Fit to be Stuffed: Science Breeds Perfect Popper Pepper
In a world where scientists grow meat in test tubes and insert jellyfish genes into grains of rice, it may be comforting to know that some food science breakthroughs still come from good, old-fashioned selective breeding.
Researchers at New Mexico State University's chili pepper breeding program recently unveiled their latest designer peppera larger and meatier jalapeño that is suitable for stuffing and frying (and possibly wrapping in bacon) for a dish widely known as a jalapeño poppers.
Called the NuMex Jalamundo, after its university birthplace and its large size (mundo is Spanish for world), the new addition is a cross between a regular jalapeño and a bell pepper variety called the Keystone Resistant Giant.
We purposely selected for a plant that would set fruit with a larger pod type so it would fit this category of poppers, said Paul Bosland, a professor at the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at NMSU and co-founder of the nonprofit Chile Pepper Institute. The walls on a chili are thicker or thinner and if you're using the flesh you definitely want a thick, meaty wall.
Hoping to gain some of the size and fleshiness of the bell pepper while retaining the jalapeño's heat and flavor, Bosland's team made a series of crosses between the jalapeño and the bell pepper until they achieved their aims.
To select the perfect plant, institute researchers use both the human touch and a dash of technology. The heat rating system for chilies, called Scoville Heat Units (SHU), was originally based on a taste test, Bosland said. If a pepper needs to be diluted with water 10,000 times to no longer taste hot, then it has a SHU of 10,000. But measuring heat by taste goes only so far.
We get what they call tasters fatigueyou can only taste so much before your mouth burns out, Bosland told InnovationNewsDaily.
For the most accurate rating, Bosland uses high-performance liquid chromatography to measure the concentration of capsaicin molecules, which produce a pepper's heat.
The finished NuMex Jalamundo has medium heat at approximately 17,000 SVU (compared with a jalapeño's 48,000) and is an open pollinated plant, which means growers can save seeds to plant again , unlike hybrid seeds that are meant to produce only a single generation.
The Jalamundo is only the latest in a suite of peppers the institute has optimized to appeal to specific palates. One of their previous successes was a New Mexico green chili with the same heat level, but five times the flavor compounds of the original. Consumers are becoming more attuned to the flavors of different chilies and there is a market for peppers that appeal to different tastes or dishes, Bosland said.
Large jalapeños already exist that work well for stuffing, Bosland said, but the Jalamundo offers a new option to growers interested in cultivating the perfect popper pepper.
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