How to Select Hot Pepper Varieties (& Use the Ones You Grow)

We may have overdone it this year with the hot peppers. We don’t feel the least bit repentant, though.

Photo Caption: These small sized hot peppers are usually hotter than the big ones. Varieties include 'Fish,' 'Purira,' 'Tabasco,' and more.

Spicing up a meal is quick when using small peppers, and they look great in vinegar-based hot sauces or simply as fiery pickles. I try to find peppers that produce a large spectrum of beautifully colored fruits on a single plant. I also like to get a range of different heat levels. ‘Fish’ is a nice, all purpose hot chili with striped, multicolored fruits. If you want to mix and match your hot and mild peppers without accidentally eating the wrong one, ‘Fish’ is a good choice due to its variegated foliage. The leaves look radically different from other pepper plants so you’re not likely to make a mistake when you go out to harvest. Ornamental gardeners will love it, too.

If you’re looking to make scorching meals or zap someone with your hot sauces, ‘Purira’ and ‘Tabasco’ are even hotter. We were cooking a meal at our friend’s house and had to evacuate for a bit after the 2 tiny ‘Tabasco’ chilies were sliced up — they went aerosol almost immediately and sent us out the door gasping and coughing. Use with care!

Photo Caption: Yeah, that really is a full-sized couch completely coated in hot peppers. It was our pre-frost pepper harvest and we've been canning, freezing, and drying all week long. We suspect we'll still have some by the time our new pepper beds are producing next summer.

For large peppers we grow fat-walled sweet+hot peppers like ‘Pizza,’ or ‘Meek & Mild‘ to use on pizzas, in bean chilies, stuffed poblanos, and mole sauce. We also grow roasting peppers like ‘Spanish Spice‘ which work great on the grill.

Other medium-small peppers we enjoy include a variety of habaneros (mostly for hot sauces but my boyfriend brewed a spectacular smoked habanero stout last winter), regular and mild jalapenos (we really like ‘Purple Jalapeno‘), round pickling varieties like ‘Cherry Bomb,’ and drying peppers like ‘Ring-O-Fire Cayenne‘ or ‘Peter.’ (Apologies if you don’t like the way ‘Peter’ peppers look… I can’t help finding them funny).

If you overdo it, like we did, peppers can be canned, frozen, dried, or imposed on neighbors and friends. They also make good insecticides and deer repellents. You can use recipes you find online or purchase commercially made capsaicin products. If you grow the ‘Bhut Jolokia‘ chili pepper (also called the “ghost” pepper) you can even deter elephants.

Photo Caption: Pick a peck of 'Peters'. Apologies if these aren't your thing. I think it's pretty clever breeding & naming and they work great in recipes calling for a fiery chili. So easy to dry that the overlooked red ones often do it themselves on the plant (even with our humidity, they rarely mold).

I have to admit that we mostly grow the ‘Peter’ peppers because we’re so amused by how people react to them.

Photo Caption: The yellow & green striped pepper near the center is a 'Fish' and the little yellow ones with purple blushes are 'Purira' peppers.

Peppers are easy to grow and the hot ones are particularly prolific. If you’re new to gardening or you don’t eat a lot of hot foods, you can certainly get by with a single plant in your garden. My problem is that I love their jeweled forms and hues so I end up with a massive kaleidoscope each season. But I grow ornamental plants with no other purpose than the joy of how they look… so why not? The worst that happens is I compost a few.

Nearly all vegetable seed catalogs carry at least some peppers, but the ones that specialize in tomato seeds or heirloom seeds tend to feature the widest selection. This catalog directory can help you locate great pepper varieties. I just double checked that all the links work, but let me know if you find a broken one.

If you want some new ideas for cooking peppers, try these:

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

20 thoughts on “How to Select Hot Pepper Varieties (& Use the Ones You Grow)”

  1. Anna - November 15, 2010 7:12 pm

    I love your pepper pictures! We don’t grow hot peppers because we barely eat anything spicy, but your photos are almost enough to make me consider it.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..mark- Lego cinder blocks =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 16, 2010 8:19 am

      That’s understandable. You could always use them to repel mammals from the garden if you ever end up with a critter problem… but I’m the same way. I like to use my planting space for things I use often.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Select Hot Pepper Varieties &amp Use the Ones You Grow =-.

