Black Pearl Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

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What are Black Pearl peppers?

When you hear Black Pearl, it’s easy for your imagination to run wild: from the infamous treasure-seeking ship in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies to rare jewels that widen the eyes of all that see them. And so it goes with this chili. It’s a jewel. The Black Pearl is a stunning ornamental pepper plant – seriously, one of the most beautiful plants of any kind. And its chilies contain a surprising pop of heat (10,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units) to go along with a light citrusy-sweet flavor.

black pearl pepper
Black Pearl peppers, close-up

Table of Contents

Black Pearl pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)10,000 – 30,000
Median heat (SHU)20,000
Jalapeño reference point4 to 12 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginUnited States
UseOrnamental
SizeApproximately 1/2 to 1-inch long, bulb-like
FlavorSweet, Citrusy

How hot are Black Pearl peppers?

The Black Pearl may look tiny and unassuming, but they sure do bite. These chilies tip the Scoville scale at 10,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units (SHU.) The unripened onyx-black chilies tend to be at the lower end of that scale, while the ripened crimson red peppers spike the needle.

This places the Black Pearl firmly in the medium-hot pepper range, about 4 to 12 times hotter than a jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU.) On the Scoville scale, it sits on par with the serrano pepper (10,000 to 23,000 SHU) or, at its hottest, it’s akin to the mildest cayenne or tabasco chilies (30,000 to 50,000 SHU) that you’ll find.

With some chilies, the heat hits fast. Not with the Black Pearl. It’s a slow burn. The Black Pearl creeps up on you, similar to the much hotter ghost pepper in that way. The heat tops off within a few minutes and slowly begins to dissipate.

What do they look like?

Few plants can claim as much beauty as the Black Pearl pepper plant. It’s like something out of a children’s fantasy, ethereal and unexpected. It looks like it should be part of the other-worldly scenery of Snow White or Alice in Wonderland.  It’s so beautiful that All America Selections (AAS) awarded it for its beauty in 2006.

Black pearl pepper plant, with black leaves and both the black and crimson red colored fruits

The leaves range from a deep purple to an onyx black in hue, and the plant blooms beautiful purple flowers. The peppers are tiny, closer to chiltepin or pequin peppers in size than typical long peppers. Unripened Black Pearls take on a similar onyx black color, and as they age they turn shades to a sultry crimson red. There’s no other way to say it – this is a stunning plant. No wonder it’s such a favorite for ornamental landscaping.

Can you eat Black Pearl peppers?

Don’t let the term “ornamental” fool you in this case; these are edible hot peppers, just like any jalapeño or cayenne. It’s just that they’re so stunning that many people grow them to enjoy with their eyes and not with their mouths. We happen to think it should be both.

–> Learn More: Can You Eat Ornamental Peppers?

What do they taste like?

Many ornamental chilies are all looks and have no nuance (outside of “peppery”) to the taste. It’s to be expected as they are bred to maintain their beauty above all else. But there’s good news with the Black Pearl: It has a pleasant flavor that goes beyond neutral or peppery. There’s a sweetness here similar to what you get from a ripened red bell pepper. And that sweetness even turns lightly citrusy at times, particularly as the Black Pearl ages on the vine.

How can you use these chilies?

First, as ornamental chilies, they have few peers, particularly if you’re looking for a plant with some drama to it. To see other ornamental peppers with comparable dark looks (and even those that take a more colorful approach), take a look at a few of our guides:

In terms of eating, you can use Black Pearl peppers as you would a jalapeño or other chili, within reason. These are tiny peppers, so stuffing them is not a typical use case. But chopping Black Pearls up to make your salsa more dramatic is a fun idea. They are also usable in soups, stews, sandwiches, and any other place a chopped medium-heat chili pepper may be used in cooking.

Keep in mind the spiciness when handling. Black Pearl peppers may look unassuming, but their heat is well above that of jalapeños. It’s easy to forget their bite and experience painful chili burn. As with any chilies, wear kitchen gloves while cutting into them. And learn prior to handling how to properly treat chili burn, just in case.

–> Learn More: Treating Chili Burn – Your Best Solutions

Where can you buy Black Pearl peppers?

Likely you’ll need to grow them yourself. You won’t find a jar of these ornamental chilies at your local grocer. But your local gardening store may have these plants available for garden landscaping. Black Pearl pepper seeds can also be bought at many gardening stores and online.

Grow Your Own
Black Pearl Pepper Seeds, 10 Seeds
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If you’re into landscaping with beautiful and unique plants, or you love chilies that are off the beaten path of the pepper scale, this is one plant that you should get to know. The heat is significant compared to a jalapeño but still nowhere near the typical cayenne. Most of the family can enjoy it, and the look of these peppers is sure to draw some wows.


UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on January 12, 2023 to include new content.
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Barbie

They are amazingly beautiful! My husband has tried them both purple and red…they are hot!!!

Martin

You are right, I can agree with every single word.

my two new seedlings are about 2cm only… looking fwd to see them in big pot soon

Susan

found these two years ago and have grown and overwintered them ever since. beautiful.

Valdin Ericsson

Black pearl peppers Re the bestest