Growing Hot Peppers

Updated on November 16, 2016
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Nicolette Goff is a watercolourist, writer, and dedicated gardener. Her books, articles and paintings reveal her love of nature.

Hot peppers are the firecrackers of the vegegable kingdom: some are Roman Candle hot, others like sparklers, adding just a touch of piquancy.

They come in all sizes, shapes and sizzles, from tiny fruits with 5-alarm heat to big mildly hot peppers. Their hotness comes from the capsaicin, which is concentrated in the seeds and in the flesh between the lining and the inner wall of the pepper.

Color generally progresses from green to red, as the fruit ripens. A few go through a yellow stage. Some turn brownish-black when ripe, and one even has a lavender stage. Peppers are a very good source of vitamin C, and also contain signifigant amounts of vitamin A.

The Scoville Hotness Scale

In 1912, the chemist Wilbur Scoville developed a method to measure the heat level of chile peppers. The test is named after him, the "Scoville Organoleptic Test".

Here's how he developed his "hotness scale".

In the original test, Wilbur blended pure ground Chiles with sugar-water and a panel of "testers" then sipped the solution, in increasingly diluted concentrations, until they reached the point that the liquid no longer burned their mouths.

A number was then assigned to each chile pepper based on how much it needed to be diluted before they could no longer taste (feel) the heat.

As you can see, ratings go from "negligible heat" for the common sweet bell pepper all the way up to "LOOK OUT!!" for habaneros.

The pungency (or heat factor) of chile peppers is measured in multiples of 100 units and ranges from sweet bell peppers at zero the mighty Naga Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) at over 1,000,000 Scoville units!

That one is right off the scale!

Pure Capsaicin rates between 15,000,000 and 16,000,000 Scoville Units. Today liquid chromatography is used to determine capsaicin levels, but the unit of measure is still named Scoville.

Due to variations in growing conditions, soil and weather, peppers tend to vary between the lower and upper levels listed, but can go beyond them.

Growing Peppers

Hot peppers are easy to grow.

Usually you can find the most popular varieties as starter plants. However, if you want a larger selection or more unusual types, then you'll need to start them from seed. Seeds should be started indoors 2 - 3 months before the last spring frost.

Pepper seeds can germinate in fairly dry soil, so don't over water the seed bed. Do keep them warm - a heating pad beneath the growing medium can speed up the germination.

When the seedlings appear, replant them in larger flats about 2 inches apart, or into separate the individual plants into small pots.Water them with warm water, as cold water can retard their growth. Keep them in a warm sunny place.

Harden off the seedlings a couple of weeks before planting them in your garden, by putting them outdoors for a few hours a day. They should be planted outdoors at the same time as you'd plant your tomatoes.

Peppers don't need really fertile soil, and if they are over-fertilized they'll produce lots of green leafy growth but fewer fruits. They prefer warm days, and cooler nights, similar to the Andes climate where they originated.

