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Pequin Chile Peppers
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Pequin chile peppers grow straight up to the sky on hardy, shrub-like plants that can grow up to five feet tall. The small oval peppers start out light green and as they ripen can have an occasional purple tinge, and then mature to a bright red. Pequin chiles measure an average of one-inch-long and 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide. On the Scoville scale, the chiles average 40,000 to 60,000 heat units, or roughly ten-times spicier than a jalapeno pepper. The small peppers have medium-thick walls and few seeds attached to a central placenta. Beneath the intensity of the spice, Pequin chile peppers are slightly smoky and fruity. When dried, the flavors are intensified.
Pequin chile peppers are available in the fall and winter months.
Pequin, or Piquin, chile peppers are a small, spicy variety of Capsicum annuum, native to Mexico. They are often confused for a wild variety, the chiltepin, which looks similar but is more round and berry-like. Both peppers are commonly referred to as “bird peppers” due to the fondness bird’s seem to have for the small peppers. The name “Pequin” comes from the Spanish word ‘pequino’ meaning “little.” Pequin chile peppers are most often harvested at maturity and dried, though fresh peppers are sometimes sold in their immature, green state.
Pequin chile peppers contain high amounts of vitamins A, C and K, as well as beta-carotene and potassium. The small peppers also contain large amounts of iron, magnesium and protein. The compound capsaicin is mainly present in the seeds and ribs of the pepper and is responsible for the burning sensation in the mouth. This compound is a beneficial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Research is being conducted on capsaicin for its cancer-fighting properties.
The small Pequin chile pepper, also called Chile Pequin, is used in hot sauces, salsas and soups. The pepper packs a lot of heat, so a little goes a long way. The immature green peppers are sold fresh more often than the mature, dried, red peppers. The green peppers are used in fresh salsas. Pequin chile peppers can be pickled and are the perfect size to spice up cucumbers in a pickling brine. To impart a soup with the flavors of the chile, puncture a fresh pepper several times with a fork or end of a knife and put the whole chile into the broth. Pequin peppers develop a more complex flavor when dried; the chiles can be dried in a low temperature oven or dehydrator. Dried Pequin chile peppers are ground into flakes and used as a spice for pastas, chicken or beef dishes or in dry rubs. Fresh Pequin chile peppers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Pequin chile peppers are one of the two chile varieties used to make Cholula®, a popular hot sauce from Mexico. The Cholula brand hot sauce is said to be based on a “generations old” recipe from Mexico, and was named for the ancient Cholula in the state of Puebla, south of Mexico City. Cholula has firmly established itself in pop culture culminating with a partnership with Major League Baseball.
Pequin peppers are native to Mexico, and grow from the southern part of the country all the way north to the Texas and Arizona border in the southern United States. The plant grows wild in the mountains of Mexico and can be a challenge to cultivate due to the delicacy of the plant. When established, the plant will produce for up to three years and can withstand humidity better than other pepper varieties. Many of the cultivated Pequin chile peppers are dried and either sold as a seasoning in specialty stores or in a variety of products from pastes, chile flakes and hot sauces. Outside of Central Mexico, fresh Pequin peppers can be found in home gardens and through small farms and farmer’s markets.
Recipes that include Pequin Chile Peppers. One is easiest, three is harder.
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