How to Pick the Perfect Pepper

Peter Piper may have picked a peck of pickled peppers, but he has nothing on you! You, too, can master the art of finding the perfect pepper (and knowing how to use it).

Although thought of as a vegetable, botanically peppers are a fruit. Peppers supply a huge amount of vitamin C and are packed with phytochemicals, which help your body ward off diseases.


If your goal is to try every pepper in the world, it may take you a while. There are 50,000 varieties. They come in all sizes and shapes. Some are sweet, while others pack a punch that will leave you grabbing milk and gulping it like there is no tomorrow.

This post is sponsored by Garden Spot Vegetable Farm. Located in Princeville, Illinois, owner, Jim Buckley and his family, cultivate 34 acres of vegetables and 375 fruit trees. Garden Spot is a no-spray farm, offering a variety of CSA packages. Check their Facebook page for current programs and options for available produce.

(Posts on Under the Median contain affiliate links. When you make a purchase through one of our links, I receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. Thank you.)

Hot or Sweet?

Peppers come in two basic varieties, hot and sweet. Although people generally consider an elongated or oval shape to be indicative of increased levels of hotness, that is not the case. The actual indicator of the spicy nature is the level of capsaicin, which is measured in Scoville Heat Units. Higher concentrations of this compound mean a hotter pepper. Weather, growing conditions, and the length of time the it has been on the plant also affect the pepper’s strength.

The common bell pepper, which comes in red, purple, orange, yellow, and green, is rated at a zero on the Scoville scale. Banana and Pepperoncini, popular on sub sandwiches and pizza, come in at 100-500 Scoville units.

Working our way up the scale, we see increasing units as we move through Anaheim, Poblano, Jalapeño, Serrano, Cayenne, and Tabasco varieties. Habaneros, Scotch Bonnets, Ghost, and Carolina Reapers round out the top four types on the Scoville Scale.

How to Pick a Pepper

The skin should be smooth and evenly colored. A pitted or shrunken appearance means that the pepper has aged and has been off of the plant for a few days. The correct color when ripe varies with every different variety.

Here are a couple of common kinds.

Bell peppers are picked green, but will become sweeter and turn yellow, orange, and finally red if left on the plant. Banana peppers also turn from yellow to orange and red as they age.

Some hotter varieties, like jalapeño are deep green when mature. However, like other peppers, they will also eventually take on a red hue when left on the plant.

Pepper As a Spice

Peppers are used as a component in several popular condiments. Louisiana hot sauce, tabasco sauce, and Frank’s Red Hot sauce are examples.

You can also use ground cayenne, crushed red pepper flakes, and ground chipotle will add an amazing depth of flavor to your cooking.

Finally, many don’t realize that paprika, a common and much-loved ingredient in cooking, is actually a combination of dried and pulverized peppers. My favorite, smoked paprika, is pimiento peppers that have been dried, smoked, and then finely ground.

Trivia, Fact, or Fiction?

Here’s an interesting piece of lore: The number of lobes on the bottom of a green pepper indicate the gender and sweetness.


Although widely circulated, this is an example of cyber lore. Peppers are gender-neutral. They do not have a male or female identity. The size, shape, and structure have absolutely no bearing on the sweetness. As with other peppers, the heat is determined by the variety and growing conditions such as soil, humidity, and moisture.

How to Store Peppers

Do not wash fresh, whole peppers. Just place them in the crisper drawer. Moisture will prematurely rot them. If you do wash them, be sure that they are completely dry before storing. Use them within a week.

Long-Term Storage

Peppers can be dehydrated or frozen.

To dehydrate, cut into strips or chop evenly. Lay on the dehydrator tray and dehydrate for 12-24 hours at 125 degrees. I have a 9-tray Excalibur Dehydrator and love it!

To freeze, cut into strips, flash freeze, and then store in a labelled freezer bag. Peppers will keep up twelve months.

Green Pepper Recipes

Pictured: Vegan Stuffed Mexican Style Bell Peppers

Hot Pepper Recipes

Pictured: Corn and Pepper Fritters with Columbian Hot Pepper Salsa

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