Some Pepper Varieties

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Aji Red - very hot 3 to 5-inch orange-red peppers that are generally dried into powder for use in sauces and stews. A Capsicum baccatum type with 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville unitsAhaheim - Also know as the 'New Mexican Chile,' this moderately pungent fruit is deep green, but turns red at full maturity. Very smooth peppers are 7-1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide and borne on tall, productive plants that offer good foliage coveCascabella - A favorite for pickling, this pepper is generally used in its yellow stage, but it will turn red when left on the plant. Cone shaped, 1-1/4 inch long peppers range from 1,500 to 4,000 Scoville units.Golden Cayenne - Beautiful clear lemon-yellow cayenne peppers really load up on compact plants. Slightly curved peppers become about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. This is an unusual color in a hot pepperHungarian Wax - Medium-hot peppers, especially good for pickling. Canary yellow, then bright red at full maturity.Jalapeno - Fiery, thick-walled peppers grow 3 in. long and 1-1/2 inches wide, with rounded tips. Dark green at first, then turning red. Good for fresh use or pickling; famous for nachos and other Tex-Mex dishes.Kung Pao - Oriental hot peppers just right for making Kung Pao Chicken or the Asian stir-fried dishes. The tall plants are quite a sight when they become absolutely loaded with 4.5-inch long, slightly curved skinny peppers that mature from green to aPasilla Bajio - When fresh, this pepper is called 'chilaca;' it is also known as 'chile negro.' 8 to 10 inch long cylindrical peppers are thin walled, and dark green ripening to dark brown. They have less than 250 Scoville units.Scotch Bonnet - A Capsicum very similar to Habanero, but later in maturity with fruit that is not quite as long. Tall, vigorous plants bear peppers that begin as green, but mature to red. Fruity aroma and same blistering heat as the Habanero.
Aji Red - very hot 3 to 5-inch orange-red peppers that are generally dried into powder for use in sauces and stews. A Capsicum baccatum type with 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units
Aji Red - very hot 3 to 5-inch orange-red peppers that are generally dried into powder for use in sauces and stews. A Capsicum baccatum type with 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units
Ahaheim - Also know as the 'New Mexican Chile,' this moderately pungent fruit is deep green, but turns red at full maturity. Very smooth peppers are 7-1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide and borne on tall, productive plants that offer good foliage cove
Ahaheim - Also know as the 'New Mexican Chile,' this moderately pungent fruit is deep green, but turns red at full maturity. Very smooth peppers are 7-1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide and borne on tall, productive plants that offer good foliage cove
Cascabella - A favorite for pickling, this pepper is generally used in its yellow stage, but it will turn red when left on the plant. Cone shaped, 1-1/4 inch long peppers range from 1,500 to 4,000 Scoville units.
Cascabella - A favorite for pickling, this pepper is generally used in its yellow stage, but it will turn red when left on the plant. Cone shaped, 1-1/4 inch long peppers range from 1,500 to 4,000 Scoville units.
Golden Cayenne - Beautiful clear lemon-yellow cayenne peppers really load up on compact plants. Slightly curved peppers become about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. This is an unusual color in a hot pepper
Golden Cayenne - Beautiful clear lemon-yellow cayenne peppers really load up on compact plants. Slightly curved peppers become about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. This is an unusual color in a hot pepper
Hungarian Wax - Medium-hot peppers, especially good for pickling. Canary yellow, then bright red at full maturity.
Hungarian Wax - Medium-hot peppers, especially good for pickling. Canary yellow, then bright red at full maturity.
Jalapeno - Fiery, thick-walled peppers grow 3 in. long and 1-1/2 inches wide, with rounded tips. Dark green at first, then turning red. Good for fresh use or pickling; famous for nachos and other Tex-Mex dishes.
Jalapeno - Fiery, thick-walled peppers grow 3 in. long and 1-1/2 inches wide, with rounded tips. Dark green at first, then turning red. Good for fresh use or pickling; famous for nachos and other Tex-Mex dishes.
Kung Pao - Oriental hot peppers just right for making Kung Pao Chicken or the Asian stir-fried dishes. The tall plants are quite a sight when they become absolutely loaded with 4.5-inch long, slightly curved skinny peppers that mature from green to a
Kung Pao - Oriental hot peppers just right for making Kung Pao Chicken or the Asian stir-fried dishes. The tall plants are quite a sight when they become absolutely loaded with 4.5-inch long, slightly curved skinny peppers that mature from green to a
Pasilla Bajio - When fresh, this pepper is called 'chilaca;' it is also known as 'chile negro.' 8 to 10 inch long cylindrical peppers are thin walled, and dark green ripening to dark brown. They have less than 250 Scoville units.
Pasilla Bajio - When fresh, this pepper is called 'chilaca;' it is also known as 'chile negro.' 8 to 10 inch long cylindrical peppers are thin walled, and dark green ripening to dark brown. They have less than 250 Scoville units.
Scotch Bonnet - A Capsicum very similar to Habanero, but later in maturity with fruit that is not quite as long. Tall, vigorous plants bear peppers that begin as green, but mature to red. Fruity aroma and same blistering heat as the Habanero.
Scotch Bonnet - A Capsicum very similar to Habanero, but later in maturity with fruit that is not quite as long. Tall, vigorous plants bear peppers that begin as green, but mature to red. Fruity aroma and same blistering heat as the Habanero.

Cooking With Your Peppers

In addition to using peppers fresh in your cooking, you can pickle, freeze or dry them.

The thin small ones, like long red cayennes or serrano are easy to dry. Just thread them on a string and hang them up.

Fleshier cultivars like ancho or Hungarian wax are best split and dried on a screen in a hot sunny place.

Hot peppers can be used when they're still green, but they are highest in vitamins (and capsaicin) when they mature on the bush. When you pick them, coating your hands with oil will reduce burning or the absorption of the hot oils into your skin.

When you are cooking with these hot peppers, it's best to slip on a pair of rubber gloves before you start cutting. Otherwise, the oils may be absorbed into your skin, and thus transferred to other parts of the body.

And remember - don't rub your eyes!

Trust me on this - I've inadvertently touched my lips and eye while cutting hot peppers, and the burning was extremely painful. If you do that, flush your skin with cold water.


Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Nicolette Goff

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      • profile image

        james 5 years ago

        peppers rock

      • papiyajana profile image

        Papiya Rana (Jana) 5 years ago from Navi Mumbai

        Thanks to share.

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