Sunday, August 1, 2021

August Harvest of the Month | Peppers

serrano peppers

Photo of serranos courtesy of

History and Facts

Peppers are the berry-fruits of plants in the genus capsaicin which are in the nightshade family, with tomatoes and eggplants. The spicy “chili peppers” and mild “sweet peppers” and “bell peppers” are all native to tropical parts of the Americas. Prehistoric remains of peppers have been found in Central and South America. 

Mistaken by colonists as a form of black pepper, the Spanish and Portuguese brought chili pepper seeds across the world along with their conquests, eventually popularizing them around the world. You can read more about their travels here.

It’s estimated that chilies have been an important part of the cuisine and medicine for people living in what is now the Americas since 7,500 BC, including the Aztecs, Mayans and indigenous people. They were estimated to be domesticated and cultivated around 6,000 BC. Today, peppers are still an important part of cuisine and medicine for people living in Central, Latin and North America. 

Peppers come in a variety of sizes, shapes and flavors. From tiny hot and spicy Thai chilis to big sweet globous bells. 

Peppers are a perennial plant that thrives in hot weather. It is most commonly grown as an annual. China, India, Mexico and the United States lead production in growing peppers.


Yellow and red peppers: Wild Work Farm, in Keene NY by Ben Stechschulte

What’s the difference between Green, Yellow, Orange and Red Peppers?

Red, yellow and orange peppers are three different varieties that have been bred to ripen to that color. Green peppers, on the other hand, are the same as red, they are just picked before they are completely ripe, like green tomatoes. 

This is why red bell peppers are generally more expensive. They take longer to grow and are more susceptible to disease, rot, and pests. 

What makes a hot pepper spicy?

Capsaicin and a few other compounds called “capsaicinoids”  are what make peppers spicy. The amount of these compounds depends on the variety of pepper, growing conditions, and maturity of a plant. When chili pepper plants are stressed, or are growing in dry conditions, the amount of these compounds increases, producing spicier fruits. 

Humans “taste” spicy flavors because capsaicin triggers pain receptors in the throat and mouth, where discomfort and heat are simulated. 

The intensity of the “heat” of chilies is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU), which is measured using high-performance liquid chromatography to measure the capsaicinoid content in a variety of pepper. The bell pepper has 0 SHU, Jalapenos have 3,500-10,000 SHU and the Habanero has 100,000-350,000 SHU. 

Try Something New! 

Shishito 100-1,000 SHU

Shishitos are mild but have a fresh, grassy, and pepper flavor. One in every ten shishitos may be a bit spicier, but still pretty mild. Shishitos originate from Japan and are most commonly enjoyed simply roasted with a little oil and salt

Poblano 1,000-1,500 SHU

These chilies are mild and used in the popular Mexican dish, Chillies Rellenos. They are usually picked when green, but can also be found riper in a deep red or burgundy color. They taste like green bell pepper, with a little spice and “chili” flavor. When cooked, they become sweeter. Use poblanos however you’d use bells, they are especially great stuffed

Serrano 5,000-15,000 SHU 

Much like the jalapeno pepper, but a little bit spicier and smaller. The flavor is less like bell pepper, and more like cayenne pepper. You can use these lovely little ones as you would a jalapeno- add them to burgers, in salsa, chili, on tacos, pickle them, and so on. 

Where to Buy Local Peppers

Wherever local veggies are sold near you! Find farmers’ markets, local food retail locations, and farmstands selling them at

How do you like to enjoy summer peppers? Comment below and let us know.

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Mary Godnick is the Digital Editor for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County. She lives in the Champlain Valley where she grows vegetables on a cooperative farm plot with her partner and two rescue dogs. You can read more of her work on and follow her on Twitter at @MaryGodnick.

One Response

  1. Steve B. says:

    Arguably, the best use Chile’s and Mexican cooking in the U.S. is New Mexican cuisine, where they put either pureyed green, red or both chille sauce on top of the dish of choices, enchillada, buritto, taco, Chile releno, etc..,,. The Chile peppers only grow at a high altitude and in plenty of sun. Hatch, NM is the regional capitol for these chille peppers in the SW.

    To dampen the heat of the chille sauce you order a side of Sopapillas, a lightly fried fry bread, covered in honey. Delicious and unfortunately recipes we don’t see much east of the NM/Texas border.

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