Aa1_0045                                                                                                            photo by Donna T. Ruhlman
Chilli: Chilli refers to a variety of pungent fruits often called chile peppers or hot peppers.  A wide variety is commonly available at grocery stores, both fresh and dried (and sometimes canned, as with chipotles in adobo sauce).  All have their own flavors and heat levels, and they are extraordinarily versatile and add great flavors and verve to countless dishes.  The heat in chillis (capsaicin) resides in the white flesh to which the seeds are attached and this, along with the seeds, is typically removed and discarded when preparing fresh chillis. Fresh chillis—poblanos, jalpeños, serranos, habañeros are common—are customarily stemmed and seeded.  Dried chillis—ancho, chipotle, guajillo, cascabel, for example—are best if they’re lightly toasted to enhance their flavor and completely dehydrate them.  The stems and seeds are then removed and these peppers can be chopped or more commonly ground to powder in a spice mill  or coffee grinder.  Alternately they can be rehydrated in warm water, then stemmed, seeded and chopped and used in sauces. The late  food historian Alan Davidson uses the native word for this important fruit in his Oxford Comapnion to Food, and his colleague Harold McGee joined him in using the term exclusively for what we’ve referred to as chili peppers, chile peppers, and hot peppers.  “Given the many possibilities for confsuion,” writes McGee in On Food and Cooking, “I agree with Alan Davidson and others that we should refer to pungent capsicums with the original and unambiguous Nahuatl name chilli.”
       
–From The Elements of Cooking

I was delighted to read McGee's explanation of white pepper's nasty flavor (complete NYTimes article here).  I have never understood why chefs use it–it can destroy a dish.  And McGee's post got me thinking about other peppers and an important opinion he wrote about how they ought to be spelled, thus the above "element."

From the left, Fresno, Anaheim fresh and dried, habeñero and below it a Thai chilli, jalapeño fresh and jalapeño smoked and dried (chipotle). These fruity, spicy wonders make life better in so many ways.

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73 Wonderful responses to “Elements: The Unambiguous Chilli”

  • Alicia

    I agree with Pavlov. The closest pronunciation to the original Nahuatl is ‘chile (cheel-aay)’, but I can live with ‘chili’ as the anglicized version. And while we are at it I also agree with Claudia, it is not ‘hal-a-pee-no’ it is ‘hal-a-PAYN-yo’, please.

  • Pavlov

    I am fine recognizing chile, chili, and chilli all as regional variants of the same word, but to favor chilli as the original Nahuatl spelling is ridiculous. (And I have always had the highest respect for McGee.) Nahuatl did not use the Roman alphabet until the Spanish brought it. In Spanish “chilli” should be pronounced CHEE-yee. So if you want to go back to the Nahuatl , lets use the original pronunciation also. I don’t hear any calls for that. On the other hand since the Spanish orthography changed to chile, it was likely either to more closely represent the original sounds (in which case we should use chile), or – more likely – to represent the evolving Spanish usage more closely. I suspect “cheeyee” is as much an approximation of the original as chile (CHEE-lay) and chili (CHIL-ee)are. If we want to remove ambiguity we should call them capsicums.

    Growing up in a Mexican-American household I, of course, prefer the Spanish “chile” and was always taught “chili” was the Tex-Mex (i.e. American) stew. (With beans it was always “chili beans,” but that is another topic.) “Chilli” just looks strange to me. I can accept it, however, as a common (but perfectly unnecessary) anglicization of the word. Just don’t try to tell me it is more “authentic.”

  • Hussein Ibish

    With all due respect, this anti-white pepper absolutism is complete nonsense. White pepper has a distinct and unique flavor that is sharp, biting and tangy, but by no means should be “nasty.” I use white pepper a good deal, and to good effect, but there are several cardinal rules to keep in mind.

    1) One should use the best white peppercorns, and only ground fine from a pepper mill (I keep two pepper mills, one for black and one for white peppercorns). Pre-ground white pepper is indeed nasty and dramatically worse than pre-ground black pepper.

    2) In almost no circumstance should white pepper be used on its own, or to replace black pepper in a pointless and silly effort to avoid dark specks in a white or light dish (i.e., potato puree, etc.).

    In fact, it is best when using white pepper to mix it artfully, according to taste and depending on the dish, with black and in many cases some form of red pepper as well (i.e., cayenne), as well as other spices of course. If you want a good American introduction on the concept of using a mixture of white, black and red pepper in a dish, consider the earliest books by Paul Prudhomme, especially Chef Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.

