Spicy Red Pepp (Bio60_2018)

When thinking about microscopy and the world, many often associate microscopy with science and studying living organisms.

Bacteria, fungi, viruses, plants; these are all subjects that many would associate with the use of microscopes.

This post is on a rather spicy topic (pun-intended) and focuses on the structure of the well-known and beloved crushed red pepper that so many adore and many pizza delivery drivers forget to bring.

For this adventure, my roommate and I (both students in Bio 60 this quarter) made trips to the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons on Stanford’s campus. This dining hall has a neat spice library in which anyone may see the collection of some well known salts, spices, and herbs, and some more rare and lesser known spices. Anyone may come to see the spice library and even bring some spices home with them in a tiny envelope for personal use.

We collected over fifteen different spices and salts but for this post, I will be focusing on the crushed red pepper for its unique texture and composition.


These are pictures obtained of samples of red pepper obtained. These were taken using dry mounts and had to be held in place with tape on the glass slides as they almost did not fit for viewing. Care was taken to ensure that no contamination was on the glass slides, glass cover, or on the specimen itself as human hands have fair amounts of dirt and oil on them.

The structure of the red peppers obtained have very interesting patterns to them. Since these are crushed red peppers, they have been dried and crushed to create the continuous sheets and flakes of pepper.

The flakes almost look like they have air bubbles trapped within them but their defining characteristics in these pictures obtained are their swirl patterns that give it an aesthetic structure. I suspect that the supposed air bubbles are due to the drying process in which water is rapidly removed from the specimen. This process can leave air within the specimen depending on which specific process is used and this removal of water is what gives many dried products a light, “airy” feel and taste to them. Additionally, many peppers have volatile compounds within them when exposed to air which can denature some of the proteins within the peppers. This is also partly responsible for the change in flavor when considering crushed red pepper and normal red peppers.

The creases/swirl patterns I attribute to overlapping as a result of flake crushing. It would be easier to support this theory if I had a sample of red pepper to compare to for similarities. This would be an interesting follow-up experiment and post to conduct in the future. These creases may also be a result of the “corking” phenomenon in which peppers appear to have striations or “tan lines” on them, or they may also be the result of the pepper shriveling up in the drying process or any combination of these phenomena. I primarily suspect overlapping since the crease patters have a darker red color to it compared to the rest, flatter portion of the flake which would make sense as overlapping layers would let less light pass and give the crease a darker hue to it. Nonetheless, the pepper itself was still quite delicious despite its yummy imperfections.

This was an excellent introduction to foldscoping for me and how amazing structures, patterns, and information exist both in living and nonliving entities. I look forward to continuing exploring the complex world around me.

Thanks for reading!



(Post is part of the #Bio60_2018 course.)


One Comment Add yours

  1. Manu Prakash says:

    Dear Luis,

    I found your and your friends exploration of spices quiet wonderful – although I have peered through a foldscope for years; and a red chilly sits on my dining table for years, I never thought of looking through the same. Its inspirational to always remember; how much we can all personally grow to better understand our urban environment.

    Speaking of food; you might find my post on forensics of honey in Russia relevant to your explorations – https://microcosmos.foldscope.com/?p=25734

    always keep exploring.


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