How to Preserve Peppers

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Smoked peppers

This time of year, hardly a day goes by when I don’t can, freeze or dry something from my garden. Of the hundreds of jars and bags that I squirrel away for winter, the most prized of them all contain peppers. Frozen, pickled or dried, stored peppers deliver more flavor, by weight, than any other garden goodie.

Learning how to preserve peppers did not come easy, yet my trials and errors have led me to many interesting discoveries. First, it’s important to match the preservation method to the peppers themselves. Generally speaking, peppers with thick walls, like big bells and pimento peppers, are prime candidates for freezing, firm little banana peppers and jalapenos can stand up to pickling, and thin-walled cayennes and other hot peppers are easy to dry. Beyond this framework, the true art of preserving peppers begins. Depending on the type of pepper you have, you can char, grill, smoke or pulverize your glossy beauties before stashing them away in your freezer or pantry.

Stocking Up on Sweet Peppers

Most sweet bell peppers, pimentos, and other large-fruited sweet peppers have thick walls that soften as the peppers ripen to red, yellow or orange. (See The Long Wait for Ripe Peppers if you’re confused about color.) You can freeze or dry sweet peppers, but not until after they have been cooked through, which is usually done by blanching in boiling water or steam. Blanching and then freezing is the best way to preserve peppers whole, for stuffing, but there are several better options worth considering.

Ripe peppers

Roasting peppers enhances their flavor, and it also qualifies as a top way to prepare peppers for the freezer, in lieu of blanching. Roasting peppers is a simple two-step process. First, broil or grill whole peppers until they begin to blacken on all sides, turning them frequently with tongs. When the skin is well blistered with some black spots, quickly move the hot peppers to an empty pot with a tight-fitting lid, and let them steam there for fifteen minutes. Most of the skins will slip off after the peppers cool. When cut into strips and frozen, you have succulent roasted peppers for winter pizzas and pasta.

Instead of working with whole peppers, you also can slowly smoke halves or cut strips of sweet pepper over a slow wood fire until they are just done. I save pruned apple wood for this purpose. When cool, your smoked peppers are ready for the freezer, but they won’t last long because they are so good.

Authentic chipotle peppers are made by smoking red-ripe jalapenos until they are shriveled and dry. This way to preserve peppers is not practical at home, but I have found that I can amplify the flavors of mature green jalapenos by smoking the slices for less than an hour over a wood-fired grill. You need only a wisp of a fire, just enough to barely cook the peppers, which have a natural talent for picking up flavors from smoke. When cool, the smoked pepper slices can be frozen or dried in a dehydrator.

Smoking jalapenos pepper slices
Smoking jalapenos pepper slices

Making Pickled Peppers

Smallish peppers like bananas and jalapenos are good candidates for pickling, but pickled peppers need help if they are to stay crisp. Historically, pickled peppers began with several soaks in strong lime water before the peppers were canned in a vinegar brine. These days most people use food grade calcium chloride, sold as Ball Pickle Crisp, to keep rings of pickled peppers from turning mushy. This specialized salt, which is generally recognized as safe in the US and UK, will prevent mushy pickled peppers, but it’s not exactly organic. I think the most natural way to pickle peppers is to do it in the refrigerator, by steeping sliced hot peppers in a 50:50 mixture of vinegar and water, with 1 teaspoon salt per pint. The peppers stay crisp because they are never heated, and after a few days in the fridge they taste like pickled peppers.

Drying Hot Peppers

Most small hot peppers have thin walls, which makes them excellent candidates for drying. As long as the peppers are botanically mature (evidenced by fully-formed beige seeds inside), they can be dried even if they have not yet changed to red. Drying peppers indoors is a simple matter of stringing whole peppers together by passing a needle and thread through their green caps, and hanging them in a warm, well-ventilated space for about two weeks. It’s a good idea to finish drying peppers in a warm oven for about 30 minutes before packing them away in airtight jars.

Drying peppers
Drying peppers

Alternatively, you can split peppers in half for drying in a dehydrator. Be sure to wear protective gloves when cutting hot peppers, and turn on a fan to insure good air circulation.

