A Visual Guide to Peppers

A Visual Guide to Peppers
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By Esther Sung

The word "pepper" refers to members of the genus Capsicum, which includes hot varieties, also known as chile peppers, and sweet varieties, such as the bell pepper. Up until the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the New World, peppers grew only in Latin America. Along with corn, tomatoes, and beans, the Europeans brought back some of the peppers and on their travels introduced the plant to the rest of the world, where it took off like wildfire. Truly international in their appeal, peppers have become integral to cuisines across the world, from Mexico to Thailand, the Congo to India, and from Hungary to Tunisia. To see when these may be in season at your local farmers' market, check out our interactive seasonal ingredient map. If you are unable to find fresh or dried chiles in your local grocery store, try an online source like pepperfool.com.

The heat of a pepper is measured using Scoville units: The relatively mild poblano weighs in at about 1,500 SCU, while the superhot habañero packs a whopping 250,000 SCUs or more. If you want the flavor without the mouth-scorching fire, remove the seeds and interior ribs from a chile before cooking it. It's also a good idea to have dairy products, such as milk or yogurt, on hand—they contain casein, which helps neutralize capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat. And remember: Always protect your skin by wearing gloves when handling hot peppers.

Check out the slideshow above to learn more about sweet and spicy peppers through our visual guide.

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