Vol.1, No.9

When to harvest hot chilis

Most chilis are harvested when fully ripe and red in color, but some are harvested when green.

Hot chilis for harvest
When to Harvest Hot Chilis

Chili peppers are one of the hottest commodities in both food and gardening today—no pun intended! Native to Mexico, they are a staple ingredient in both Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. There are over 150 varieties of chili peppers with nearly as many degrees of spicy hotness.

Most chili peppers are harvested when they are red in color, indicating that they have fully ripened. However, because chili peppers are used in so many different ways, they may also be harvested when they are green in color, before they are fully ripened. Green chilis are higher in vitamin C and red ones are higher in vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. Some chilis such as serrano and jalapeno peppers are always harvested when they are green. Interestingly, chilis are actually hotter when they are green but have a more pronounced flavor when they are fully ripe.

Chili peppers, like sweet green peppers are members of the genus Capsicum. Capsicums are part of the deadly nightshade family, which includes other familiar vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. Chili peppers are actually berries, although most people consider them vegetables. Chilis come in many different sizes from very small to large, although one of the largest chili peppers, the poblano, is still smaller than a sweet green pepper.

Chilis also come in a variety of shapes. Some are miniature versions of sweet green peppers, while others are long and thin. All peppers turn a shade of red--orange, red, or purple-red--when fully ripe. Even sweet green peppers turn red if they are not picked and allowed to fully ripen.

Growing chili peppers is not any different than growing any other variety of peppers and plants will have a mix of ripe and unripe fruits as well as flowers all at the same time. To prolong the fruiting period for several months and increase the fruit yield, chilis should be harvested on a regular basis. If the chilis are allowed to stay on the plant after reaching their full size, the plant will not produce any more flowers, which of course means no more chilis either.

Chili peppers begin to ripen about two months after they are first planted in the garden, typically around the middle of the summer. It generally takes several weeks for the fruit to fully ripen from green to red, although this depends on the specific variety. The smaller the chili the quicker it is to ripen.

When chilis are fully ripe, the seeds are white in color, not brown or a translucent green color. Chilis should be firm, not soft or with moldy or black spots. Remove damaged chilis from the plant immediately to avoid infecting nearby plants.

Chilis should be harvested by cutting the stems with a pair of sharp scissors, and not by tearing the chili pepper off the plant. All chilis contain a substance called capsaicin, which is what makes them hot. Always wear latex or rubber gloves when harvesting to avoid any contact with capsaicin. It will irritate mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth, as well as areas of broken skin.