Generally speaking, peppers can be harvested at any stage of ripeness, as long as the fruits feel firm and have a glossy sheen. Hot peppers generally get hotter (and change colors, usually from green to orange, red, or purple) the riper they get. Additionally, peppers tend to get spicier in hot, dry conditions; a cool, wet season will make for milder peppers.
We encourage you to wear gloves when slicing your peppers, and avoid rubbing your eyes, mucus membranes, or other sensitive areas. Also thoroughly wash your knife, cutting board, and anything else the peppers have touched with lots of warm, soapy water. If you find that a pepper is too hot for your tastes, capsaicin (the chemical that makes peppers hot) can be dissolved in oils (such as vegetable or olive oil), dairy products, soap, or alcohol. (Unfortunately water will not help, as capsaicin, like oil, is hydrophobic.) Be careful, have fun, and enjoy your taste tests!
- Czech Black: An heirloom from the Czech Republic, this pepper has fruits so striking that sometimes they are just worth looking at. Black when immature, the 2” long conical peppers ripen to a lustrous dark-red garnet color. Mild, juicy, thick-walled flesh runs with a cherry-red juice when cut. The heat, which is a bit milder than a jalapeño, is in the ribs and seeds. Can be candied like a citrus peel for a spicy holiday treat. Great eating at any stage.
- Jalafuego: Jalafuegos are a super-sized and slightly spicier variety of the more traditional jalapeño peppers. Instead of being 2"-4” size, these are 4"-6" long, making them perfect for jalapeño popper recipes. Peppers can have a range of pungency from moderate to high heat, depending on the pepper. Commonly picked and consumed while still green, if allowed to fully ripen they will turn red, orange, or yellow. Smoked and dried red peppers are known as chipotles. Other common uses include being stuffed with meat or cheese (jalapeño “poppers”), made into jelly, served with mixed drinks, added to salsas, or included in Vietnamese dishes such as pho and bánh mì.
- Matchbox: This Thai pepper has fiery red fruit clusters and strong heat and flavor. Two-inch long fruits are very colorful and can sometimes make the plant look like a Christmas tree. This welcome descendant of "Super Chili" was 8 years in the making and has a similar heat.
- Paper Lantern: Elongated and wrinkled, this habañero-type pepper has red lantern-shaped fruits that are 3"-4" long. Harvest green for milder spice, or when ripe at orange to red. Caution: VERY HOT! You may wish to use gloves when preparing, and avoid touching your eyes, mucous membranes, or other sensitive areas. Often added whole to curries or soups, or cooked down for hot sauce. Great for seasonings, salsa, or roasting, their thin walls also make them ideal for drying.
- Shishito (Mellow Star): Japanese pepper for cooking or salads. Heavily wrinkled fruits are thin walled, usually mild (no heat) when green and slightly sweet when red. Popular in Japan where the thin walls make them particularly suitable for tempura. Also very good in stir fries or sautés or eaten alone with oil, salt, and pepper. In Asia, fruits are often cooked green, but they also may be used red. Thinly sliced, the red fruits are excellent in salads and coleslaw. Note: Proceed with slight caution, as one out of ten peppers is hot!