They say that big things come in small packages – and we here at FruitStand are pretty sure that when they came up with that phrase, they were talking about the pequin pepper.
The tiny little capsules of capsicum may be the cutest things you’ve ever seen – but don’t be fooled. These adorable peppers can really bite!
Indeed, pequin peppers may only grow to be an inch long – at their longest – but they carry the kind of capsaicin that would put peppers three times their size to shame.
The spicy little bites can measure anywhere on the Scoville scale from 40,000 – 60,000 Scoville heat units, or SHUs. And that’s no small matter!
The scientifically-conducted scale works as the official measure of chili pepper heat. Its SHU score represents the number of times a group of panelists would need a sample of the pepper to be watered down before they could no longer detect the chili at play.
So for a score of 40,000, the three-member panel would need to water down their sample of pequin pepper 4,000 times before the lingering heat of its capsaicin – the naturally-occurring compound that gives hot peppers their heat – was off their pallets.
For comparison, the humble jalapeno, which tops off so many meals with a prick of heat, ranks at just 5,000 – 10,000 SHUs – whew!
The peppers, of course, aren’t just notable for the size of their heat index.
Their itsy shape is another striking feature of the pequin pepper. So much so, in fact, that the pepper’s name is widely thought to be a derivative of pequeño, the Spanish word for small.
But they’re still a big deal – especially in their native Mexico. The little bites of spice are used in all number of local fare, and are even beloved by non-human residents of the area. As small as a berry, these peppers are perennial favorites of local birds, and sometimes even called the “Bird Pepper” because of it. (Also helpful for achieving this feat: Birds are actually unaffected by capsaicin!)
Though, pequins are actually not the only famous pepper in town.
The spicy capsicum was first cultivated in the Mexican state of Tabasco – and if that name sounds familiar, you can thank a different chili pepper for that. The famous tabasco pepper, prime ingredient of the world-famous sauce, is another local-grown celebrity.
Still, while the pequin might not be a household name like its Tabasco neighbor, there are still a number of recipes that call for just a little of their special taste.
And Pequin peppers do have a unique taste that makes them a popular choice in many culinary circles.
The peppers aren’t just hot – they also carry a mix of fruity, citrusy and even nutty in their flavor profile, especially when eaten fresh. This nuanced pallet makes them the perfect choice for a number of recipes, including many salsas and sauces, though the peppers have also been known as an additive to soups and stews. Their tiny size makes them especially easy to work with, as just one or two peppers could offer enough kick for a big pot of soup, stew or chili.
Pequin peppers are also routinely served smoked, which – perhaps unsurprisingly – adds a deeply smoky flavor to their already delicious mix. And it’s not uncommon for the peppers to be dried, ground or sold in chili flake or powder form.
How much heat – vs. fruitiness – a pequin adds to a dish may all depend. The peppers typically start out green and ripen to a bright red color. And the general rule goes, the greener, the milder. (Or, in other words, the riper, the hotter!)
Greener peppers are typically used fresh, added to salsas and sauces, while the red peppers are more likely to be treated, through smoking, drying or turning into flakes.
And these peppers also have a red-hot food contract, as one of the star ingredients of the popular hot sauce brand Cholula. (They couldn’t let tabasco peppers have all the glory!)
But no matter how you slice it, these little fruity fireballs can really serve to punch up any recipe!