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Some Like Their Peppers Hot--Others, Not

By Linda McElreath
January 31, 2002

The American consumer’s increased appetite for various ethnic foods has contributed to the development of tomato-based, salsa-type products with varying degrees of pungency or “heat.”

Peppers of the genus Capiscum--from the Greek kapto, meaning “to bite”--contain a class of compounds, capsacinoids, that add heat to salsas. To adjust pungency and maintain it at a desired level, food processors add extracted capsaicin in controlled amounts during processing.

Now, nonpungent, capsaicin-free peppers have been bred to impart appropriate flavor without adding heat. These new peppers provide the jalapeno taste in salsa products that are advertised as “chunky.” But little is known about cultural conditions that affect marketable yield of the new peppers, which have largely replaced pungent varieties in processed products.

So, Agricultural Research Service plant physiologist Vincent M. Russo at the ARS South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Lane, Okla., conducted studies to determine if the planting date and increased plant density affected yield of nonpungent jalapenos.

Greenhouse-grown seedlings of the nonpungent jalapeno peppers Pace 103, Pace 105, Pace 106, TAM Sweet2 and Dulce--along with the pungent peppers TAM Jalapeno1 and Delicias for comparison--were transplanted in mid-April and mid-June of 2000 and 2001. Either one or two seedlings were placed in each planting site. One plant is the norm since two plants at a site may create competition that may reduce yields. Fruits were harvested one time from all plants when about 5 percent of the fruits were red.

In both years, more fruit were produced and higher yields obtained with two plants per site, indicating that competition was not a problem. Some of the cultivars that produced fewer, larger fruit had yields as good as or better than other peppers tested. Yields from plants transplanted in mid-June were about one-half those established during other planting windows.

According to Russo, it appears most of the cultivars can be transplanted at several times during the growing season and still give producers profitable yields.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

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