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