Many of us have eaten unbelievably hot or spicy food -- either by mistake or on purpose at one time or another. And while there are numerous ingredients that can spice up a dish, chile peppers are one of the most commonly used to give heat, flavor and color to food throughout the world.

But not all chile peppers taste incredibly hot. Each type of chile pepper varies in flavor according to the concentration of capsaicin -- the naturally occurring ingredient in chile peppers. According to New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute, capsaicin -- produced in the membrane of a chile pepper -- is the chemical that causes the burning sensation in the mouth, throat and stomach when a chile pepper is eaten.

Alan Davidson's The Penguin Companion to Food says that although more advanced methods have been developed, the Scoville scale -- developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912 -- is the most popular and most commonly referenced way to measure the heat of a chile pepper. The Scoville heat units given to a particular pepper are based on the number of times that pepper extract must be diluted in sugar water until the heat is undetectable by taste. Chile peppers are some of the most versatile ingredients. They can be eaten fresh, chopped, pickled, dried or ground up and used in many different styles of cuisine.

According to the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion, there are a few things to remember when cooking with chile peppers:

When working with a pepper that is particularly spicy, like a jalapeno or a habanero, be sure to use gloves to handle them to prevent possible irritation and blistering of the skin.

Always add small amounts of peppers to a dish at a time. The heat of a chile will spread to the rest of the dish over time, and adding too many peppers initially could overpower the rest of the ingredients.

If your mouth is aflame from eating chile peppers, reach for a glass of milk or some plain bread. Dairy and heavy starches will lessen the burning sensation in your mouth.


2 pounds spicy Italian sausage, sliced

1 large red bell pepper, cut into large chunks

1 / 4 pound jalapeno peppers, cut into large pieces

1 large red onion, cut into chunks

1 (12-ounce) can beer

1 / 2 pound sliced provolone cheese

Place sausage, red bell pepper, jalapeno peppers and red onion in a large bowl. Pour in beer. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.

Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil grate. Alternately thread sausage, red pepper, jalapenos and onion onto skewers. Cook on the prepared grill until sausage is evenly browned and vegetables are tender.

Place provolone cheese over the hot ingredients during the last few minutes of cooking and let it melt. Serve immediately.


Courtesy of Geoffrey Levine,

Per serving: 315 calories, 19 grams protein, 24 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat, 7 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 53 milligrams cholesterol, 948 milligrams sodium

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