    3) Use white pepper for its flavor, which is in fact very interesting and can add a great deal to many dishes, not for its color. Learn the favor, respect it, and use your imagination and experience before adding it willy-nilly to anything you are making. And please be very carefully not to overdo it. Too much of a good thing in the case of white pepper might indeed produce a “nasty” result.

    I would be extremely interested in any response Mr. Ruhlman might have to these suggestions for the proper usage of what is, in my view at any rate, a useful spice.

  • shelora

    Your text reads,
    “Dried chillis—ancho, chipotle, guajillo, cascabel, for example—are best if they’re lightly toasted to enhance their flavor and completely dehydrate them. ”

    I find that confusing. Do you mean lightly toasted to enhance their flavor before completely hydrating them? If they’re dried they are already dehydrated.

    Thanks for posting about chillis.

  • shelora

    Your text reads,
    “Dried chillis—ancho, chipotle, guajillo, cascabel, for example—are best if they’re lightly toasted to enhance their flavor and completely dehydrate them. ”

    I find that confusing. Do you mean lightly toasted to enhance their flavor before completely hydrating them? If they’re dried they are already dehydrated.

    Thanks for posting about chillis.

  • GastroGirls.com

    How I love chillis! I bought a ton of various dried chillis when I was in Mexico and have been using them to spics up sauces for months. Dried chillis must be roasted on an open flame (your stove will do) to bring out their amazing flavor. I truly believe you can add a chili to most any sauce and make it better.

    xoxo,

    http://www.gastrogirls. com

  • Zardox

    Responding to:
    EVeryone needs some New Mexico long green (from Hatch!) in life.
    Posted by: agm | June 13, 2008 at 09:15 PM

    While that sounds like a great idea – please be aware that you may not get what you pay for. My hubbie lived in N.M. for 15 years, and grew quite addicted to N.M. Green Chilles. Later, while we were living in NYC, we ordered a case of chilles from Hatch – half very hot and half just regular (yes – they catagorize them) What we got were the most mild peppers we could imagine – and worse than that they were lacking the flavor (not heat – flavor) that we had become accustomed to. I guess they thought that the “gringos” in NYC wouldn’t really know better. They were of such poor quality that we couldn’t even use them for a stew. We eventually threw most of them away. Meanwhile, friends of ours who had visited N.M. that same year had gone to Hatch and gotten some of the BEST green chilles ever. We “glommed” some off of them and started roasting – Now that we have moved to New Orleans, maybe they would send us some REAL peppers, but we won’t take that chance again…we know not to ever let proxy people pick our peppers.

    If you can’t get to N.M., then the Thai Long Green Peppers are a decent substitute. They roast and peel nicely, work well as a condiment and in most recipies, but they still aren’t the real Hatch Green Chilles

  • Hank

    You know, I hate white pepper, too! I am SO glad I was not the only one. I have some, but every time I reach for it I hesitate…

    …and as for chiles, might I recommend to of my current faves: The aji dulce, which is a habanero without the heat (all that tropical goodness, none of the searing heat), and the rocoto (searing heat, thick walls, sweet and fruity). Give ‘em a go if you can find them…

  • Utenzi

    Reading the comments above makes me wonder if the bad odors of white pepper are something that not everyone can smell. Some odor emitters, Bradford Pear tree blossoms are an example, are only experienced by a portion of the population. I’ve never smelled a bad odor from white pepper–maybe it’s because I can’t.

  • bob55

    The chilli foods place a major role all over the world…
    I enjoyed lot of its variety…
    The products of chilli are taste to eat and different to feel…
    ================
    nadal
    Compare Prices & Save on Kitchenware
    Kitchenware

  • neil

    I always have a quite sob when someone mentions poblano chillies, we can’t get them down under (Melbourne), there are so many things I want to do with them. We never use white pepper, being unashamed of the little black specks that add character, but one time cooking at the sister-in-laws, who only had white pepper, all I can say about it is her stuff must have been treated in the most God awful stagnant bog containing the putrid remains of prehistoric animals. We have never even been the slightest bit tempted to use some since.

  • S. Woody

    In reply to Ruhlman’s queery earlier:

    I work for a large supermarket chain, in Rehoboth Beach, DE. There’s a dozen checkers year-round at the store, plus front-end managers – the number doubles during the summer, due to beach resort tourism increasing our business. For the most part, the other cashiers and most of management don’t know what to make of my interest in cooking and food… but they have learned to turn to me every time a customer has a real food question. Reading blogs like this helps me with my answers.

