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How to Preserve Pepper

Chili peppers and chili sauce on a wooden table.

Growing up, your grandparents may have made preserves in their kitchen. Your parents may have talked about their great-grandparents’ gardens and the delicious fresh produce they grew. They may have had a home in a rural area or a large yard in a suburban area, but you can grow the same plants in the city or the countryside and preserve them easily.

Perhaps you love cooking with mild, hot, or sweet peppers. Regularly purchasing these at the grocery store can rack up quite the grocery bill but you can grow them no matter where you live. If you live in the countryside in USDA zones 10 and 11, you can grow them outdoors. Anywhere else, you can grow these indoors whether in your home or in a greenhouse.

Of course, once you grow these delicious chili peppers, you harvest them, and then what? You eat them, of course. But wait. You grew a bumper crop and do not want to waste them, so you need to preserve them, so you can enjoy your peppers all year long. Yum!

Due to the diversity of the culinary arts, you have a few choices in how to preserve your delicious peppers. This guide introduces these methods and suggests a few tips for making the most of your pepper preserving procedures. Most of these methods work for red bell peppers, poblanos, jalapenos, piquilloes, padrons, habaneros, pimientos, sweet cherry bombs, Thai chiles, etc.

Pretty much any pepper or chile you can think of, these methods work to preserve. If you grow black pepper, however, you will need to dry it as the peppercorns, then grind it into powder, or use it as peppercorns.

Related: What Goes with Chili | Types of Chili | How to Store Chili | Types of Spices | Types of Pepper | Cayenne Pepper vs. Red Pepper | Pepper Substitutes | Foods with Cayenne Pepper

Roasting Your Peppers

Roasted Peppers on a grilling pan.

Forget chestnuts roasting over an open fire, make it peppers. You can use an open fire, such as in a fireplace or a grill, or you can use this method in the oven. If you choose the latter, set your oven to a low temperature, such as 150F or 175F. You need to roast them slowly, so they retain their flavor.

Brush them with a bit of oil and vinegar. Shake some salt onto them, then roast them. This takes hours, so prepare to not use your oven for about eight to 10 hours if you use this method. You must add vinegar and salt if you roast them because they have no natural acid. If you need to avoid using salt or vinegar, you must use the pressure canning method.

Many advantages exist to roasting your peppers. These include:

  • killing enzymes that could deteriorate the peppers over time,
  • softening the peppers
  • sweetening the peppers
  • ridding the peppers of their indigestible skins.

Chef’s Tip: Do not wash your peppers before roasting them. You need the juices inside them and washing them robs them of juices.

First, dredge your peppers in vinegar. Next, salt them. Finally, brush them with olive oil. Roast or grill them until they harden which will appear as blackened for a visual. This method works best with thick-skinned peppers. If they’re easily offended, you just need to pickle them.

Pickling Your Peppers

Pickled Red peppers inside glass jars.

If you think in terms only of American food, you might find it a limiting notion to preserve peppers by pickling, but when you investigate recipes from other cultures, such as Thailand, India, and Pakistan, you discover that this method offers great diversity. Look for recipes that say chilli pepper or chillies because many other cultures double the “L” when spelling this word. Those recipes do refer to the same red or green or yellow or orange delight you grow in your backyard.

Pickling includes jellying them or making chutney. Talk about delicious! The American dish, pickled sweet peppers, make a delectable appetizer, but a jelly tastes wonderful as a toast topping while chutney works well in cooked meat or vegetable dishes plus works great as a sandwich condiment. You can also use the Italian method, sott’olio, popularized in the UK and US by Nora Carey in her book, “Perfect Preserves.”

Making pickled peppers typically requires roasting the peppers first, then allowing them to steam in a paper bag for about forty minutes, minimum. Empty the bag into a large bowl. You then skin them, pull out their stems, and remove their seeds. Fill a second bowl with vinegar. Dredge the peppers one at a time in vinegar.

Italians often use wine for this step, but the vinegar method lets you enjoy these peppers even if you do not drink alcohol. Once dredged, pile the peppers into a bowl a salt them with kosher salt. Toss them like a salad and add a bit more salt. Add a bit of salt to the pepper juice that was collected in the original bowl of peppers.

Pickling requires canning jars. The number of these you need varies according to how many peppers you have to preserve. Pour a bit of vinegar into each jar covering the bottom completely. Fill the jar with peppers until you only have an inch of space remaining at the top.

Use a chopstick or a butter knife to run down the insides of each jar to release air bubbles. This causes the liquid level to drop. Fill each jar with the salted pepper juice leaving a tiny bit of space at the top of the jar. Add at least a quarter of an inch of olive oil. Screw on the jar lids and refrigerate them. They will last for one year this way.

