Mixed Hot Peppers in Bowl

Perplexed About Peppers?

March 10, 2023
Sue Adams

Which is the hottest? Which pepper is best for frying? How about all those pretty colorful peppers? How do you choose?

Let’s start with hot peppers. Signs above the plants sold at Adams Fairacre Farms shows the SHU rating. What’s that?

In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, an American pharmacist, devised a test and scale to measure the pungency, or spiciness, of various chili peppers. Human subjects tasted pepper samples and recorded the heat level. The samples were then diluted in the lab until the heat was no longer detected by the tasters. This subjective test has been replaced by a more scientific method that measures the presence of alkaloids.

Pepper ratings are medium (2,500 to 30,000), hot (30,000 to 100,000), extra hot (100,000 to 300,000) and extremely hot (above 300,000).

Although plant genetics determines pepper heat levels, did you know that environment also plays a role? Hot peppers grow hottest during drought and high temperatures. The longer you wait to harvest the peppers, the hotter they’ll be. Do be careful when handling hot peppers – use gloves and avoid touching your eyes. Don’t plant really spicy peppers next to mild ones, or you might be in for a surprise!

When to plant? Peppers like a warm, long growing season, so set them out a week or two after the last frost. Pepper plants like a steady intake of nutrients (fertilizer), but don’t over do it. Follow label directions. Sometimes pepper plants need a little help to stand up straight. Staking or using a cage gives the plants extra support. Before you start planting, read my Pointers for Prolific Pepper Plants.

Enjoy the bounty of beautiful peppers!