    In all, Rehoboth has enough of a population base to support four branches of the large chains, although the winter months get pretty lean. A smaller mom-and-pop is open during the summer closer to the town center, and we’ve got a decent farmer’s market that runs from June through October every Tuesday. Dang, I love that farmer’s market.

  • luis

    Once again folks, McGee’s science explanations and inspiration to mol gas fans is dated and I bet innaccurate. (a nice book to read but take it in the proper perspective) Why do I think this??
    Because once you base something on technology and science you are a dot in a timelime.
    Science, all science including all methods and all things are improving on a daily basis.
    In order for McGee to be RELEVANT he would have to publish an update to his book every 3-6 months. Cooking is something different to me. When I get home and find the damm time I want to cook and eat something healthy and normal with the best ingredients and best skill I can muster.
    LAST FREAKING THANG I WISH TO DO IS TO GET HOME AND HAVE TO HOP RIGHT BACK ON THE DAMM
    HAMSTER WHEEL SLAVE TO HIGH TECHNOCRAP.
    Take Mc Gee’s take on white pepper for what it is.. a warning. Taste it smell it quality control it…. do what you have to do.

  • luis

    Natalie Sztern, I feel cooking is both a collective and and individual thing. I don’t approve of fads because a lot of folks get caught up in them and are led astray.
    I enjoy your posts and everyone else’s for that matter. But Rhulman’s blog and “the elements of cooking” approach is fantastic. Rhulman is really really walking us through the basics and how great is that. Then he adds Ripert which honestly can/could be the torch bearer for Julia and Jacques in the future…and how great is that!. You tell me what excites you and what doesn’t and I wil do the same and all we have to bond us is HONESTY!.

  • Natalie Sztern

    ok luis i hear you…more importantly i read you, and (in my southern drawl) ‘a feel the passion…’ (i leave the french to bob lol)

  • Matt C.

    You try and teach about cooking with every post with your blog, it’s the same reason I watch Alton Brown’s ‘Good Eats’. You shouldn’t be insulted, if you are, sorry. Let me explain, I actually love hearing about the science and the REASON why to cook the things we do.
    I guess learning from such a foundation makes cooking easier to understand. It makes me a better cook. so, Thank you.
    p.s. punch Andrew Knowlton in the face if you could. what a pretentious douchebag.

  • luis

    Rhulman you are a genius.
    All I am gonna say is that I loaded my pepper mill with 0.9 grams of peppercorns and 0.1 grams of dried chile red pepper flakes.
    I seasoned two filets of snapper and lay them on celery sticks surrounded by chorizo slices and green pepper slices with fresh ginger match sticks with tomato sauce around it all not on the fish, and squirted some evoo on top of the fish. in the oven on the stone for ~20+ min until they got to around 150 degrees F. Then a squirt of lemon and down the hatch. SPECTACULAR RESULTS. The 10% pepper flakes in the peppercorns is very discernible to my palate. I have to call it a very very soft heat that you notice along with the kosher salt on the fish.
    Bottom line black peppercorn is there but as usual not delivering noticeable heat. IT’s there and I would probably miss it if it wasn’t.. but the red chili pepper flakes is reassuring me that I seasoned the fish. This is a very very good thing. Geez this is good.
    It works. Seasoning just went to another level in my kitchen.

  • luis

    John I was rummaging around on more info on cayenne and from the “happy herbalist” website
    I found something interesting regarding cayenne upseting folks stomachs and how to avoid it. check this out:
    “The greatest benefit of using cayenne pepper in natural medicine comes from cayenne’s ability to rapidly stimulate the circulatory system and deliver fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to the heart and other organs in the body. When used properly, cayenne “opens up” capillaries allowing vitalized blood to reach areas that it may not normally reach due to poor circulation.
    Clinical and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that cayenne pepper can be utilized to carry other substances, such as herbs and other nutrients, into the bloodstream – and sometimes within seconds. Extensive clinical studies conducted with cayenne pepper and Ginkgo Biloba demonstrate that Ginkgo is 75% more effective when used with cayenne.
    Dr. Christopher and later Richard Schultz report that the cayenne pepper benefit both the heart and the health of the entire circulatory system. Dr. Christopher, after extensive experience, believed that cayenne pepper delivers vital nutrients directly to the heart within seconds of proper use. He utilized the stimulating effects of cayenne to restore proper function to the heart in heart attack cases.
    In order to maximize the benefits associated with cayenne pepper, a high quality product must be used, with a true rating of between 90,000 and 150,000 HU (heat units).
    Although it’s convenient to use capsules, the full benefit cannot be achieved and actually may damage the stomach and cause reaction. A tincture or a powder (added to water) should be used. A full strength dose is one teaspoon of powder mixed into a glass of warm water. Despite the initial discomfort, it is critical that the cayenne come in contact with the tongue as the cayenne acts as a metabolic catalyst.
    The only side effect other than pure heat, which many people rather seem to enjoy, may be stomach irritation – especially true with capsules, since capsules give the body no warning. A popular adjunct to stomach distress is the addition of peppermint and/or ginger. Both ginger and peppermint are famous Chinese herbs used to aid digestion and calm the stomach. Both spicy and warm but when used with cayenne create what is termed “Cool Cayenne”.”

