sometimes eat carrots and celery sticks or pickles. But others who have tried jalapenos once have sworn that they would not touch one again with a 10 foot pole.

So, if you've never tasted a jalapeno pepper raw, in its full glory, you just might try picking one up next time you're at the supermarket. It will cost you less than $1.00. It wiill give you a good sense of what the midrange of this pepper thermometer feels like. Like they say: no pain, no gain. It's for science.

But if and when you do find that jalapeno in the supermarket, you will probably also find right next to it serranos, cayennes, and maybe even habaneros. If you find thse, don't get cute. Steer clear of them. Don't even think about trying one of these others further up on the scale until you know where you stand with the milder — but not mild at all !!! — jalapeno.


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