When dry to almost crisp, hot peppers can be pulverized into hot pepper flakes in a food processor, or steeped in vinegar to make a hot pepper sauce for sprinkling over cooked greens and other veggies. Dried hot peppers are also great for making homemade chili paste. To make the best chili paste you’ve ever eaten, place a few dried hot peppers in a dry pan, and toast them over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for four to five minutes. Then cover with warm water for an hour. Add some salt and a couple of cloves of finely minced garlic, pulverize into a paste, and you have the condiment that has made Szechwan food famous. It’s one of the best reasons I know for learning how to preserve peppers.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"Should I remove the seeds or include them in these processes? And my hands burn (and if I touch my face OUCH) after processing my Bonnies and Habernaros. Even after washing, doing dishes, etc. Any suggestions on what to do to get that burn off? (Hate using gloves and have tried using lotion and milk, too.)"
Mary Witteborg on Friday 10 August 2012
"Removing the seeds will reduce the heat of your peppers because that's where the capsaicin is most concentrated. Gloves are required equipment for handling hot peppers at my house. I use the disposable medical exam gloves, and reuse the same "hot" pair several times. Removing capsaicin from skin is very difficult, if not impossible, and you are handling some very hot peppers! Better to be safe than sorry. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 10 August 2012
"If you soak your hands in some milk it can help with the burning, but it will just take time for it to fully go away. I use latex-free food safe gloves (medical will work as well) whenever I mess with any peppers, including jalapenos--I'm extremely sensitive to capsaicin!"
Jessica Maddox on Saturday 11 August 2012
"Thank you! Glove will be my new practice. And I removed the seeds - so my relish (after setting for a couple days) wasn't as hot as I thought it would be. Now I know... leave the seeds in if I want it HOT! Thank you all - very good advice. "
Mary Witteborg on Saturday 11 August 2012
"I have not found it necessary to blanch peppers before freezing them. I usually dice, quick freeze in single layers on metal cookie sheets, then package the peppers in freezer bags. The pepper smell can migrate, so I have recently begun to double-bag the frozen peppers and/or store smaller (recipe sized) packages in a thick-walled container such as a gallon ice cream bucket."
Michelle Steadman on Saturday 11 August 2012
"Just buy some of the thin vinyl disposable gloves at the hardware store. They don't take away your sense of touch."
Marilyn on Saturday 11 August 2012
"I have heard that vinegar will help neutralize the capsaicin on the hands, but have not tried it. "
Kate on Tuesday 14 August 2012
"Younger leaves tend to be more bitter than older leaves. The weather may well have something to do with it, as could your soil. It's hard to tell, but for any bitter leaves I tend to soak in very salty water for half an hour, rinse several times and then cook. This tends to temper the bitterness."
rohit on Thursday 16 August 2012
"I can a lot of hot salsa and ketchup each year. In doing so I work with habanero's a lot and even latex gloves doesn't keep the capsaicin off my hands. Nothing quite like that familiar intense tingle on the palms of your hand. :D After trying many things I found the best way to quickly wash the capsaicin off your hands is to rub a teaspoon of bleach on your hands then followed immediately with washing with soap and water. Learned this trick from Alton Brown (Good Eats, Iron Chef America) and it works well for me. Apparently the chlorine in the bleach easily bonds with the capsaicin and makes it much easier to wash off with the soap and water."
Jerry Murphy on Friday 17 August 2012
"My wife preserves hot peppers and a number of her herbs by dicing, placing in ice cube trays with water, freezing and putting the loaded ice cubes in zip lock bags. When she needs to add these to a dish, she simply takes out a couple of the ice cubes and thrown them in. The color and flavor is almost totally preserved. One note, she uses the small ice cube trays for our hottest fruit as I love to grow ghost peppers."
David Maack on Friday 17 August 2012
"I love peppers and have grown them for many years but only realised two years ago that the plant is a Perennial! DUH?? I now bring my Red Bell Pepper plants inside and they are wonderful as Christmas plants on a cool window ledge in a not-so-hot room, then they go back outside in the Spring. "
Happy on the Plot on Sunday 9 December 2012
"Help please, Dried one small batch of chillies, that I have grown, successfully in the oven. BUT, was a little over confident and put the rest of my crop in the oven today and left it too long before checking and they have all just turned black!!! Are they any good for storing/cooking with or should I just throw them away? I'm so gutted! Thankyou for reading."
Cara on Monday 17 December 2012
"Cara, you should taste the peppers before deciding they are burned, because some peppers turn pretty dark when they dry. If they don't taste burned, put them in the freezer and use them as you need them. The high temperatures that blackened your peppers may have caused uneven drying, so freezer storage is a good idea. "