  • john

    i love chilies…have for many years.

    i grow them too as they do very well in pots. thai chilies, vietnamese ho-chi minhs, paprikas, anaheims, etc…just put sand in the growing mix.

    weird thing is i can eat chilies hotter than cayenne but cannot stand cayenne- it burns my stomach! i don’t know why that is.
    anything with powdered cayenne hits me wrong for hours afterwards.

    i never liked white pepper until i started liking bratwurst. i still don’t use it much but in very small doses in certain dishes it really adds a lot, especially southeast asian dishes.

    i don’t think i could function in my home kitchen without chilies. i recently went 2 months without them and i was missing them greatly.

  • luis

    Natalie, here is an after thought.. it took the RIPERT! to explain to me the purpose of black pepper in seasoning is to add heat to the ingredient. DAMM IT! whatever I have been grinding over everything all these years added something, BUT NOTHING I related to heat. That was news to me!. Oh, you either get it or you don’t at this point.

  • luis

    Natalie Sztern, I hear you Natalie…Rhulman is blogging peppers and I think the information that I found useful might also add to someone else enjoyment and understanding of heat. I find this thread fascinating. I am doing some cool things with black peppercorns spiked with dry red chile pepper flakes in just the right proportion.
    Only concern is wether the pepper mill will mill both types or discriminate in favor of one or the other. The actual shelf life of the black pepper is very short. Read up on it at Wikipedia. Given that How do we really know what we are getting out of store bought black peppercorns. Stale peppercorns will ruin your dish, instead McGee is worried about
    some crud once found in a batch of white pepper in some swank dinner in New York. I am afraid you posted like a shoemaker that time.
    We all do it and I like you and your posts no matter what you say.

  • Connor

    Eqaeus — the chillis are already identified at the end of Ruhlman’s post.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Luis, by now we all know: either you can cook; your an a**hole or you desperately want to prove yours is bigger….who the hell cares what google says about scoville units; even i know the hot ones from the not-so-hot – albeit i did not know the connection of name to pepper but that is an agricultural and climate issue not a lack of knowledge…and all i have been doing is watching PBS for years.

  • Egaeus

    I’m going to take a stab at the pepper identification. Left to right, top to bottom.

    1. I forget the name of these. I want to say Santa Fe, but it’s too pointy.

    2. Wax or Banana pepper.

    3. Most likely a Guajillo or Pasilla, but could be a dried New Mexico.

    4. It almost looks like a Red Savina Habañero, but it’s too smooth. I don’t know.

    5. Cayenne or close relative.

    6. Jalapeño

    7. Brown Chipotle

    But Michael should be able to give a definitive answer, since they’re his peppers.

  • luis

    Googled around for Scoville measures on peppers and there is a lot of information out there…..
    Got this snippet one from one of these sites can’t remember which but in the spirit of measuring the heat here it goes….

