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BONNIE’S GARDEN – How to Choose the Right Peppers

By Bonnie Pega
Bonnie's Garden

Some Like It Hot!!!

From meatloaf to spaghetti sauce to salsa to salads, we certainly use a lot of peppers. And, there are so many peppers to choose from that it can be overwhelming to pick one. So what are the differences?

Sweet peppers have a mild earthy flavor but no heat. Traditionally called green peppers or bell peppers, they mature to a totally different color.

Green pepper is basically an unripe bell pepper. If you want a green pepper, pick it while it’s green. If allowed to stay on the plant long enough, the pepper will ripen to its mature color, usually red, yellow, orange, or purple. This usually increases the sugar content. There are also sweet non-bell peppers—Sweet Banana, for example.

Hot peppers are rated on what is called the Scoville Heat scale (Scoville Heat Units). This measures the amount of capsaicin in the pepper—capsaicin is what makes a pepper hot. The higher the number, the hotter the pepper. The seeds and white membranes inside the pepper contain the most heat. If you remove those, you can tone it down a little.

If you’re shopping for peppers, here is a guide to some of the peppers we most often carry. Scoville Heat Units (SHU) are listed after each variety.

Sweet Peppers  (Zero SHU)

  • Bell Orange—A sweet bell pepper that ripens to pretty orange fruits on productive plants.
  • Big Bertha—A disease-resistant sweet bell pepper that ripens to red. Larger than usual for a pepper so staking is recommended.
  • California Wonder—Introduced in 1928, this is the classic heirloom green bell pepper that ripens to red.
  • Chocolate Beauty—A mild green bell pepper that ripens to a warm purplish-brown.
  • Golden California Wonder—Nearly identical to California Wonder, Golden California Wonder ripens to bright gold when ripe.
  • Keystone Resistant—Green bell pepper that ripens to red. It does well in the mid-Atlantic but does not perform as well in the deep South.
  • Purple Beauty—Thick-walled fruits on productive plants ripen to purple.
  • Red Bull—Disease resistant plants with thick-walled fruits that ripen to red.
  • Sweet Banana—Long, crisp and sweet fruits ripen from yellow to red.

Hot Peppers

  • Anaheim Chili—On the mild side with 500 to 2500 SHU. The heat level can vary based on conditions. A hot dry summer can concentrate the heat levels. Otherwise, use much like a Poblano.
  • Baron—a Poblano pepper. Mildly hot with 1000 to 2000 SHU. These are the peppers traditionally used in Chile Rellenos.
  • Big Chile—A mildly hot Anaheim-type chili peppers. 500-2500 SHU
  • Cayenne—Spicy hot peppers on productive plants. Often dried and ground as a spice. 30,000 to 50,000 SHU
  • Ghost—So hot it’s used as an elephant repellent in India! 850,000 to 1,000,000 SHU. Currently ranked as the 7th hottest pepper according to pepperhead.com.
  • Habanero—Native to South American, Habaneros have a citrusy flavor—if you can get past the heat. 100,000-350,000 SHU
  • Jalapeno—Probably the best-known hot pepper. When smoked and dried, it is called Chipotle. 2500-8,000 SHU
  • Pepperoncini—Used extensively in Italian cooking, pepperoncini is very mild—often pickled. 100-500 SHU
  • Sweet Heat—Very mildly spicy and particularly sweet, it contains 65% more vitamin C than other peppers. It’s a very short attractive plant so it is great in containers. 230-330 SHU
  • Tabasco—The pepper used by the McIlhenny family to make their famous hot sauce, it’s about as hot as cayenne. 30,000-50,000 SHU
  • Thai Dragon—Short bushy plants are both decorative and productive. 50,000-100,000 SHU
  • Trinidad Scorpion—this native to Trinidad and Tobago is currently ranked as the 2nd hottest pepper in the world by pepperhead.com. It ranks a mere 1.2 MILLION SHU!

And the Hottest Pepper is….

We don’t carry it, but in case you’re curious, the hottest pepper currently is the Carolina Reapr, developed by “Smokin’ Ed” Currie, owner of the Puckerbutt Pepper Company in Rock Hill, South Carolina. It ranks in with an average of 1.6 million SHU, with some individual peppers claiming as many as 2.2 million SHU.

There are several other peppers that claim to have higher SHU but none have been confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records. A side note—“Smokin’ Ed” has claimed to have created an even hotter pepper known as Pepper X with 3.1 million SHU, but it has not yet been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Grow Your Own

Growing your own peppers is easy. Plant peppers in an area that gets six hours or more of direct sun. They are related to tomatoes, so if you had a disease problem with tomatoes last year, keep peppers out of that area for the season. Feed regularly. I use Tomato-tone.

Peppers do not like temperatures below 50 degrees. It can cause spotting and/or leaf drop. While I’m always eager to get my garden planted in the spring, I hold off on setting peppers in the ground until the first week or so of May. I’ve learned this one the hard way. I keep my pepper plants in their pots and bring them in at night, if necessary.

Like tomatoes, peppers may not set fruit when temperatures are in the mid-nineties or higher. Just wait it out. They’ll resume production when temperatures drop below 95.

Peppers adapt well to growing in containers. Just be sure to use potting soil in containers and keep fertilized.

Get Your Peppers Now!

We have a great selection of peppers at the Great Big Greenhouse waiting for you! Stop by and we’ll “talk peppers” to find what’s exactly right for you.

To read more from Bonnie, visit our blog

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