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Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Salsa – Some Like It Hot

By Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

Salsa Ingredients

When tomatoes and peppers are ripe and plentiful, folks will wonder what to do with all that produce. Salsa is one good option. The University of Missouri Extension guide sheet called Tantalizing Tomatoes (GH 1456) has a safe procedure for making and preserving salsa.

How hot the salsa is depends on the kind of peppers that are used. Peppers are rated according to their hotness on a scale called the Scoville Organoleptic Test.


The hottest variety is habanero. With a rating of 300,000 Scoville Units, the habanero resembles an orange lantern. Typically, the hotter peppers are smaller varieties (1-3 inches at maturity) and are colored ‘green-turning-red.’ Milder peppers tend to be larger (4-10 inches) and are ‘yellow-turning-red.’ Examples of milder peppers include Bell peppers and Sweet Banana peppers, which rate at 0 Scoville Units, and so are very mild. More in the mid-range would be jalapeņo peppers. They are rated at 5000 Scoville Units and are tapered green or red chilies.

When working with hot peppers, be sure to wear gloves to prevent burns. Just cutting a habanero open, for example, can make a person’s eyes water!

Adjust the spiciness of the salsa by selecting the type of pepper added to the mix. For a very mild salsa, use milder peppers. For a very hot salsa, use a greater proportion of hotter peppers to milder ones. Regardless of the product’s spiciness, don’t just add more peppers to make it hotter. The total amount of peppers should be the amount recommended in the procedure. The proportions are calculated out so that the recipe will be safely preserved.

It is also a good idea to try out the peppers you plan to use in canning a large amount of salsa in a small batch first or try it out in a small amount of another dish. See if the temperature is what you expect and what you prefer. It’s easier to adjust the mix of peppers in the salsa to make it a little milder than it is to deal with an excessively hot and spicy salsa after it’s canned. (The same holds true for making a small batch of chile or any other food that uses hot peppers.)

If someone finds your salsa a bit too hot for their tastes, you might try serving it with some sour cream or salty chips to help calm that spicy flavor.



Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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