National chili month
October 2nd, 2012
09:00 AM ET
Share this on:

While you're frying up some eggs and bacon, we're cooking up something else: a way to celebrate today's food holiday.

Some like it hot - October is National Chili Month!

This hearty, slow-cooked stew will warm you from the inside out. While the inclusion of certain ingredients like beans and tomatoes will cause a hot debate among people from different regions of the country, almost everyone can agree: Chili just isn't chili unless it has chili peppers.

One of the world’s first cultivated crops, the chili pepper's origin can be traced back to South America. According to food magazine The Nibble, Christopher Columbus was the first European to "discover" chilies. He called them pimientos, the Spanish word for pepper, because the spiciness reminded him of peppercorns. The two plants, however, are not related.

Chilies are high in vitamin C. Some of them are also high in the chemical capsaicin, which gives them their heat. Capsaicin is both the active ingredient in pepper spray, as well as topical arthritis treatments.

Chilies are classified according to their heat (i.e. the amount of capsaicin they contain). The first man to determine how to test for a chili’s pungency (or heat) was Wilbur Scoville. The test was fairly simple: People were asked to taste a chili and then determine how many parts of sugar water it took to neutralize its heat. Today, a process determines how much capsaicin is in each chili in parts per million.

Here’s the scale we use today:

Mild Heat: 0 to 5,000 SHUs
Medium Heat: 5,000 to 20,000 SHUs
Hot Heat: 20,000 to 70,000 SHUs
Extreme Heat: 70,000 to 300,000 SHUs
*SHU stands for Scoville Heat Units. On this scale, 0 is mild.

To put things in perspective, a serrano chili has up to 30,000 SHUs; a habanero up to 500,000; the bhut jolokia has 1,001,304 SHUs; and pepper spray has 2,000,000 SHUs.

The most common method people use to neutralize the burn of a chili is drinking milk. This is because capsaicin doesn’t dissolve in water, but it does in fats. So, alcohol will also serve the same purpose.

As for cooking with chilies, the capsaicin is found mostly in the seeds and the membrane that holds the seeds to the inside of the peppers. Removing both the seeds and the membrane will decrease a chili’s SHUs. For safety’s sake, always wash your hands and cutting board after chopping up a chili, and don’t rub your eyes, nose or mouth. For chilies with more SHUs, consider wearing gloves as you cook.

There are hundreds of varieties of chilies, and endless ways to use them in cooking. If you’re just starting out in your experimentation with heat, try red pepper flakes then move up to jalapeños and serranos. You’ll build up a tolerance as you go. For those more accustomed to cooking with chilies, try using them in unexpected ways, like dessert. Chilies go great with chocolate and sweet fruits like pineapple.

Chilly weather means chili weather
The great chili poll
Elizabeth Taylor – movie star, chili lover
Spouse vs Spouse: Chili cook-off
Chili for the holidays? Why the heck not!

Posted by:
Filed under: Breakfast Buffet • Chili • Food Holidays • News

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. The Witty One

    HA! After reading the article, I looked at the "Previously" section and saw "The great Chili Poo", instead of "The Great Chili Poll".

    October 1, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  2. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫


    October 1, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  3. Joepub

    My family is Yankee but we make a pretty decent chili.

    October 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  4. Just Sayin'

    Jimmy cracked corn, and I don't care.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  5. Clete

    Something to celebrate in October besides Holloween, hurray. Most stories that CNN are depressing, finally one that isn't.

    October 3, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  6. Bart Flaster

    NEVER, EVER scratch your balls after cutting jalepenos.

    October 3, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Thanks

      Words to live by.

      October 3, 2012 at 10:44 am |
      • Bart Flaster

        Like you don't even know, friend. Like you don't even know.

        October 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  7. dave

    Beans do not belong in chili...

    October 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • magiccat

      Beans are a long-time sticking point between chili lovers from different parts of the country. I think their inclusion or exclusion is cultural.

      However, there are some recently-included ingredients that have no place in chili – chicken and turkey, especially ground as is generally called for. If you don't want meat, make a multi-bean chili. The beans have a warm and hefty feel (sort of like meat) and can take on any flavoring/seasoning that meat chili can – a rich beef chili, or a green pork chili....

      October 3, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • John

      If you cannot afford meat, beans will work. Consider it a poor man's chili con "carne."

      October 3, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  8. noodle21

    I am so happy to hear this! I love cooking and eating chili – I usually make my on the spicy side (at least spicy by my standards), and I like changing up the recipe. Just another excuse to make a couple of batches of chili this month! I posted one of my favorite recipes on my blog – tuesdaynightboyfriend – if anyone wants to check it out. I would love some suggestions on how to change up the recipe, like I said I like to experiment with my recipes.

    October 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  9. Nancy

    My two "secret" ingredients – cocoa powder and instant coffee. Use masa flour to thicken. Also plenty of cumin.

    October 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  10. Dana Lane Taylor

    I am addicted to the heat in peppers and run Capsaicin Social Network. It is at

    I normally don't complain about articles that deal with something I love but some facts are wrong.

    Police grade pepper spray is 5,300,000 scoville units. Believe me, you don't want that sprayed in your eyes.

    The Bhut (Naga) Jolokia is no longer the world's hottest pepper. The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is the official hottest pepper and it is at 2,000,000 scoville units. Before the Naga, the hottest pepper was a wimpy habanero at about 400,000 SU. lol

    Before becoming addicted to the heat, I had chronic heartburn. Now heartburn is rare! I love my hot stuff!

    October 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  11. Kathleen


    And serve it up over Fritos and topped with plenty of cheese and onions. Frito Pies rule!

    October 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Rick

      No beans?

      Girlfriend and I made white bean chili last weekend, and I am going to make Kidney Bean Chili tonight.

      October 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
      • John

        Right, no beans – that's the way it was originally made. You've never heard of chili con frijoles, have you?

        October 3, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  12. TomGI

    "Extreme Heat: 70,000 to 30,000 SHUs"

    That's a typo, should be 70,000 to 300,000 WOW that's mui caliente!

    October 2, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Dana Lane Taylor

      And actually 300k shouldn't be considered extreme.

      October 2, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
| Part of