Chef’s Tip: Regardless of the preservation method, if you see that the can lid bulges, avoid eating the peppers. Throw them out because the bulging lid signifies the growth of the lethal botulinum bacteria.

The Italian method provides a must easier way than the hot canning method used in many southern US households. The southern way requires a pressure canner and boiling all of the ingredients. You can use the Italian method and still add things like garlic cloves to the mixture.

The only advantage to the hot pressure canner method is that you can store them in the cabinet or on a shelf for up to two years until you open the jar. Once you break the seal on the jar, you must refrigerate anything you do not use in the meal.

Freezing Peppers

A closed look at various sliced peppers frozen.

Don’t worry. Freezing a pepper just makes it cold; it doesn’t remove its spicy heat. Freezing peppers preserves their flavor, but you will lose their texture. You can freeze a raw or roasted pepper. It will retain its flavor for up to nine months.

When you thaw them, you will find them mushy. You probably won’t notice this if you place them into a recipe in the frozen state and they cook in the dish. If you need to thaw it first, you should slice or dice the peppers to use in a recipe. You do not need to blanch a pepper before freezing it.

You might need to wear rubber gloves if you want to preserve spicy peppers. Without protection, some hot peppers and chilies can cause a skin rash. Even with the gloves on, avoid touching your face while handling the peppers. Remove the gloves and wash your hands before touching any part of your body.

You can freeze peppers whole or you can wash and cut them first. Some cooking guides recommend cutting them in half if you want to slice them and scooping out the seeds. This method will remove some of the heat from the peppers. You need the seeds if you want them hot.

Spread the peppers on a baking sheet. Place the sheet into the freezer and leave them until they freeze firmly. Once frozen, you can transfer them to any airtight container, including freezer-safe zip lock bags. The two-step process keeps them from freezing onto each other. If you choose to use zip lock bags, remove as much air as you can from the bags before you zip them shut.

Set your freezer to 0ºF for long-term preservation. Label the bags or containers so you know which pepper is which. That way, you never mistake your habaneros for green bell peppers and give your guests the surprise of their lives from your tuna salad dip.

Dry Your Peppers

A bunch of peppers being sun dried on woven trays.

Your peppers can be as dry as Bob Newhart’s wit. Peppers love this. Drying peppers comprises an important step on the way to making a spice powder. This is your option for black peppercorns. You are about to learn how to make your own pepper! Now, you just need your own salt mine, and you can fill both shakers on the table on your own.

You can dry your peppers in the sunlight when the temperature rises about 85F, in a food dehydrator, or in an oven. Once you dry the peppers, crumble them in the blender. You can make your own black pepper or crushed red pepper this way.

You can turn any chilis or peppers into a powder by drying them and them crumbling them in the blender. Imagine habanero powder to add to taco meat. Although it is not a pepper, you can do the same thing with the spicy root vegetable horseradish. Dry it. Crumble it. Make a powder for adding the delicious hot flavor to any food as you cook it.

Once dried, you can store the peppers in the open in a basket in the kitchen or in a paper bag. If you want to cook with them in their hydrated state, you only need to soak them in water for 20 minutes.

If you decide to dry them outdoors, bring them inside at night if the temperature will drop enough to cause dew to form. You can hang chili peppers to dry. This method requires a few weeks to work, but hung on a string, they provide a lovely decoration while drying. You only need to thread a needle with a fishing line and pierce each chile’s stem top, then loop the line around its top.

Repeat with the next pepper until you have them all on the line. Hang them up like you would string lights to dry naturally. This works best with hot peppers of low water content and thin skins.

Frequently Asked Questions

It is expected that you will have questions. We will try to address the top ones here.

Can you mix the types of peppers when you can or pickle them?

Yes! You can get as creative as you like when making pickled peppers. One popular Italian recipe, giardiniera, mixes hot peppers, celery, cauliflower, and much more. You can buy this pickled delight in the store or make it at home where you add pickled jalapenos.

Should you let peppers ripen until they turn red?

If you want the pepper to become sweeter or softer, such as a bell pepper, you should like it ripen until it reddens. This proves more important for a sweet pepper than a hot pepper.

Should you eat a pepper and its pepper juice?

This decision comes down to personal preference. If you love heat and want hot peppers, then it makes sense for you to eat the pepper with its juice intact. If you aren’t accustomed to hot pepper though, you should drain the pepper before you eat it or you will burn your mouth and tongue.