Peppers have the same basic growing requirements as
tomatoes. Plants prefer full sun, well-drained soil, water and
fertilizer. Peppers can be started from seed 8 to 10 weeks before
planting outdoors or plants may be purchased. Keep in mind that
hotter varieties of peppers take longer to mature than milder
varieties. Most varieties will mature in 65 to 75 days from
transplanting. Hotter varieties like 'Habanero' require 90 to 100
days to mature. Peppers are planted outdoors after danger of frost
is past in warm garden soil. In many recipes hot peppers are
referred to as chile peppers.
Bell Peppers are often picked when green and immature. If they are
allowed to ripen to a red, yellow, orange, brown or purple color,
they will be sweeter. Hot peppers are often harvested at maturity,
usually when red.
When purchasing peppers, choose high-quality peppers that are
fresh-looking, firm and thick-fleshed, and free of disease and
insect damage. Avoid bruised or soft peppers.
The degree of hotness in a dish can be varied by the type, quantity
and portion of the peppers used. The main source of pungency in
peppers is capsaicin, which is basically odorless and tasteless but
produces a burning sensation. Capsaicins reside in the inside wall
of the fruit- the white “ribs” and the white lining, and is
concentrated at the stem end of the pepper. The seeds may also
contain heat. The amount of heat can be reduced by removing the
seeds and ribs.
The degree of heat of a pepper is measured in
‘Scoville Heat Units’, using a systematic dilution test method
developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912.
The scale ranges from 0 for the mild, sweet bell
pepper, to 300,000 for the fiery hot Habanero pepper. Water stress
on pepper plants can increase pungency, and cooler temperatures can
lower the heat of peppers.
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If you eat too much off a hot pepper or can’t bear
the heat, do not drink water. Capsaicins are oils, they do
not mix well with water which will spread the heat around your
mouth. It is recommended to drink milk or eat pasta, bread or
potatoes. These oil absorbing foods will help dissolve the
Wash peppers before peeling or chopping. Avoid direct contact with
hot peppers, because the volatile oils in them can cause skin
irritation or burns. Wear rubber gloves while handling them, and
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your
In general, all peppers are a good source of vitamin A and C. A
mature pepper has a higher concentration of vitamins. Peppers, both
sweet and hot, are delicious raw, grilled or added to cooked
preparations. One type of pepper may be substituted for another type
of pepper in salsa recipes. When canning, do not vary the total
amount of peppers called for in a recipe.
For more information on peppers- growing, harvesting, common
problems and recipes- visit the University of Illinois Extension,
Watch Your Garden Grow website .
[Source: Jennifer Fishburn,
horticulture educator, University of Illinois Extension]