University of Illinois Extension


Peppers give the "kick" to salsa, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"The degree of hotness in the salsa can be varied by the type, quantity and portion of the peppers used," said Jennifer Fishburn. "One type of pepper may be substituted for another type of pepper in salsa recipes. When canning, do not vary the total amount of peppers called for in a recipe. Peppers have the same basic growing requirements as tomatoes."

Pepper plants prefer full sun, well-drained soil, water and fertilizer. Peppers can be started from seed 8 to 10 weeks before planting outdoors or plants may be purchased. Keep in mind that hotter varieties of peppers take longer to mature than milder varieties. Most varieties will mature in 65 to 75 days from transplanting. Hotter varieties like 'Habanero' require 90 to 100 days to mature. Peppers are planted outdoors after danger of frost is past. In many recipes hot peppers are referred to as Chile peppers.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are often picked when green and immature. If they are allowed to ripen to a red, yellow or purple color they will be sweeter. Hot peppers are often harvested at maturity, usually when red. Peppers can be stored for one to two weeks.

"If purchasing peppers, choose high-quality peppers that are fresh-looking, firm and thick-fleshed, and free of disease and insect damage," she said.

The degree of heat of a Chili pepper is measured in 'Scoville Heat Units', using a systematic dilution test method developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. The scale ranges from 0 for the sweet bell pepper, to 300,000 for the Habanero pepper. Most of the heat is contained in the membranes and is hottest at the stem end of the pepper. Water stress on pepper plants can increase pungency, and cooler temperatures can lower the heat of peppers.

Pepper Type Scoville Heat Units
Mild Bell 0
Anaheim 500 to 1,000
Poblano 2,500 to 3,000
Jalapeno 2,500 to 5,000
Serrano 5,000 to 15,000
Cayenne 30,000 to 50,000
Thai 50,000 to 100,000
Habenero 100,000 to 300,000

"Wash peppers before peeling or chopping," Fishburn said. "Avoid direct contact with hot peppers, because the volatile oils in them can cause skin irritation or burns. Wear rubber gloves while handling them, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face."

Jalepeno, Anaheim, and Habenero Peppers

For more information about peppers visit University of Illinois Extension Watch Your Garden Grow,