The cayenne pepper, also called the bird pepper or Guinea pepper, is a popular chili pepper used for flavoring and medicinal purposes. It’s a cultivar of the genus Capsicum annum, and a relative to the bell pepper, habanero, jalapeno, and a number of the other hot spicy peppers we all enjoy.
When mass produced, it is dried, ground, formed into cakes, and baked. It is then ground again and made into the finely ground cayenne pepper commonly sold in shaker bottles in spice aisles around the world. Other cayenne applications include its use as red pepper flakes and as a main ingredient in many hot sauces.
In addition to being a secret weapon in rainy day soups for clearing cold symptoms and sinuses with its heat, cayenne is reportedly high in vitamins A, B, and C; calcium; and potassium. So, this pepper is a treat for your health whether you’re under the weather or not.
Harvesting any live cayenne peppers from their plants should be done carefully and thoughtfully. With a little knowledge and skill, you can precisely control variances in spiciness depending on how you wish to use your peppers.
When to Harvest, Green or Red?
Chronologically, when these peppers first come in, they are green in color and almost unrecognizable. The deep red color so often associated with cayenne appears when the peppers are fully ripe.
Green Still Means Go
They can still be picked and enjoyed when green, they just won’t reach their full capacity of spiciness. If you prefer a more mild pepper, harvesting early may be exactly the trick to sneaking cayenne into your diet.
When harvesting green peppers, wait until the skin has a waxy appearance and is firm to the touch, with only a slight give when pressed. This is usually around August. They should be 4-5 inches long.
If you like really spicy peppers, then wait as long as possible before harvesting. Ripened red peppers will be full, plump, and almost sweet with some serious heat. They are very hot, even more so than jalapenos. When the fully ripe red ones begin to wrinkle, you’ve waited as long as you can. The wrinkles are a sign that they should be harvested immediately. If left on the plant longer than that, they will go to seed.
Another way to ensure a hotter pepper is to cut back on watering and fertilizing once the peppers are visible.
How to Harvest
Step 1 – Protect Yourself
Be sure to wear gloves. The oils of the pepper can burn and damage the skin. Depending on how plump your crop is and how up close and personal you plan to get, protective eye wear may be advisable if you are especially sensitive.
Step 2 – Cut, Don’t Pick
Mature and fully ripened cayenne peppers can be picked very easily. Nonetheless, cutting your peppers free with a small tool or shears is better for the plant’s overall health.
Pulling and tugging from picking can dislodge the roots system, especially when you pull too hard on unripe peppers.
Step 3 – Harvest Often During the Season
Once you harvest a pepper, another flower will grow in its place. This flower will later be replaced by yet another pepper. So, the more often you harvest, the more peppers you will end up with over the course of the season. One cayenne pepper plant usually produces enough peppers for one family.
Step 4 – Ripe for Consumption
Once harvested, the cayenne pepper will ripen more if kept in a cool, dark place. Restaurants who get fresh peppers delivered sometimes find that they are too fresh, and place the peppers in a brown paper bag to accelerate ripening to the perfect point.
Step 5 – Storage
In the short term, refrigerating cayenne peppers can help them last for weeks, whereas more intense methods like drying or pickling are great for long term storage and edibility.
To both dry and show off your beautiful peppers at the same time, string up a number of them and hang them in a warm, sunny place.
Getting Even More Cayenne Peppers
Pollinate Your Pepper Plant
Natural, outdoor cayenne planets rely on insects to pollinate peppers. If you’re growing these in an indoor garden, you will have to pollinate yourself, using a moistened toothbrush or cotton swab to transfer pollen from one flower to another.
You can try to grow your next crop from the seeds of your latest peppers, though this may not always be successful. For seed collection, break or cut the pod, leaving the core and stem intact. Using the stem as a handle, scrape out the seeds with a knife.
Be very careful when handling the seeds or membrane of the cayenne, as they are the spiciest parts of the pepper.