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Heatless hot peppers

I’ve been using this current cold snap to get my seed orders together, and one thing I am planning to grow this season is a few not-so-hot peppers. Not in the “yuck, far from delicious” sense, but in the “surprisingly not setting my mouth on fire” sense. American taste buds, on average, have gone to the Hot Side during my lifetime, but not so much in the Smith household, where my husband has practically no tolerance for capsaicin (the spicy component of chili peppers) and I am not much better. But there are flavors to hot peppers that go beyond just heat, and they are worth exploring. Thanks to both older varieties and breeding of new cultivars, us heat wimps can discover them.

Aji Dulce Pepper by Dale Calder/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Let’s start with Aji Dulce, a type of Capsicum chinense naturally low in heat. Like most plants in this species they grow fairly slowly, but can still mature in our area if started indoors in February or early March. (Contrast the more commonly-grown Capsicum annuum peppers, which include most sweet types and some hot ones such as jalapeño and serrano, and are more vigorous in growth.) They start green and mature to red, orange, or sometimes yellow. And they look like a hot pepper, right? But the heat is minimal, and mostly concentrated in the stem area and the seeds (except for the occasional outlier that packs a punch).

A more recent development is the Habanada, which started with a rogue heatless pepper and a lot of cross-breeding with habaneros, and ended up with a prized culinary treat. You can read all about it in this NPR article.

If you like jalapeños but not their heat, there are several varieties available, including Felicity and Fooled You.

Some pepper types are traditionally low in heat but still bring a bit of buzz, like Anaheim, Cubanelle, Pasilla Bajio, and Poblano.

I settled on two lower-heat peppers to try. One is the Trinidad Perfume Spice Pepper, which looks like a yellow habanero or like its namesake the Trinidad Scorpion (one of the hottest peppers in the world), but is described as only mildly hot (up to 500 Scoville units), “extremely flavorful” with “a delicious scent when cooked.”

My other choice, the Sugar Rush Hot Peach, is a Capsicum baccatum, a species bred in South America into varieties like Aji Amarillo and Aji Limón. Here’s the catalog copy from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:

A sumptuous snacking pepper, Sugar Rush Peach is by far the most fun pepper to eat. The long, peach colored fruits are packed with loads of super sweet, tropical flavor, and the seeds bring a smokey, complex heat that when used together, creates a wild flavor experience unparalleled in any pepper we have tried.

So, can you tell from that how hot the pepper is? From reading elsewhere, I’m guessing it doesn’t so much lack heat as double up in sweetness, so I may be giving a lot of these away and using a few to make delicious salsas. I have to say I really do appreciate catalogs that include Scoville heat units, the scale used to measure pungency. Because adjectives are nice, but don’t tell you much after you’ve read twenty pepper descriptions.

Leave a comment about your experiences with growing low-heat peppers! Just thinking about them will warm us all up.


By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener

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