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 18 December 2012
"Thank you Barbara, for your reply and advice. I will check them out. "
Cara on Wednesday 19 December 2012
"Washing your hands with toothpaste helps if you burn them. It's a chemical burn, technically, you're being burned by the Capsaicin in the peppers. Toothpaste is soothing (a base, usually with mint of some sort). "
Brittney on Monday 31 December 2012
"I've never seen blanched and frozen sweet peppers that didn't turn soft-mushy when defrosted. The temperatures in home freezers aren't low enough to prevent large ice crystals from forming within the cells of the pepper tissue, and it breaks them apart. Commercial frozen vegetables are frozen at very low temps, and the freezing happens too rapidly to form large ice crystals. "
MarkB on Sunday 13 January 2013
"Mark, while I certainly agree that many frozen veggies suffer from mushiness upon defrosting (summer squash comes to mind), this does not seem to show badly in the food. I blanch and freeze most of my sweet peppers in halves, so I can make stuffed peppers, but end up partially thawing and then chopping them into endless dishes. The flavors and colors hold up to freezing, even if the texture does not."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 14 January 2013
"can you give me tips on chemical preservation of pepper?"
abbey on Tuesday 5 March 2013
"What is your recommendation when canning pepperoncini peppers? Should they stay refrigerated in order to remain crisp. Also, should I use cider vinegar? I canned some a few years ago and they turned to complete mush."
Sandy on Thursday 2 May 2013
"Sandy, as mentioned above, many people find that the only way to keep canned peppers crisp is by using calcium chloride, sold as Pickle Crisp, according to label directions. Soaking the sliced peppers in salt overnight before canning them will help, but may not eliminate the problem. "
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 2 May 2013
"After I cut and dry them and roughly chop my peppers I put them in one of those cheap Ikea pepper grinders to do the final fine grinding as I need it."
Willem on Tuesday 23 July 2013
"Can I safely dry roasted green chills? I would use the oven or a dehydrator. I love the flavor of the roasted peppers in salsas and meat dishes. We will be traveling this winter and I would like to be able to bring my bumper crop of chilies with me."
Rosanne on Friday 18 October 2013
"Rosanne, of course you can dry your chilis. Entire cultures have based their cuisines on roasted, dried peppers. A dehydrator that circulates air dries peppers quickly, which probably preserves nutrients compared to slower methods. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 19 October 2013
"Hi, please, I need more extenstive methods of preserving fresh peppers in cans and any other alternative ways. "
Solomon Demeyin on Monday 13 January 2014
"I pickle mine chilli peppers they are fantastic gor Christmas presents. I use this simple recipe for all chillies not just Jalapenos. http://purplefoodie.com/pickled-jalapenos/#.U_w9Z9PTXFp"
Trisha Goff on Tuesday 26 August 2014
"Need to know how to freeze dry pickled jalapeno peppers "
glenda dedmon on Thursday 22 January 2015
"Bleach really does work.it takes the heat from the peppers away immediately.I've used it more than once.I hope this helps somebody!"
Cheryl Crozier on Friday 31 July 2015
"I refridg pickle several 1 gallon jars of jalapenos. My excess I smoke them in several smokers for several hour and the dehydrate them. Fantastic for smokey chile, soups and stews. Seeds and all I just split them in half. Adds a little heat with 1 or 2 whole ones. Going to use A ghost pepper in my pickled jalapenos. One to start ! Ghost pepper has been a beautiful plant and now I've got red showing up every day."
Bryon on Friday 14 August 2015
""""You can freeze or dry sweet peppers, but not until after they have been cooked through, which is usually done by blanching in boiling water or steam.""" I have been drying and freezing peppers (have 6 in the dehydrator now) and have NEVER blanched one. They are delicious and perform beautifully. Here is the rule: if it can be eaten raw, no blanching! "
JJ on Thursday 27 August 2015
"I like your rule, JJ. This year I'm doing more raw freezing, and only blanching peppers for stuffed peppers."
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 1 September 2015
"i really need some tips on green peppers' health benefits"
James on Monday 25 June 2018
"Watch about Hatch Peppers? I want to buy a large amount this year to put away and I'm curious what the best method to do so? Last year I smoked them and I loved the flavor but I think I smoked a little long because most of them didn't have any of the flesh left. "
Kerry on Friday 17 May 2019
"Kerry, the Hatch peppers from New Mexico is thin-walled by nature, so they have little flesh. This makes them very easy to dry, either whole or cut into pieces. In my experience, all peppers pick up smoke flavor quickly, so they need less than 30 minutes of smoking time."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 20 May 2019

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