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Growing Hot Peppers

If there’s one thing I refuse to eat, it’s a hot chili pepper. I don’t like food that feels like I’m chewing on molten lava.

What makes a pepper painful is a substance called capsaicin. The heat is rated in what’s called Scoville units. Currently the hottest pepper in the world is called the Carolina Reaper, and it burns your mouth with over two-million Scoville units. In comparison, the lowly jalapeno measures about five-thousand.

You looking to break the record? Tim Coolong is an Extension vegetable specialist at the University of Georgia. He says a lot of it is genetic, but the pepper’s growing environment can affect its heat.

"There’s been quite a bit of research out there, depending upon if you grow them under very hot conditions or cool conditions, some research has shown that under very stressful growing conditions the plant may produce more capsaicinoids, and the irrigation can affect it as well," says Coolong. "And so, within reason, a home grower through different practices can have an effect on it."

Growing hot peppers isn’t much different than bell peppers, except the spicy plants are usually larger. They also don’t have resistance to some bell pepper diseases.

Harvesting vegetables should not be hazardous to your health, but Coolong says when you pick a fiery hot chili, you have to take precautions. If it breaks open or you’re harvesting the seeds to plant next year, wear gloves.

"You do want to be very careful with that. Keep in mind after you are cutting those peppers open, that capsaicin can be on your hands," he says. "So if you’re not wearing gloves and you touch your face or something, you can experience some burning."

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