In summer of 2022, I tried growing hot peppers for the first time. We had a few jalapeño pepper plants, half a dozen banana pepper plants, a Carolina Reaper plant, and a couple plants with what looked like Thai chilis. I figured we’d get a bumper crop of hot peppers, perfect for pickling and exploring other possibilities with.
But our peppers in 2022 were a dud.
We did have some success. We got two to three peppers per plant with the jalapeños and bananas, and a bunch of little Thai chilis, but we got no Carolina Reapers. I made a handful of jars of pickled peppers but it barely lasted half a year before they were gone.
When 2023 rolled around, we decided to triple our hot pepper plants so we’d get a decent amount to work with.
Well…I don’t know if it comes down to the specific varieties of plants or if it was just ideal weather conditions this year, but we got a massive harvest of hot peppers. Each plant—we had jalapeños, bananas, Scotch bonnets, and cayennes this year—produced dozens of peppers. We were up to our ears in hot peppers.
After making a couple dozen jars of pickled hot peppers, a batch of candied jalapeños, and two types of hot sauce, and giving a bunch away…we still had hot peppers coming in.
I was at my wit’s end with hot peppers and wanted to just throw the rest in the compost, but my husband persuaded me to just try drying them so we can sprinkled hot pepper flakes on pizza and other things.
Thankfully, I listened to him.
I did some digging on the internet and found out about two methods of drying peppers and then two methods of processing them afterward. While it wasn’t super clear which method was ideal for which pepper, my guideline was this:
- For peppers with thick walls, and thus lots of moisture, I went with the dehydrator to dry them quickly and fully, without the risk of things going bad. These peppers I ground into a powder that can be thrown into various recipes that need a kick. In my case, this included the jalapeños, bananas, and Scotch bonnets.
- For peppers with thin walls, and thus not much moisture, I hang-dried them. These peppers were put in a food processor to turn into flakes for putting on pizzas and other dishes. In my case, this was with the cayennes.
Drying Peppers in a Dehydrator
With the bulk of peppers—the jalapeños, bananas, and Scotch bonnets—I chopped them up and threw them in the dehydrator at about 125 degrees Fahrenheit and just let them sit. The guide that came with my dehydrator said it would take about twelve to sixteen hours.
After twelve hours, they were certainly dehydrated, but I wanted them even drier. My goal was to grind them up into a powder so I wanted them as dry as I could get them. We left them in the dehydrator for three days.
At this point, they were so crispy that they easily broke if I touched them too hard. Perfect.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you could try doing this in the oven if your oven is able to go that low. But I’m not sure if I’d want to leave my oven running for 2-3 days. Alternatively, some folks can get by with just turning on the light in the oven and letting that heat build up and dehydrate food. This may take longer than three days to get the desired crispiness, but it’s a lot less risky than leaving the oven on for three days, and won’t heat up the house as much.
Be aware that dehydrating hot peppers in a dehydrator—and presumably an oven—makes the house smell like hot peppers. This can make it hard to breathe if it’s strong or if anyone in your house has any sort of medical condition that can make breathing difficult. It’s best to do this in a well-ventilated space, perhaps by cracking open the kitchen windows to clear out the hot pepper fumes and bring in some fresh air.
Once the peppers were fully dry—and you can see how they’ve shrunk in size with all the moisture gone—I threw them all in a blender and let the blender do its magic. In a few minutes, I had an orangey powder that is nice and spicy. (You may want to crack open some windows when blending them because it gets a little intense.)
I like to use this in soups to give them a kick. It also works great if you’re making a Spanish or Mexican rice and want to add some heat. We’ve also sprinkled this directly on pizza for a bit of a zing.
Drying Peppers With the Sun
The easier, though much longer, way of dehydrating peppers is to hang them in a window and let the sun do its work. This can take a few weeks or a few months, depending on how sunny and warm it is.
To do this, start by cutting a slit along the length of each pepper. This allows the moisture to escape and prevent mildew. Next, thread the peppers together. All I had on me was twine, so I tied the stems of each pepper so they all hang together nicely. If you have some sturdy thread (perhaps fishing line) and a needle, you could easily string them together by poking the needle through the tops of the peppers.
I’d started by hanging them in the kitchen where it gets a lot of ambient light and there’s good air circulation, but I eventually moved them to my husband’s office window. It has a southern exposure so it gets lots of sunlight, and it’s directly above an air duct, so it would get lots of ventilation from the air conditioning and then the furnace as we shift into fall.
Though there’s only one string in this photo, I eventually ended up with five strings of peppers. The nice aspect of the hang-dry method is you can just add strings of peppers whenever you’ve got them and just leave it all till they’re all ready; you don’t have to do everything at once like you would with a dehydrator.
After several weeks, I took them down. They were all nice and paper-crisp.
From there, I chopped off the tops and carefully looked over each pepper. I had one that had gone mouldy on the inside—the black and mottled colouring on the outside was my cue that something wasn’t right on the inside. The rest seemed to be fine.
So, into the food processor they went.
I chose a food processor over a blender because I wanted a different end product than the dehydrator-dehydrated peppers. For those ones, I wanted a hot pepper powder, so using a blender meant the peppers were continually pushed down to the blade and could be ground into a powder. For these cayennes, I wanted hot pepper flakes, like what you put on pizza, so I didn’t want the powder result of a blender. The food processor chops things wonderfully but since the blade doesn’t go right to the very bottom, it lets flakes sit there without being chopped to powder. (You may want to crack a window while processing because the smell can get a little intense.)
I had to do two batches because I had too much, and I couldn’t quite get the consistently-small flakes like you get in the store, but the end result looks gorgeous.
These will be great for sprinkling on pizza or any other dish that needs a colourful garnish that provides a kick.