From Bell to Jalapeño, Here's How to Preserve Peppers
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From Bell to Jalapeño, Here's How to Preserve Peppers

May 31, 2023

Peppers come in a range of colors and flavors. The most common are the mild, sweet, thick fleshed bell pepper, the even milder pimiento pepper and the hotter chili and jalapeno peppers.

Peppers can be frozen, canned, pickled, marinated or made into relishes, jams, or jellies. Add preserved peppers to salads or cooked dishes, top sandwiches with pepper relish, spread pepper jam on a sandwich or hamburger roll or use jelly to glaze meat or in appetizers.

One method of measuring the “heat” or pungency of peppers is in Scoville heat units (SHU) which indicate the amount of capsaicin present. The higher the Scoville rating, the hotter the pepper.

The scale starts at zero, which is the measure of heat in a bell pepper. The jalapeno measures between 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. The habanero ranges from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. Bhut Jolokia, known as the ghost pepper, hits the 1 million mark.

New varieties are being developed that are even hotter. Generally, small peppers contain more heat than larger peppers.

Capsaicin, the chemical in peppers that make them hot, is concentrated in the membranes and seeds. The concentration of heat in a recipe can be adjusted by removing some or all the seeds and/or membranes.

Bell and other sweet peppers can be frozen blanched or raw. Blanched peppers are good for use in cooking.

To blanch peppers, cut washed and seeded peppers into 1/2-inch strips or rings and blanch for 2 minutes. Blanch halves for 3 minutes. Cool quickly, drain, and package with 1/2-inch headspace.

Peppers frozen without blanching are good to use in uncooked foods because they have a crisper texture. They can also be used in cooked food. Raw frozen peppers may be chopped or sliced and need no headspace.

Whole hot peppers can be frozen raw after they are washed and stems are removed. Be cautious when handling hot peppers. Wear plastic gloves and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face.

One method of removing skins from peppers is to place them in a hot oven (400°F) or under the broiler for 6 to 8 minutes until skins blister.

Slash two to four slits in each pepper before heating and cut large peppers into quarters with cores and seeds removed.

Cool peppers in water and slip off skins. Flatten small whole peppers before canning.

Peppers are a low acid food. Canning peppers without the addition of large amounts of vinegar requires they be processed in a pressure canner.

Process half-pints and pints for 35 minutes at 11 pounds pressure in a dial gauge canner, or 10 pounds pressure in a weighted gauge canner. (Adjust pressure for high altitudes.)

To prevent whole peppers from floating to the top of the jar, slit the peppers which will allow air inside the pepper to escape.

Marinated peppers are normally made with sweet red, yellow and green peppers. Note, marinated peppers are canned in an oil-vinegar solution.

Because the oil in a closed jar at room temperature is a good host for dangerous bacteria, additional acidity must be provided.

The USDA recipe adds bottled lemon juice as well as vinegar. It is also necessary to make sure the oil/pickling solution is well mixed and evenly distributed between the jars.

An optional ingredient in pickled peppers and relishes is calcium chloride granules which improves the crispness of the product. Calcium chloride is available for home canning under brand names Ball Pickle Crisp™ and Mrs. Wages Xtra Crunch™. Follow directions on the label to determine the amount to use.

The amount of heat in a pickle or relish recipe can be reduced by substituting bell peppers or other mild peppers for hotter varieties of peppers. For safety, keep the total amount the same.

It is safe to reduce the amount of a low acid vegetable such as pepper in a recipe, but never add more in relation to the amount of pickling solution.

Here’s a recipe from the Penn State Extension website:

Select and wash your favorite sweet peppers, cut into quarters, remove cores and seeds and cut away any blemishes. Slice peppers into strips. Boil vinegar, water and sugar for 1 minute.

Add peppers and bring to a boil. Place 1/2 clove of garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in each sterile half-pint jar (or double the amounts for pint jars). Add pepper strips and cover with hot vinegar mixture, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

Adjust lids and process jars in a boiling water or atmospheric steam canner as described above. Yields approximately 9 pints

Additional information and more recipes about preserving peppers is available in the fact sheet “Let’s Preserve Peppers” from your local Penn State Extension office or on the web here.

If you have food preservation questions, a home economist is available to answer questions on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Call 717-394-6851 or write Penn State Extension, Lancaster County, 1383 Arcadia Road, Room 140, Lancaster, Pa., 17601.

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