Calico Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are Calico peppers?

The Calico pepper is full of beautiful fruits, there’s no doubt. Their black and red cone-like pods are reminiscent (in terms of color) the dramatically beautiful Black Pearl. But it’s the foliage that really steals the scene here. The green leaves of the Calico pepper plant are peppered throughout with patches of purple and cream, providing a real dramatic backdrop for the solid colored fruits. They are real beauties, yet they bite with some force (50,000 to 70,000 Scoville heat units) – reaching Thai pepper level of spiciness.

Calico pepper

Calico pepper fast facts

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 50,000 – 70,000 SHU
  • Median heat: 60,000 SHU
  • Origin: Mexico
  • Capsicum species: Annuum
  • Jalapeño reference scale: 6 to 28 times hotter
  • Use: Ornamental
  • Size: 1 to 2 inches long, conical
  • Flavor: Neutral (peppery)

How hot is the Calico pepper?

Like most ornamental peppers, really little consideration is given to tempering the pepper’s spiciness. It’s all about honing the look. So it should come as no surprise that the heat of the Calico pepper is pretty wicked. But it’s actually more wicked than most other ornamental chilies. Ranging from 50,000 to 70,000 Scoville heat units, they top cayenne peppers even at their mildest. Compared to our jalapeño reference point, that’s 6 to 28 times hotter than a jalapeño pepper, depending on the fruits compared.

A good portion of ornamentals tend to the 30,000 to 50,000 SHU range, which the Calico eclipses. It’s close to the heat of a prairie fire pepper – another ornamental with real burn (up to 80,000 SHU).

What does the Calico pepper look like and taste like?

The Calico pepper is a compact plant, so much so that it performs relatively well even in containers on window sills with plenty of sun. The pods themselves – which grow evenly around the plant, not in clusters – age from black to a rich red hue. They are cone-like in shape and run to an inch or two in length, no more.

But unlike many other ornamentals, the pods themselves are arguable not the star of the show. The leaves of the Calico plant are surprisingly beautiful in their own right. The have variegated color, green with wisps of purple and cream. They create a beautiful backdrop to the peppers themselves, and almost steal the show.

Flavor-wise, heat is the primary taste here. There is very little nuance – just a general “peppery” flavor behind the heat, like with most other ornamentals. Flavor, like heat, is not of primary concern here. The look is the thing with ornamentals, so don’t expect to be wowed in terms of taste.

What are the best uses for the Calico?

Like all ornamentals, the Calico pepper is edible and can certainly add much more than decent heat to a dish. They aren’t a nuanced flavor, but added to salsas (for their color) or sauces (for heat) are definitely good use cases.

But, of course, these are ornamental peppers, so it’s in the garden that they shine. Their variegated foliage makes this an excellent “support” plant to larger landscaping projects. The colorful leaves and red pods draw the eye, but the chilies don’t cluster together, so they don’t draw too much attention from your showcase plants. And as such the black pods, too, tend to blend in a little more than other black pepper plants where the chilies cluster.

Where can you buy Calico peppers?

While the Calico is beautiful, they aren’t one of the most popular ornamental peppers, so you may need to look at multiple gardening centers to source these plants. It’s best to call ahead. Or, you can buy Calico pepper seeds online very easily (Amazon). This is a beautiful plant from leaf to pod so it’s well worth the search.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on June 7, 2021 to include new content.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments