The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Garden to Table: Chili Peppers

Garden to Table:  Chili Peppers

Garden to Table

April 30, 2007

Garden to Table: Chili Peppers


From its first seedling sprout to its plump, ripe harvest, the life of a chili pepper is graceful and

tasty - and begins in well-drained, easily worked loamy or sandy loam soils. Since peppers are

extremely susceptible to fertilizer injury, fertilizer is applied sparingly and in bands, or mixed

thoroughly with soil. Typically, peppers are spaced 12 inches, in rows three feet apart, and

harvested mid-summer after about two to three months of growth.

Chili peppers can be harvested either at the immature stage (when they are green or white), or

when they are mature (typically red). Mature peppers feature a fuller flavor profile and higher

sugar content. Commercially, though, most peppers are harvested at the immature stage

because younger peppers have a longer shelf life.

Dr. Terry Berke, the senior plant breeder for hot peppers at Seminis Vegetable Seeds,

recommends storing chili peppers at their ideal temperature, from 10-13 degrees Celsius (or

50-55 F), and with low humidity - an ideal spot being the vegetable storage bin of a typical

refrigerator. But, he emphasizes, storage conditions generally have no effect on a pepper's heat


Cooking methods do affect the heat level, however, so it is important to treat peppers with

tender loving care in the kitchen. Those interested in decreasing heat levels can remove the

seeds and placentas (the membranes) from peppers and cook them for longer than two to three

minutes. Those interested in maintaining the highest levels of heat can serve them raw, or cook

them for very short periods.

"The longer the cooking time and the higher the heat, the more the capsaicin is broken down and

the pungency decreases," says Berke. "It is a somewhat linear function of heat and time."