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Hot Stuff: Treatments for Drying Chilis

October 2, 2020
Rosadriana Zelaya
Chemical Engineering, Class of 2020

Doing research during the quarantine was a very different experience than anything I had ever done before. I was very fortunate that my research project was easily adapted to the stay-at-home life, the kitchen became my new lab! The main thing I was researching this summer was the effect that different pretreatments had on the dehydration time of chili peppers. To carry out this project I was delivered some equipment from the lab (such as the food dehydrator and a fancy sous vide to control water temperature) and I also received other materials through mail. It was honestly kind of amusing that I was getting my chili peppers for my research through Safeway delivery because the people doing the delivery would be very confused when I would keep ordering 2 pounds of Thai chili peppers.

Most of the pretreatments I tested involved blanching chilies in water at 90C or in acidic/basic solutions at 90C. You might think that it was very dangerous for me to be working with acids and bases at home without any fume hoods or lab coat, but the nature of this project made that easy once again. One of the goals of the project was to test simple pretreatments that could be easily implemented by farmers in India, so I was using weak acids that are often used in the kitchen as dietary supplements: ascorbic acid (vitamin c) and citric acid. For the bases, I also used a kitchen-friendly chemical: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). In this case I did use a slightly stronger base (sodium carbonate), so I took extra precautions when handling this chemical.

Another part of my project involved researching about food storage methods and energy storage methods. The goal was to understand how energy storage markets work and to learn if there was anything about them that could be applied to food storage systems. I had anticipated that diving into energy storage systems would be very interesting to me because in the future I hope to work in the renewable energy sector as a chemical engineer. However, I was surprised to find food storage systems just as interesting, especially because it led me to realize that the way I was storing my fresh produce at home was not the ideal way of doing it.

These are some before and after pictures of one batch of chilies I dried this summer:

About 20 chilis, most of them green           About 20 dried chilis