Somehow, Chili Peppers Are Getting Both More and Less Spicy

A host of trends have converged, sometimes in hot sauce form

chili peppers
It's an interesting time for chili peppers.
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It sounds like a paradox: are we living in an era where chili peppers are getting simultaneously milder and spicier? Is such a thing even possible? That depends on how you’re evaluating peppers. A single pepper can’t necessarily go in both directions at once — but in the aggregate, peppers can trend in two directions at once. And, at this point in culinary history, that’s precisely what’s happening.

In a recent National Geographic article, Eric Alt took a deep dive into this phenomenon. Food historian David DeWitt explained to Alt that larger peppers tend to be less spicy — and are also more profitable for farmers. “These days, jalapeños are getting to be about six inches long, when they used to be about three,” DeWitt told National Geographic. “Farmers are deliberately breeding for larger pods because they get paid by the poundage.”

As Alt points out, that might explain why home cooks are finding that peppers aren’t packing the same punch as they once did. On the flip side of that, though, there’s also the matter of spice enthusiasts looking for the spiciest pepper imaginable. Pepper X’s recent certification as the world’s hottest is one big step in this direction; it’s also increasingly likely that you can see ghost pepper-infused foods for sale everywhere from the grocery store to Taco Bell.

Now It’s Official: Pepper X Is the World’s Hottest Pepper
It shares a creator with the Carolina Reaper

There’s also the matter of evolving palates — as shown by the fact that ghost peppers have gone from a speciality item to something available at fast food destinations. “There’s definitely a bigger tolerance for spice than I’ve ever seen in my 70 years on the planet,” DeWitt explained to Alt.

Serendipitously, hot sauce distributor Heatonist announced earlier this week that its wares were expanding to more grocery stores around the country. For some hot sauce aficionados, that could be about finding the most extreme option available and embracing it — but for others, the appeal can be found in the more nuanced places spicy food can take us.


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