Michigan-grown peppers sweet or hot: Which is your favorite?

Freezing peppers is a snap!

Capsicum annuum was domesticated about 5000 B.C. by the native people of Central America. As European explorers made their way to the new world and beyond the pepper has been spread worldwide. The pepper can be found in many cuisines around the world. In Mexico chilies reached an art, where they are used fresh, dried, smoked, and powdered. Peppers can be sautéed, pickled, roasted, grilled, stuffed, and baked, and battered and deep-fried.

In the United States the sweet or Bell pepper is more commonly found, but elsewhere in the world the hot peppers or chilies are more commonly used.

The most popular pepper varieties are Bell, Anaheim, banana, bird’s-eye, cayenne, cubanelle, Habanero, Hungarian, jalapeño, Korean, mullato, pasilla, Poblano, Scotch bonnet, serrano, Thai, and wax.

For peppers the heat comes from a chemical called capsaicin and is measured on the Scoville scale. Bell peppers have a score of zero on the Scoville scale. While the jalapeño can get as high as 8,000, the hottest pepper is the Habanero at 500,000.

Michigan grown sweet and hot peppers will soon be available. Whether you choose to purchase or grow hot or sweet peppers (sometimes called Bell), nutritionally the peppers are the same. The red color indicates a green pepper has matured to the red stage. Yellow and orange peppers are actually different varieties that tend to be sweeter. The season for peppers is from July to October.

When purchasing fresh peppers, look for peppers that are firm, bright in color, and free from disease and insect damage. For the best keeping quality, peppers should be stored in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator. Peppers should be kept dry because moisture will cause them to rot. Storage time in a refrigerator is about one week for green. For red or orange the storage time is four to five days.

How many peppers should you buy? About three large or five medium bell peppers equals one pound. One large bell pepper equals about one cup chopped. On the average nine pounds of peppers will yield nine pints of peppers for canning.

Peppers can be preserved by drying them, freezing, pickling them, or by canning them using a pressure canner. The simplest and easiest way to preserve them is to freeze the peppers in amounts required for a recipe.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that you wash your hands before preparing any fresh produce. The fresh produce needs to be rinsed well with lukewarm water before any further preparation takes place. Dry the peppers on a clean paper towel. Drying the peppers with a clean paper towel will help decrease the risk of food borne illness.

To freeze peppers: Select crisp, tender green or red peppers. Next rinse the peppers in lukewarm water. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Since the heat is located in the seeds and the white membranes of hot peppers, be sure to wear gloves when chopping hot peppers. It is extremely important that you NOT touch the face or eyes while chopping hot peppers. The capsaicin, (the chemical found naturally in hot peppers) will cause an intense burning sensation when exposed to the skin.

Blanching of vegetables is necessary to stop the enzymes that cause quality and color destruction over time. Blanching is the process of heat treating vegetables for a brief period of time with boiling water and plunging the vegetable into ice water to stop the cooking process. To blanch peppers that have been cut in half, plunge the pepper halves into a pan of boiling water for three minutes. For pepper strips or rings the blanching time is two minutes. Cool the peppers quickly in ice water for two to three minutes. Drain them and pat them dry with paper towels to remove the excess moisture.

If a rigid container is used, leave a half inch headspace. Seal the container and label it. Put the containers in the freezer.

If a sealable freezer bag is used, put the peppers in the bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. If the air is left in the bag, the air will cause the destruction of the texture of the peppers creating freezer burn. Label the bag and put it in the freezer. The recommended storage time is less than eight months at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Since thawed peppers will be limp, they are best used in cooked dishes. Package the peppers in amounts that are commonly used in a recipe.

For recipes for pickling peppers see:

By properly washing, preparing, freezing, or pickling peppers will be able to be enjoyed when the cold winds of winter blow.

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