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Sweet and hot peppers: from mild to explosive

Whether it’s to accompany a particular dish, put a little sizzle into your life or simply for decorative purposes, sweet and hot peppers are absolute must-have essentials for your vegetable garden or patio containers.

Differentiating Peppers

Together with tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants, sweet and hot peppers belong to the Solanaceae family, or nightshades. They are native to Latin America, which must explain why they love the sun and heat so much!

Sweet pepper and hot pepper might have 'pepper'in common, but they are really quite different. Below is a fast guide to separating your peppers.

Sweet pepper - Bell pepper

Capsicum annuum.

  • Consumed either raw or cooked.
  • Taste: mild and sweet when ripe and freshly picked.
  • Shapes: more or less square with lobes; elongated and pointy; elongated and banana-shaped; or round.
  • Colours: red, orange, yellow, creamy white, purple, and brown.
  • Fruit size: 6 to 15 cm long.

Hot pepper - chilli pepper

Capsicum annuum, Capscicum baccatum, Capsicum chinensis, Capsicum frutescens, Capsicum pubescens.

  • Usually eaten as a condiment.
  • Taste: fairly intense, spicy, or all the way to burning (check the Scoville scale)
  • Shapes: tapered, conical, spherical, flattened, or in the shape of a heart, lantern or bishop's hat.
  • Colours: red, orange, yellow, purple, and brown.
  • Fruit size: 3 to 10 cm long, generally more slender than bell or sweet peppers

Scoville heat scale

The Scoville scale, named after its inventor Wilbur Scoville, measures the capsaicin contained in peppers, in other words, the pungency and heat in individual peppers. Capsaicin is the active ingredient that produces the sensation of heat on our tongues.

Capsaicin is found mainly in the seeds and whitish veins inside peppers. The concentration of capsaicin varies according to the variety, the stage of development of the fruit, weather conditions and growing techniques.

The official Scoville heat scale includes 35 Scoville unit levels. Good news, however: there is a "scaled down" version with just 11.
DegreeTasteScoville HeatExample
1Mild100 - 500Sweet Pepper
2Warm500 - 1 000Anaheim Pepper
3Spicy 1 000 - 1 500Poblano Pepper
4Hot 1 500 - 2 500Espelette Pepper
5Strong2 500 - 5 000Jalapeno Pepper
6Burning5 000 - 15 000Hot Paprika
7Scorching15 000 - 30 000Cascabel Chili
8Fiery30 000 - 50 000Cayenne Pepper
9Volcanic50 000 - 100 000Tabasco Pepper
10Explosive100 000 et plusHabanero Pepper