Peppers: From Mild to Wild

There's a hot pepper to suit every palate.

By Jessica Walliser


Some chiles nearly set your mouth ablaze, while others varieties deliver more flavor than fire. Hot peppers (also called chile peppers) are easy to grow, largely pest-resistant, and in most parts of the United States, quite prolific.

The burn comes from capsaicin, a compound that is found in all parts of a chile pepper's fruit, but is particularly concentrated in the seeds and ribs. The more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper. What distinguishes mild heat from maniacal is the variety's relative position on the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) scale. The SHU rating for each variety is determined by professional testers who sample a pepper and record its heat level. The sample is then diluted with sugars until heat is no longer perceptible to the testers. The amount of dilution determines the pepper's SHU level. A sweet bell pepper, with no capsaicin, is the baseline at zero SHU. Although the scale is an excellent guide, it is subjective, because an individual pepper's heat is influenced by climate, weather, and growing conditions, as well as the taster's sensitivity.

Discover your inner fire-eater by growing the hot pepper varieties that fit your culinary tastes and pique your gardening interest. Here are some of our favorites. Give them a try.