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I have some dried hot peppers which are over a year old. These are hybrids, part chile de arbol, but less hot so that I can use them for mixed company. A friend grew them for me specifically because of their medium hotness.

After around 16 months in doubled ziplock bags, I used some of these in a couple recipes last week, including a Mexican squash casserole. The dried peppers were partly rehydrated prior to use.

While I remember being able to use 2 or even 3 of these peppers in a recipe when I first got them, even one of them made the dish so hot I had to quickly make something else for two of our guests. This happened three times over the last couple months, so it's not just which individual pepper I pulled out. It seems like these peppers got hotter with ageing, something I'd think was impossible ... shouldn't they lose capsaicin as they age?

So, my question is:

  1. Is it possible for a dried chili pepper to become hotter with ageing, instead of losing flavor?

  2. If so, what causes this?

I'm guessing that it's just my faulty memory, but I'd love some verification. Thanks!

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The questions aren't an 'exact match' but @ElendilTheTalls answer covers this cooking.stackexchange.com/q/23604/6279 –  Cos Callis May 6 '12 at 18:45
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@CosCallis Even if the amount of capsaicin doesn't change, the amount of it that ends up available to taste in the dish could. (Different amount lost during rehydrating, different amount released into the dish.) –  Jefromi May 6 '12 at 19:36
    
I tend to agree with @ElendilTheTall's take where he suggests that the heat (capsaician) is going to 'plateau'. Why do you think some would be 'lost' in re-hydration? (where would it go?) –  Cos Callis May 7 '12 at 15:29
    
@CosCallis Many people rehydrate in hot water then discard at least some of that water. –  Jefromi May 7 '12 at 18:21
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Jefromi, interesting idea. You're thinking that maybe when the peppers were younger, more of the capsaicin would dissolve into the water than with the older peppers? –  FuzzyChef May 8 '12 at 2:20
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3 Answers 3

Chilies do not lose their flavor when they dry. What happens to a chili that dries: It shrinks in size. If you have the same amount of flavor, in a smaller area, the taste of the chili is more concentrated, and so the taste will be stronger. You can put the dried chilies in a bowl of hot water before using them. However, I would just recommend to use less of the dried chilies.
It might even be nice to use this effect, by roasting chilies in the oven, to get very rich flavored chilies.

You can get more information about this on the following site: http://www.worldofchillies.com/dried_chillies/driedchillies.html

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The OP is starting with dried chilies. They've already shrunk and undergone any flavor changes associated with drying. He's asking about the stored dried chilies over time. –  Jefromi May 7 '12 at 18:22
    
I don't see the difference, because they become dried over the time? The longer he waits, the more dried the chilies are? –  Lotte Laat May 7 '12 at 18:40
    
They're already completely dried at the beginning. –  Jefromi May 7 '12 at 20:16
    
Lotte, that was my first thought, but the quantity involved -- "1 chile" remains the same no matter how much it's dried/shrunk. –  FuzzyChef May 8 '12 at 2:17
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You could be just that lucky to get hotter peppers recently. Chilli peppers are known to have variable hotness, even when harvested from a single plant. Most of peppers on a plant may be mild, but a few very hot.

Also, you can remember them being milder than they are if you were used to eating them more then.

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It's important to realize that if you use any noticeable amount of hot spice in a dish, there will be people (such as my mother) who will refuse to eat it; if you don't know anything about peoples' preferences beforehand, it's usually best to have alternatives.

I also suspect that dried chiles may have the same problem that pepper flakes have (in dishes that aren't cooked to the point where the flavors meld): unlike powdered hot spices, with flakes, you're not so much deciding how hot a dish is when you decide how many flakes to put in, as you are how many intensely hot spots there are in the dish.

Dried chiles (especially if not pre-soaked) will take longer to disperse their flavor than fresh, which would result in less overall warmth and more hot spots than fresh chilies in the same dish.

If the dried chiles started dry as in apricots, they might continue to dry further in storage, increasing that effect as they age.

Pre-soaking (regardless of whether you use the soaking water in the dish) would reduce that effect by getting the pepper ready to release its flavor into the dish from the moment it is added, giving a more uniform heat to the resulting dish.

There is a trade-off with regard to people trying to avoid hot spice with that approach: they'll be able to avoid less of the heat by trying to eat around the peppers, since more has leached out into the dish, but for people who have some threshold of hot spice that they enjoy, the hot spots are less likely to exceed it.

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I'm not sure I can find an answer to the question in there? –  Cos Callis May 9 '12 at 3:38
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