    “***SCOVILLE UNITS/ FOR PEPPERS

    List of Scoville ratings
    Scoville ratings may vary considerably within a species-easily by a factor of 10 or more-depending on seed lineage, climate and even soil. This is especially true of habaneros.
    16,000,000 Pure capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin
    5,300,000 Police grade pepper spray
    2,000,000 Common pepper spray
    100,000 – 350,000 Habanero
    100,000 – 325,000 Scotch bonnet
    100,000 – 200,000 Jamaican hot pepper
    100,000 – 125,000 Carolina cayenne pepper
    95,000 – 110,000 Bahamian pepper
    85,000 – 115,000 Tabiche pepper
    50,000 – 100,000 Thai pepper
    50,000 – 100,000 Chiltepin pepper
    40,000 – 58,000 Piquin pepper
    40,000 – 50,000 Super chile pepper
    40,000 – 50,000 Santaka pepper
    30,000 – 50,000 Cayenne pepper
    30,000 – 50,000 Tabasco pepper
    15,000 – 30,000 de Arbol pepper
    12,000 – 30,000 Manzano pepper
    7,000 – 8,000 Tabasco habanero sauce
    5,000 – 23,000 Serrano pepper
    5,000 – 10,000 Hot wax pepper
    5,000 – 10,000 Chipotle
    2,500 – 8,000 Jalapeño ( somewhere in there is my confort level)
    2,500 – 8,000 Santaka pepper
    2,500 – 5,000 Guajilla pepper
    2,500 – 5,000 Tabasco sauce
    1,500 – 2,500 Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce
    1,200 – 1,800 Tabasco garlic sauce
    1,500 – 2,500 Rocotilla pepper
    1,000 – 2,000 Pasilla pepper
    1,000 – 2,000 Ancho pepper
    1,000 – 2,000 Poblano pepper
    700 – 1,000 Coronado pepper
    600 – 1,200 Tabasco green pepper sauce
    500 – 2,500 Anaheim pepper
    500 – 1,000 New Mexico pepper
    500 – 700 Santa Fe Grande pepper
    100 – 500 Pepperoncini pepper
    100 – 500 Pimento
    0 Sweet bell pepper ”

    I think I will use dried red chili pepper flakes in my experiment. The KD7000 works beautifully at measuring out the weights of black and red peppers. I plan to start at 10% red pepper flakes to black pepper corns and move up from there if I dare.

  • ntsc

    I’ve never had a problem with white pepper and I’ve been using it for at least 28 years. It is called for in the Joy of Cooking Irish Stew, only white ingrediants besides the lamb.

    The first time I offered that stew to my then girlfriend, now wife, she had four helpings and started a fifth.

  • luis

    From Wikipedia on black peppercorn “Pepper gets its spicy heat mostly from the piperine compound, which is found both in the outer fruit and in the seed. Refined piperine, milligram-for-milligram, is about one percent as hot as the capsaicin in chile peppers.”

    This is 1:100 proportion so 15-20 parts chopped dry red chili pepper to 100 peppercorns in a pepper mill seems doable, might be an interesting experiment… maybe can put to good use the KD-7000 digital scale?

  • luis

    And speaking of heat!….and I hope Rhulman doesn’t spank me again for going off topic. I just have to say that heat is important as Rhulman has blogged and you can gleam in the “elements of cooking” book. But ever since I got my thermopen which tells me the tmp of something really like fast. I am learning so much more about the actual temperatures I am working with. This is priceless stuff what I am measuring and learning latelly. For instance at medium to medium high heat on my electric burner the cast iron wok is capable of heating the vegetable oil to ~350 degrees…perfectly acceptable frying temp. You have to measure heat or you are flying blind… who knew????

  • luis

    On the other hand now that Rhulman has posted about peppers and the Ripert has explained that the role of the pepper in seasoning is to add heat to a dish…. MY GOD!!!!!!!! EPYPHANIE for moron here!.
    Toast some chili peppers and de-stemm it and de-vein it and de-seeded it and mince it and voila!. If I figure the right proportions of it to peppercorns in my mill….then my seasoning skill has just been elevated again.
    THANK YOU RHULMAN,THANK YOU RHULMAN,THANK YOU RHULMAN,THANK YOU RHULMAN,…we are just not worthy of such knowledge man. I mean it in the most sincere kudos! you can imagine. And Pardus if you come up with something to answer my Zen riddle don’t be shy…. I love you too!.

  • luis

    Connor, McGee doesn’t own the culinary world. When it comes down to it the mol gas crowd is a FAD!!!!!!!! as the recent top chef demonstrated. So, yes it is surprising but not really. Two blogs and the Ripert has shown me he is a real great chef not unlike the Julia Childs and Jacques Pepin’s. Ripert can explain and when you can explain it means you can learn. Worlds apart from the Pardus types…. and many others. Pardus not a cheap shot man. But for an oriental chef that can not type a coherent sentence about how to mix and match veggies…. or even point some one to a reference. That was LAME!!!!!!!

  • agm

    EVeryone needs some New Mexico long green (from Hatch!) in life.

  • eat4fun

    White pepper has a weird stink to it.
    Same thing with Cumin… weird locker room, stinky feet smell.

    Yet, does wonders for food.

