Science of Hot Sauce

The Science of Hot Sauce

I always try to attend the sessions of the Chemistry and Food, Agriculture, and Nutrition divisions of SLA because they have interesting speakers and topics.  At the last two SLA conferences, attendees heard about the science of beer and coffee.  This year, being in New Orleans, what better topic to explore than hot sauce?  And this session not only provided some fascinating facts about hot sauce, but samples as well!

Dr. Ben Villalon, retired Texas Extension food chemist and specialist in peppers and chiles (which is why he is known as “Dr. Pepper”) entertained the audience with many little known facts about these spicy food items.

Peppers come in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and shapes

About 20 years ago, Villalon was responsible for discovering  why pepper plants were being afflicted with a virus and dying, and he developed new virus-resistant varieties and saved the crops.  The compound responsible for the heat in peppers is capsaicin, a chemical compound that stimulates nerve endings in the skin, and especially the mucous membranes.   It is mildly addictive.  When you eat hot peppers, you can destroy the nerve endings, but in young people, they regenerate themselves quickly.  In older people, it can take up to two weeks to regenerate the nerve endings.  Since capsaicin is odorless, you cannot tell hot hot a pepper is by smelling it.

There are more than 25 different species of chile peppers, and the most highly consumed pepper in the US is the green bell pepper (which is not spicy because it contains no capsaicin).  Bell peppers are a very healthy food; they have five times more Vitamin C than citrus or tomatoes!

In a jalapeño pepper, capsicum, the flavor-producing chemical, is contained in small yellow blisters on the inside walls of the skin. Most peppers are hotter at the top (stem) end.  The heat of a pepper is measured on the Scoville Heat Scale, which measures the amount of capsaicin in the pepper.

The Scoville Heat Scale

Following Villalon’s talk, Daniel (“Shoney”) Lima, chef at a local restaurant (Juan’s Flying Burrito, which is known for its extensive selection of salsas of all spiciness levels) prepared a delicious mango salsa and provided samples to the audience.  (Interestingly, more salsa is sold in the US than ketchup!)

“Shoney” Lima Makes Mango Salsa

Mango Salsa Preparation

Lima kindly provided his recipe and gave me permission to post it here on my blog.

Mango Salsa
Chef Daniel Lima, Juan’s Flying Burrito

2 ripe Mangoes, diced
1 bunch Cilantro, finely chopped
1 Red Onion, diced
2 cups Pico de Gallo or Salsa Fresca*
1/2 cup Black Beans, cooked or canned
1/2 cup Sweet Corn, cooked or canned
1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
Pinch of Salt “to taste”
1 fresh Jalapeño Pepper, seeded and finely chopped

Combine all ingredients into mixing bowl.  Mix.  Cover and chill in refrigerator before serving.

*1 tomato, 1 white onion, 1 bunch cilantro, 2 Tbsp lime juice, chopped and combined

Sampling the Result


Chef Lima and His Salsa

"Dr. Pepper" Samples the Salsa

What a great session this was!

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blogger

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