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Kung Pao Chile Peppers
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Kung Pao chile peppers are elongated and slender, averaging 10 to 15 centimeters in length, and have a straight to curved, conical shape tapering to a pointed tip. The skin is waxy, glossy, smooth, and rippled, ripening from pale green to bright red when mature. Underneath the surface, the flesh is thin, pale red, and crisp, encasing a central cavity filled with membranes and a few flat and round, cream-colored seeds. Kung Pao chile peppers have a savory, earthy, and smoky flavor with a mild to moderate heat.
Kung Pao chile peppers are available in the late spring through the fall.
Kung Pao chile peppers, botanically classified as Capsicum annuum, are a rare, hybrid variety that belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. The medium-hot cultivar is a relatively new pepper that was developed for specialty growers and home gardeners. Kung Pao chile peppers are a late-season variety known for its large, bushy plant size and high yields. The elongated peppers bear a mild to moderate heat, ranging 7,000-12,000 SHU on the Scoville scale, and are considered to be a milder alternative to Thai or cayenne peppers. Kung pao chile peppers are utilized in both their young, green state or mature, red state and are a favored spicy addition to a variety of dishes, especially in Asian cuisine.
Kung Pao chile peppers are a good source of vitamins A and C, which are antioxidants that can boost the immune system, increase collagen production, and help prevent vision loss. The peppers also contain fiber, copper, potassium, vitamins B6 and K, and capsaicin, which is a chemical compound that triggers the brain to feel the sensation of heat or spice. Capsaicin has been shown to provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
Kung Pao chile peppers are best suited for both raw or cooked applications such as sautéing, roasting, or baking. When utilized fresh, the peppers can be sliced into salads, minced into sauces, or chopped and tossed into soups, stews, chilis, and casseroles. Kung Pao chile peppers are also popularly incorporated into Asian dishes such as stir-fries, curries, or noodles. In addition to fresh use, Kung Pao chile peppers are frequently dried and ground into powder or flakes. The dried powder can be stored for extended periods of time and acts as a flavoring agent for main dishes, roasted meats, sautéed vegetables, or for any dish where more heat is desired. The chile powder can also be used as a dry rub for meats. Kung Pao chile peppers pair well with meats such as poultry, beef, pork, and fish, shrimp, scallops, broccoli, green onions, collard greens, garlic, ginger, bell peppers, rice, sesame seeds, and peanuts. The peppers will keep up to one week when stored whole and unwashed in a plastic or paper bag in the refrigerator.
Though not named after the famous Sichuan dish, Kung Pao chile peppers have increased in popularity as a chile pepper variety used in homemade kung pao chicken recipes. Kung Pao chile peppers are not commercially cultivated and are primarily grown on a small-scale in home gardens. Chile pepper enthusiasts often find it humorous to use the homegrown Kung Pao chile peppers in the spicy dish of the same name, and the peppers contain a milder heat than cayenne peppers to create a more subdued version of the recipe. Throughout China, food is viewed as one of the most important aspects of daily life, and cooking for others is a favored social gathering. It is also believed in some regions that the spice or heat found in home-cooked dishes using chile peppers will encourage the gathering to be warm and cheerful. Many traditional Chinese families greet each other with a phrase that roughly translates from Chinese to mean, “Have you eaten yet?” and the answer to this question symbolizes the guest’s current state of well-being. If the guest has eaten before the visit, their spirit is considered to be content and full, but if they haven’t eaten, then they are lacking and should be cared for.
Kung Pao chile peppers are descendants of spicy peppers native to South America that have been growing wild since ancient times. The original pepper varieties were introduced to Asia in the 15th and 16th centuries via Portuguese explorers, and since their introduction, peppers have been selectively bred over generations to create many of the varieties that are available in the present-day. Kung Pao chile peppers are a modern, hybrid cultivar that was created in the early 21st century. The peppers are not commercially cultivated and are primarily found through specialty growers at farmer's markets and in home gardens throughout Asia and the United States.