  • Charlotte

    If it *ever* stops snowing here I might be able to get the pepper plants out of the cold frame and into the garden. I’ve grown a “Turkish” pepper the past few years — a cayenne type that I got from Nichols (I think). It dries really nicely, carries medium heat, and I can hang a ristra right by my stove. I also grew a couple of kinds of Italian cherry peppers (Seeds of Italy) and pickled them. They were great in salads and sandwiches all winter … now, if the sun would only ever come out this year.

  • OnigiriFB

    WHAT!!!! I grew up with asian type broths that were flavored with soy sauce, cilantro root, and white pepper. I don’t get why you are hating on the white pepper. The fact you named prik kii nuu makes me feel better though. :)

  • Dave Weinstein

    I just picked up a Fish Pepper plant for the herb garden this year; I’m looking forward to fresh hot peppers.

  • MoneyMoy

    One dish I’ve found takes to white pepper better than black- salmon tartare. I think the richness of the salmon somehow masks the off flavors, leaving just a pleasantly clean, subtle peppery accent.

  • iron stef

    When I was a grocery store checker, the stores I worked in tended to only have a couple types of chili peppers…jalepeno and a smaller green one, which may be anahiem but we simply referred to as “green chili.” If there were more specialty chilis, they were usually packaged in a little plastic box or something that you could scan.

    I still work for that grocery chain, but on the corporate side, doing advertising. There has been a real push to educate employees about food and cooking, as more “exotic” foods have gotten popular. It’s really quite a fun time to be in the grocery business, if you like food. As customers, go ahead and ask your local grocery associates questions. Keep ‘em on their toes! But, yeah, help them out too, when you are buying crazy chilis with no stickers.

  • Claudia (the Original)

    Working on a green papaya salad with Thai bird chilis tonight – serranos this weekend. Also, jalapeño and habañero both have tildes (~)and are pronounced “hal-a-PAYN-yo” and “haban-YAIR-ro”. If I hear “hal-a-PEE-no” one more time in a BBQ cookoff, I’ll scream.

    What’s the chili/chilli rule again? Chile is the country, chili is the one pot bean dish, and chilli is . . .? A typo? Or have I got my chilli and my chili backwards again?

  • Natalie Sztern

    Devan, please name for me the chilli(s) in the above pic…please…it is not something quebecers use a lot so i am at a loss to name most except the jalapeno and thai bird….

    white peper, black pepper – the chinese got it right when they use sechuan which is not really a pepper at all….

  • Catherine Wilkinson

    I avoid most contact with unknown supermarket chilies by growing my own. I control the variety, the heat, the freshness (big factor in heat level) – jalapeno is the easiest, habanero is the hardest to know when is the absolutely right time to pick…one day to long on the plant makes it unbearably hot.
    I’m experimenting the varietals, especially rare ones from southern Mexico. This is a fun project, and if one has the right environment, a recommended one.

  • kristin

    Becky,

    When you use peppers such as serrano, habanero, japlepeno or thai, you can leave the seeds in, and that will make the dish hotter than if you carefully seed the peppers before using them. I say carefully because you need to wash your hands after handling these peppers. You don’t want to rub your eyes or something after you have been cutting them. Sometimes I seed the peppers and then take a few of the seeds and throw them in a dish. You will get a little heat even without the seeds but a few seeds is sometimes better than all of them if you don’t want that much heat.

  • ruhlman

    s. woody, thanks for the great comments. grocery stores fascinate me. can you tell us if you work for a small store, big chain, or an independent?

  • Devan

    If you’re going to tip your hat with care to McGee’s spelling of “chilli,” why not take the same care with individual chilli names?

    I see “chiptles” and “chipotles,” “habenaros” and “habeneros,” and “Anahiem” for “Anaheim.”

    I’m also, with less certainty, wondering about “jalepenos” (not “jala…”) and the conspicuous absence of the ñ.

  • Becky And The Beanstock

    At my grocery store they’re just called “specialty peppers” and they all have the same price. That’s about as complicated as it gets.

    I always wonder what accounts for the difference in heat between chilis of the same variety. Sometimes I get a Thai chili (admittedly, one of the hottest chilis) that heats a dish nicely, and other times it rips a hole in my mouth. But the adventure is part of what I love about chilis (and about cooking in general).

  • Darcie

    Most of the white pepper I have experienced smelled like high school locker room. I’m sure the stuff that has been sitting in the dusty McCormick’s can for three years didn’t have a chance when it was fresh, much less years later. Even the white pepper from Penzey’s can be funky. I’d just rather see the flecks.

    Maybe white pepper is a little like cilantro: you are predisposed to find the flavor funky. However, I have gone from cilantro-hater (thought it tasted like soap) to cilantro-craver. Goes to show that either taste changes on its own or can be retrained.