      Reply
  2. Curbstone Valley Farm - November 15, 2010 9:00 pm

    Wholly moley. That’s a whole lot of picked picante peppers! I have to admit, in our dismally cold summer this year, our hot peppers did MUCH better than our sweet bells. I now have hoards of jalapeƱos for spicing up some sassy winter chili. Although you far out-spiced us with this collection!
    .-= Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog ..Erysimum franciscanum var crassifolium =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 16, 2010 8:27 am

      I think my hot peppers outperform my sweet bells every year. I just assumed it was easier for plants to make small, thinner-walled fruits (since most hot peppers fit this description). Possibly sweet bells are such a humanly-bred contraption that the hot peppers are closer to the original species. I notice that here, sweet peppers are a lot more likely to get sun-scald, too. Congratulations on all your jalapeƱos! That’s all my great-uncle grows in his garden (and then he puts them up in massive jars).
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Select Hot Pepper Varieties &amp Use the Ones You Grow =-.

      Reply
  3. Garden Sense - November 15, 2010 9:30 pm

    Beautiful peppers! They look too good go eat.
    .-= Garden Sense´s last blog ..Fall Emsemble =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 16, 2010 8:32 am

      Yeah, sometimes I think the only way I can convince myself to eat produce is the knowledge that it won’t keep looking that nice if I don’t. :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Select Hot Pepper Varieties &amp Use the Ones You Grow =-.

      Reply
  4. p3chandan - November 16, 2010 5:13 am

    Wow! Thats a lot of HOT chilli peppers! I never knew there are so many varieties..’Peter’ is cute with shapes like that! ‘Fish’ is unique with stripes! Your photos are amazing too!
    .-= p3chandan´s last blog ..SELAMAT HARI RAYA AIDIL ADHA TO ALL MUSLIMS =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 16, 2010 9:51 am

      Thanks! I was so excited when I first saw all the varieties of hot peppers in catalogs. I’d only seen the ones sold in regular grocery stores before that.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Select Hot Pepper Varieties &amp Use the Ones You Grow =-.

      Reply
  5. biobabbler - November 16, 2010 11:10 am

    Wow. 1. Your name is INSANEly great. Yow. 2. That first shot makes my brain crazy happy. NUTS. 3. For some reason yesterday only a few of your shot popped up and today I get to see that wild array of peppers. WOW. I am a color freak, so your post is basically like crack for my brain. Thanks!
    .-= biobabbler´s last blog ..Desert Mumday =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 17, 2010 12:46 pm

      Wow, thanks! You’re a color freak with good taste — I love the photos at your blog!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find a Loggerhead Shrike aka American Butcher Bird =-.

      Reply
  6. Zoe / pearled earth - November 16, 2010 12:06 pm

    Wow! That is a beautifully arranged array of peppers… We too always have luck with the hots, not so much with the nots. Luckily our garden also pumps out pounds and pounds of tomatillos, so spicy salsas and sauces abound. Your pictures are inspiration for next year!

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 17, 2010 12:49 pm

      We couldn’t get enough tomatillos this year (literally — I’ve got it in my notes to grow more plants next season). Your salsa sounds delicious!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find a Loggerhead Shrike aka American Butcher Bird =-.

      Reply
  7. One - November 17, 2010 6:51 am

    Hi! That’s a lot of peppers and I love them all. I grow a few varieties of chillies myself. Although I like my food hot, actually one plant already produces way too much chillies for me. I still keep growing and increasing the varieties because they look beautiful. I was just admiring them in my garden before I drop by here. Sure glad to know there is someone else who love chillies.
    .-= One´s last blog ..Garden Bloggers Bloom Day Nov 2010 =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 17, 2010 12:54 pm

      Chilies are such generous little veggie plants, glad you’re getting enough from yours! I love the succulent photos on your blog, too. :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find a Loggerhead Shrike aka American Butcher Bird =-.

      Reply
  8. fer
    Twitter: mygardeninjapan
    - November 17, 2010 9:44 am

    Amazing photo of your peppers!
    I am planing on growing some for next year. I cant decide which ones to grow, hope I get to grow ones as nice as yours.
    .-= fer´s last blog ..My red rose =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 17, 2010 1:18 pm

      Great! I don’t know what varieties they have in Japan but I’m sure there are some really good ones. :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find a Loggerhead Shrike aka American Butcher Bird =-.

      Reply
  9. Elizabeth Barrow - November 17, 2010 8:46 pm

    Wonderful harvest! I thought I had a lot of peppers but you have me beat, hands down! Enjoyed poking around on your blog — I’ll be back for a visit soon. Cheers!
    .-= Elizabeth Barrow´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 19, 2010 12:33 pm

      Thanks, and I’m glad you enjoyed it! I always like blogs like yours that are in warmer zones than mine (it gives me ideas for potted plants, mostly). :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Sift Through the New S510 Food Safety Bill How Does it Affect You =-.

      Reply
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