Growing & Using Hot Peppers

(Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin A-170)


By Glenn Andrews

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 1, 1997. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Since 1973, Storey’s Country Wisdom Bulletins have offered practical, hands-on instructions designed to help readers master dozens of country living skills quickly and easily. There are now more than 170 titles in this series, and their remarkable popularity reflects the common desire of country and city dwellers alike to cultivate personal independence in everyday life.


An Introduction to Hot Peppers

What do Africa, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, India, Thailand, Indonesia, the Szechuan and Hunan sections of China, and certain parts of the United States have in common?

Hot peppers!

What are habañero chiles? If you don’t know, you’d better not bite into one of these or their cousins, the Scotch bonnets! They’re as hot as peppers come.

The terms hot pepper and chile are often used interchangeably and that’s what I’ll do here. They describe members of the Capsicum genus — but shouldn’t be confused with their cousins, the sweet peppers! Chiles contain capsaicin, a chemical compound that gives them their heat — and their worldwide appeal. In general, the smaller a pepper, the hotter it is. There are exceptions to this rule, though, so don’t count on it.

Here’s a list of some of the most common hot peppers, ranging roughly from mild to scorching:

Anaheim (Capsicum annuum var. annuum ‘Anaheim’). Sometimes known as the New Mexico chile or the Californian chile, this is the one of the mildest in the chile family — it’s not terribly hot — and has a somewhat sweet flavor, similar to a bell pepper. The Anaheim matures from bright green to red, and usually grows to about 7 inches long and 2 inches wide.

Poblano (Capsicum annuum ‘Poblano’). This dark green or red chile is also relatively mild, although a bit hotter than the Anaheim. It has a triangular shape and ranges from 2½ to 6 inches long. When the poblano is dried, it becomes known as the ancho.

Jalapeño (Capsicum annuum var. annuum ‘ Jalapeño’). The jalapeño is probably the best known of all hot peppers, and it’s available almost everywhere. Some are a lot hotter than others — you can’t tell by looking. Jalapeños are thick-fleshed and grow to about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Green jalapeños will ripen to shades of yellow or red. When a jalapeño is smoked, it becomes a chipotle, which many people think the tastiest of all chiles. (To substitute for a chipotle in a recipe, use a jalapeño and a few drops of “liquid smoke.”)

Serrano (Capsicum annuum var. annuum ‘Serrano’). Serranos are short (about 2 inches long), fairly thin, smooth-skinned, and quite hot. They’re usually used green, although they’re sometimes available in red.

Tabasco (Capsicum frutescens). Tabascos are shorter, thinner, and hotter than serranos. They ripen from yellow to red and grow to about 1 inch in length.

Bird or Thai pepper (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum). These peppers are tiny (about 1½ inch in length) and very hot. They ripen from green to red and have an elongated, pointed shape. They’re often used in Caribbean, West Indian, and Asian cuisine.

Habañero (Capsicum chinense). Ultra-hot! These small peppers (about 2 inches in length) are shaped like Chinese lanterns. They’re available in light green, orange, red, or deep purple. True, experienced chile fanciers talk about the fruity flavor — others just scream.

Growing Hot Peppers

Chile plants enjoy warm temperatures, long growing seasons, and well-drained soil with a pH close to 7, or neutral. Depending on your growing season, they may be grown as either annuals or short-lived perennials. They also grow quite well indoors, provided they have ample light and warmth. Depending on the variety, you should begin to see fruit about 16 to 20 weeks after planting.

Starting from seed. Since hot peppers appreciate a long growing season, it’s a good idea to start the seeds indoors and then transplant them into the garden when it warms up. Begin the process about 8 to 10 weeks before you anticipate the last spring frost. Young seedlings will grow best in a light, sandy growing medium; an ideal mix for starting seeds is three parts vermiculite, two parts potting soil, and one part sand.


On Sale
Jun 1, 1997
Page Count
32 pages