    I love peppers and am growing six different varieties this year. And last night I finally coaxed out of the server in my favorite Mexican restaurant the type of chile they use in their chile verde. The server got a big tip.

  • lisa

    Here in Austin, we’re fortunate to have a good supply of fresh and dried chillis in our markets and I use them all regularly. I actually find that Anaheims or Hatch chillis have a wider range of heat than jalapenos. Regarding white pepper, I have to side with the folks who have no need for it.

  • S. Woody

    (This post is intended more for the newbies. Mr. Ruhlman already knows this stuff. Or at least I hope he does.)

    Chillis are a bane of a supermarket checker’s existance. Not the worst, by far, but an irritant nonetheless.

    The fact is, most checkers don’t have a clue about cooking. They are shlubs, working at a repetitive job for a paycheck because the job was available and provides income. Chillis are specialty ingredients. Identifying one chilli from another is not one of the highlights of a checker’s life.

    Most produce is labled with Produce LookUp codes (PLUs) these days, those little sticky tags attached to the fruit and veggies. See that little number on the sticky tag? That’s the code. They’re mostly universal nowadays, at least in the U S of A. All a checker has to do is input the code into the computer, slap that item on the scale/scanner, and the computer does the rest of the calculations on how much the customer owes for the item.

    But there are some items in the produce section that don’t have PLUs attached. Some are already wrapped, like that head of iceberg lettuce that can give a salad a pleasant crunch when shredded – the wrapping has a bar code printed on it, saving the checker time by allowing the item to be scanned the same way as a box of cereal. But there are others that lack a code, because…

    Well, because the sticky stickers don’t stick too well to a Russett potato. They just don’t. They don’t get attached to ginger root, pretty much for the same reason.

    And there are other items that the checker is supposed to just “know” what the code is. Like zucchini. Which, at least where I work, is listed as “squash, green,” for reasons I have yet to fathom but blame on our computer programmer, who apparently was from Canada. The South Park movie had it right.

    And like chillis. OK, I’ll agree that the thai chillis are too small for a sticker with the appropriate code to be attached, and since they’re usually bought in bulk, or at least mini-bulk, the notion of having all those chillis separately tagged just seems wasteful. But the bulk of the chillis are large enough that they could be tagged, if someone were to put in the time and effort.

    And there lies the rub (a chilli rub): it isn’t worth the produce supplier’s time and effort to tag all them danged chillis. They just don’t sell in that great a quantity.

    So that poor checker, who doesn’t know from cooking to begin with and certaily doesn’t know from ingredients, ends up flipping through a spiral-bound book, trying to find the correct code for the chilli. It ain’t gonna happen. There are too many conflicting names for the chillis. And the names in the book often don’t match with what has been listen on the produce bin, or with what the customer would call the chilli.

    Do you want to help that poor supermarket checker? Don’t tell the checker what the price is supposed to be – the checker is supposed to enter a PLU code, and entering a price means having to shift mental gears, of which many checkers are in short supply. Tell her or him that it’s a cubanelle. Or a jalapeno. The relaxing sag of the checker’s shoulders is her or his way of saying thank-you, with body if not soul. You’ve just made that checker’s day.

    Now, go home and make something special with that chilli. You deserve a treat.

  • kristin

    I have enjoyed experimenting with malibar and tellicherry pepper and pink peppercorns. Tellicherry is my pepper of choice with its almost smoky and full flavor.

    As for peppers, I have grown and dried my own cayenne peppers in the past and this year I expanded to not only grow cayene but serrano, pablano and thai chilli peppers. What I don’t use fresh I will dry and store away. I really like having them on hand in the winter when cooking. The dimension they add being homegrown is something else.

  • Ben

    To echo JBL, pdxeater et al. seem to have not read the articles in question – “white pepper’s nasty flavor” doesn’t refer to white pepper, in general, but “… some of the strange and not very pleasant aromas that white pepper can have, which range from barnyardy to plastic to medicinal … the off-flavors develop during the fermentation … it’s worth knowing that white pepper has this potential for carrying off-flavors. Taste it before cooking with it.”

  • Deborah Dowd

    For years I thought I was deprived because I did not have white pepper in my pantry, and now that I finally got some, you tell me it’s nasty! Oh well,live and learn!

