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I see a lot of the hottest foods having multiple peppers used in their sauce, with the infamous ghost peppers being among them. If the ghost pepper is the hottest pepper in the dish, do the other peppers really add any more heat to the recipe or do they actually dilute the ghost pepper's fire?

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3 Answers 3

To put it simply: if you increase the amount of capsaicin per bite of food, you'll make it hotter.

So if we're talking about just a sauce that's basically pure peppers, then yes, the mixture of a very hot pepper and a more mild pepper will be somewhere in between the two, and the addition of the mild pepper dilutes the sauce - a spoonful of it will not contain as much capsaicin.

But if we're talking about a dish that's mostly other things, with ghost pepper for heat in the sauce, and on top of that you add another pepper to the sauce, then yes, the other pepper will add heat - there'll be more capsaicin in each bite. Will it be noticeable? If it's a banana pepper, no - it's orders of magnitude milder, so you'll never notice. If it's a habanero, probably - it's not that much more mild than the ghost pepper.

Other peppers may well add great flavor, though. There's quite a variety among all the chilis, and it's perfectly reasonable to use half a dozen different ones in a single dish just to get the nice full flavor you want. This is still true if you're making a really hot dish. That said, if you're talking about "the hottest foods" and ghost peppers, it sounds like your goal is really just to make something really hot, not something you can actually taste - you can definitely get plenty of heat from other peppers. If you're using the hottest possible peppers, it's probably either a gimmick, or the whole point is to burn your tongue off so you can't taste anything else anyway.

This is of course all assuming you're actually using the whole pepper, in order to get all the heat from it. If you're not, then... why are you bothering with ghost peppers? See Cos Callis' answer for more explanation.

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I think you really have to consider the recipe to determine whether or not it is going to be dilutive. Cos Callis is right - more capsaicin means more heat, and all other things being equal, more peppers means more capsaicin. If you're substituting milder peppers for some of the hot peppers then of course it will end up less hot. But if you just add a couple more chili peppers without changing any other aspect of the recipe, then you're not really adding any of the things that cut the heat (fat, alcohol, etc.) but you are adding more capsaicin, and therefore more heat, with any chilies. –  Aaronut May 5 '13 at 22:32
    
@Aaronut That's pretty much exactly what I was trying to say with the first two paragraphs. –  Jefromi May 5 '13 at 22:40
    
It is? You seem to have arrived at the opposite conclusion ("the addition of the mild pepper dilutes the sauce - a spoonful of it will nto contain as much heat"). –  Aaronut May 6 '13 at 16:17
    
@Aaronut Then maybe I misunderstood what you're saying. If you're using a constant-size spoonful of a sauce (as a condiment, say), then if it is a puree of half bell pepper and half habanero, it surely we agree that it will be half as hot as if it were all habanero. (That's the first paragraph.) On the other hand, if we have a stew that's 99% other stuff and 1% habanero, and we add another 1% jalapeno, it will contain more capsaicin and be hotter. (That's the second paragraph.) –  Jefromi May 6 '13 at 16:55
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@Brendan Adding more capsaicin per bite. But I'll try to edit to clarify. –  Jefromi May 6 '13 at 23:04
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I had a similar question sometime ago. You should think of the pepper in three parts:

  1. The Meat: the outer shell of the pepper, the colored portion.
  2. The Veins: (aka the placenta) the inner structure, the white separators that support the seeds. This is the source of the vast majority of the capsaicin (the 'heat')
  3. The Stem and Seeds: the seeds are directly below the stem, and are only a minimal source of heat.

enter image description here source: Reidel Marketing Group website

While each breed of pepper has its own unique flavor. If during the preparation the veins and seeds are removed, regardless of the type of pepper, the heat is removed with them. The variety of peppers in any given recipe will contribute flavors to the dish, but -per the answer to the previous question (from @Jefromi) - capsaicin is capsaicin and the overall 'heat' of the dish reflects how thoroughly the veins and seeds have been removed or not removed.

In short, more types of peppers does not necessarily add more heat, but more capsaicin does.


The picture included was chosen because it illustrates the structure of the pepper, it is not an endorsement of the tool being demonstrated.

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Jefromi has it right in that you sum up capsaicin of different peppers for spiciness and vary flavor by using different ones. What you can do to increase perceived spiciness considerably without adding more of capsaicin carriers though, is using foods/spices that are hot through different means.

For example, black pepper comes from piperine, and spiciness of horseradish and wasabi - from sinigrin, which act completely orthogonally from capsaicin. A dish with a spoon of chili and a spoon of wasabi will be likely hotter than both a dish with two spoons of chili or one with two spoons of wasabi.

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I've heard of a drink that does this, called the Red-Headed Stranger. It's a Bloody Mary that uses sriracha, tabasco, wasabi, and more. –  Iszi May 8 '13 at 14:33
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