Written by Kon-Tiki Taco
It’s not quite a life or death issue, but taco diners should know that green salsas, red salsa and habaneros might take your breath away. Party hosts take note.
Mild, medium or hot? How does a taco taster know which salsa degree of spiciness to pick?
This is not just a question for the late-night partygoer who is stopping in for a post-revelry taco at the neighborhood taqueria – although that is a moment when care should be observed as well. More importantly, as taco catering is increasingly popular for family and corporate events, the event planner/party host needs to take into consideration various event attendees’ tolerance for “heat.” What the kids love might make your grandmother from Omaha’s dentures come loose.
Consider what “heat” in a taco is and how it is defined. Chili peppers, unlike black pepper, are imbued with capsaicin, which is a compound provided by nature to repel animals from eating them. The human animal, however, has evolved to be able to withstand and even enjoy what this spice can do to food. It bears noting that a little bit goes a long way – just a little bit of jalapenos in salsa served by mobile taco catering carts can heat things up for scores of party goers.
Technically speaking, spicy heat is the capsaicin content of an ingredient. There is an international means by which spiciness is measured, called the Scoville scale (very technically it is the Scoville Organoleptic Test). The milder banana pepper and pepperoncini measure between 100-900 on the Scoville scale, while something called the Carolina Reaper measures 1.6-2.2 million. So there clearly is a range of heat in different peppers.
Most taco cart caterers will not bring up the matter of Scoville scales. The choices might include green salsa, red salsa and habanero. The rule of thumb is that green salsas are mild and red salsas are hotter but could be considered “medium” in this grouping. It’s the habanero that should be considered and labeled with seriousness. In fact, the Carolina Reaper is a cultivar of the second-most spicy chili pepper (called the “ghost pepper”) and the red habanero.
But the habanero used by most mobile taco catering companies tends to fall shy of the hottest varieties – for good reason. A rule of thumb is to think of salsas somewhat like traffic lights:
Yellow habanero – This is the mildest, often made with pineapple blended with the chili pepper. The person who choses yellow habanero is cautious.
Green habanero – This is the medium-heat salsa, sometimes made with oranges and jalapenos and other spices. The green salsa diner has a lot of “go” in them.
Red habanero – The hottest of the salsa is made mostly with chilis, spices, garlic and vinegar. The red salsa eater’s mouth is on fire – as desired!
Of course, every taco purveyor has a different interpretation of each of these (note: the Scoville scale measurements are made by humans, thus are not entirely scientific).