Red or green – and then? Tips on harvesting chili
The right time to harvest chilies: If you like your chilies really hot, harvest them not too early – and not too late. What is a green chili for harvesting?
Primarily, of course, the hotness is determined by the variety, that is, genetically. Nevertheless, there are enormous variations. Influencing factors are soil, climate and irrigation. In addition, the fruits are often sharpest at the lower part of the plant; towards the top, the sharpness decreases slightly.
In addition, new chemical studies now show that within a variety, pungency is determined by how long the pods have grown to harvest. This was previously reported in the May 2001 issue of the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry of the prestigious American Chemical Society, which counts more than 155,000 chemists and chemical engineers as members.
Responsible for the pungency of chilies are seven related substances that develop in the placenta inside the pods and are called capsaicinoids, first and foremost capsaicin. If the pods are harvested too early, not enough capsaicinoids have formed.
For piquin chiles, according to the studies, the peak value is reached 40 days after fruiting, for habaneros after 50 days (these values apply to Mexico, the home of these two varieties; in our climate, one may confidently add a few days to weeks). After this time, according to the researchers, the capsaicinoid content decreases again, and with it the spiciness of the pods.
The culprit, as has now been discovered, is another natural substance called peroxidases. Researchers in Mexico are now trying to understand the relationship between capsaicinoids and peroxidases. The aim of the investigations is to reduce losses for agriculture – here too, of course, people are interested in harvesting at optimum heat.
Red or green?
Peroxidases or not: another consideration is of course the aroma. It is possible that the pods lose some of their pungency after a while, but the red ripe fruits – especially the fleshy varieties such as jalapeno or serrano – gain enormously in sweetness and valuable carotene.
However, if you harvest the ripe pods in time (possibly still green), this favors the formation and regrowth of further fruits. On the other hand, it is advantageous to let the complete ripening of the fruits happen on the plant if possible. Even pods that have been picked green may still turn color under certain circumstances; however, the pods often shrivel up before they turn red.
Do chilies ripen after harvest?
According to recent research, chilies do not ripen after harvest, unlike tomatoes.
Several varieties of chilies are also eaten green, for example, Jalapeno, Serrano, NewMex varieties like Anaheim, and sweet peppers. So you can always take as many fresh pods from your plants as you need at the time. Poblano (and the “identical” Turkish Dolmalik) are usually harvested green and then used whole for stuffing.
The New Mexican varieties in particular are used both green and red, and they develop a completely different flavor. The green-harvested pods are roasted – usually by gas flame in special roasters – to remove the somewhat tough skin. In addition, the light roasting (not cooking) develops the typical aroma. After roasting, the skin can be easily removed; in this form, the pods can then either be used for delicious dishes such as Green Chile Stew or frozen. The best way is to chop the pods and freeze them in portions. NewMex chiles that have ripened red on the plant are either tied into ristras for drying, or laid out to dry. A large portion is then ground into the red powder that is sold everywhere in New Mexico in gradations from mild to X-hot. It is an ingredient in Red Chile Sauce, which is served with almost every meal there. The chile powder acts as a natural thickener here, so most sauce recipes don’t use flour or starch (tip for the calorie-conscious!).
Some varieties, e.g. Yellow Hot Wax, Hungarian Wax, ripen yellow; these are never harvested green.
Jalapenos and serranos taste (at least to us) red ripened better. Whether one succeeds in this, however, depends strongly on the weather and the other growing conditions. If the first fall frost threatens, chilies harvested green in time will definitely taste better than those with frost damage. Because blushing of these varieties is uncertain, the industry uses jalapenos and serranos almost exclusively green. One exception is chipotle, for which the jalapenos are usually left to ripen red for flavor reasons – no mean feat in Mexico.
The little spicy devils like Thai, Tabasco and African Bird-Eye can also be harvested green or red. In fact, they can be had fresh in both varieties at the market. However, while the green peppers can have decent fire, the flavor of the red-ripe peppers is more complex. And if you want to dry these chilies, you have to let them blush first (but that this can happen by telling dirty jokes has not yet been scientifically proven).
Habaneros also develop their heat before they change color to orange or red. There are hot sauces made with green habaneros (e.g., El Yucateco from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula); however, it is these chilies that develop their fruity flavor only when fully ripe and are most delicious then.
Chile de Arbol are always harvested red; only then do they develop their typical aroma, which distinguishes them from Cayenne. This variety dries well.
The right time
The right time to harvest is therefore determined by pungency and aroma. This goes hand in hand with the consistency of the pods. When harvesting green pods such as Jalapeno, Serrano, the New Mexicans (Anaheim, Sandia, Ortega, Big Jim, …) and Poblano, you can tell if they are ready by feeling them: The pods are firm, but give a little when pressed. Immature pods are still completely filled with tissue and immature seeds inside, so they feel solid and do not give. For small green chilies like Thai, Tabasco and Bird-Eye, a taste test is best – but beware – these varieties develop a cutting spiciness early on! In general, with green crops, always taste a pod first before possibly harvesting the whole crop too early.
With red chilies, harvest while they are still nice and plump and not yet shriveled. The red pods of thin-fleshed varieties such as Thai, Tabasco and African Bird-Eye can also be left to dry on the plant, provided the weather is dry. However, a dehydrator is usually essential for complete drying.
Whether red, yellow or green: In any case, we wish all chiliheads a super harvest!
And when the harvest is there…
… you usually have a lot of chilies at once. What to do with them? Fortunately there are
many things you can do with the fiery fruits.