The September edition of the Market’s cooking program, First Fridays with Chef Jen, features peppers. Peppers come in all shapes, sizes, flavors and heat levels. Wikipedia estimates there are 50,000 varieties of “Capsicum” (pepper) cultivars. Peppers add so much flavor and can be a main course as well as an ingredient in almost anything. Chef Jen will cook several easy and delicious dishes. Free samples will be available.
The pepper theme continues September 14 with a free pepper tasting. Peppers are a long season crop. Most varieties require several months to reach full ripeness. Almost all peppers will change from green to red, orange, yellow or purple. Here’s your chance to taste a wide array. Water and lemonaide will be available and hot varieties will be clearly marked. The heat sensation in peppers is caused by capsaicin , an odorless, colorless chemical. It binds with certain sensory neurons which more or less fools your body into thinking it is getting burned or at least experiencing excessive heat in the area in contact with capsaicin, even though no actual burning is taking place.
To neutralize the burning sensation in your mouth, try an acidic beverage or food. Drinking tomato or lemon juice or eating fresh lemon, lime, pineapple, or avocado are recommended. Acidic foods and drinks can neutralize some of the activity of the alkaline capsaicinoid. Milk (which is acidic) works well. Vinegar is supposed to help as well, don’t drink, swish.
Dairy also works to bring down the heat. Milk, yogurt, and sour cream are acidic. Capsaicin also dissolves easily in the fats found in dairy products, so when you put a dab of sour cream in your mouth along with (or after) a bite of hot stuff, you’re adding pretty effective dilution. The capsaicin and dairy fats mix together, keeping some of the capsaicin molecules from finding the pain receptors on your tongue. Remember, it’s the fat that provides the relief, so low-fat sour cream or nonfat yogurts won’t be as effective. This antidote tones down many spicy cuisines, from the use of sour cream with Mexican food to the yogurt condiments eaten with Indian meals. In Thai cuisine, rich coconut milk serves much the same purpose.