  • Kate in the NW

    I’ve always had great luck and have only had one batch of white pepper that was off. I think that white pepper is much better in certain things – especially eggs or eggy/custardy things – I just think the flavor of white pepper is much kinder and more complimentary to egg. It’s sort of the velvet glove (rather than black pepper’s iron fist). I also like it a lot with fresh steamed green beans – for the same reasons, though in a totally different way. I’ve always thought of white/black pepper as totally different spices. It’s interesting to know they’re not, really. Like nutmeg and mace, I guess.

    I’ve been sick all week and also would like to note the miraculous healing powers of chillis – particularly when combined with garlic. I CRAVE tom kha gai soup when I’m fighting a virus. They’re used in all sorts of traditional medicines around the world and are starting to show up in alopathic medicine as well. Truly a wonder food. Thanks for hilighting them!

  • JBL

    I think it may serve, both Mr. delGrosso and pdxeater, well to read the second paragraph in the first McGee link; they missed the point.

  • Victoria

    I don’t add salt and pepper to taste in every recipe I make. I don’t always add pepper. However, I do sometimes, and it is when I think it enhances a dish. Marcella says Italians don’t use white pepper so she never calls for it. But in your recommended aveceric site, in the lovely red snapper post (and I made that recipe and can affirm it is On my kitchen counter stands a covered ramekin of Maldon salt, a mill of sea salt, a mill of black pepper, and a mill of white pepper. The white pepper is rarely, if ever, used. Based on what you have written here, I think I’m going to eliminate it.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Oh c’mon now.

    White pepper has it’s place in La Grande Cuisine. There are many dishes in that system that need pepper but, because they are meant to served “white,” cannot be pocked with black specks. True, one could infuse cracked or whole black pepper into a sauce veloute or pommes de terre au gratin, but then there is the risk that the dish will turn gray.

    White pepper is great stuff, that’s why there is so much of it.

  • pdxeater

    The flavor of white pepper is understood to be different from black pepper, and the difference is, in fact, celebrated in some culinary circles, the ones I’m familiar with are mainly the ones where the pepper is grown and fermented. Jesushchrist, if you find white pepper nasty, god forbid you get a whiff of belecan or fish sauce. For that matter, how do you people face an Époisses?

    I understand this blog is very western-centric, that was covered with the whole when I say cooking it really means western cooking and when I say the whole world it really means mainly north america and western europe in that discussion about the francophile leanings of Elements, but come on. Nasty? Dishonest? Seriously?

  • Connor

    Just now, when mincing a jalepeno pepper for tonight’s dinner, I remembered a great tip that Jacques Pepin frequently offers in his Fast Food My Way show on PBS…always taste your chili before cooking with it. Jalepenos in particular vary tremendously in heat level. If it’s really mild, you may want to throw in the ribs and seeds.

  • Connor

    Just now, when mincing a jalepeno pepper for tonight’s dinner, I remembered a great tip that Jacques Pepin frequently offers in his Fast Food My Way show on PBS…always taste your chili before cooking with it. Jalepenos in particular vary tremendously in heat level. If it’s really mild, you may want to throw in the ribs and seeds.

  • Connor

    Interesting remark about white pepper…I was somewhat surprised when Eric Ripert used it in his snapper video. I know Julia Child was a big proponent of white pepper as well. I’m with you — I don’t like the taste.

  • JMW

    Keeping with the Eric Ripert theme, he has a new entry in Avec Eric today where he talks about Salt & Pepper and still espouses white pepper.

    “I use a lot of white pepper in my kitchen because I’m always cooking fish, and the white flesh looks better to me without black flecks all over it.”

    You know, on some level, I just have to say — if it’s good enough for Eric Ripert … also another interesting angle is he talks about the different types of peppercorns and perhaps that makes a difference.

    For me personally I am glad to see that article as it has always confirmed what I knew to begin with — using white pepper instead of black is just preposterous and goes against my best instincts as a cook. Use simple, honest ingredients in straightforward ways primarily for their flavor. Why do black specks matter, especially against backdrops of many other great colors?

  • JBL

    Fascinating article(s). Thank you (wondering when the niche market of two week water-fermented white pepper will show up at specialty shops).

  • Natalie Sztern

    To both you and Donna – this picture is going into my wallet so that I can always have access to the kinds of chilis i want when i go shopping to the market…in montreal as opposed to united states, good chilis, dried or fresh, are hard to come by especially the hot ones which i love….

  • amber

    i was never much a fan of spice until my husband came along. he loves spicy food in all forms and it has finally started to wear off on me. the first night i made dinner with some real spice to it, he exclaimed “whoa. this actually has some bite!” it’s a much more common occurrence in our household these days.