Chinese 5-Color Pepper: Unexpected Shades

A beauty that brings in shades of purple and cream…

Scoville heat units (SHU): 30,000 – 50,000
Jalapeño reference point: 4 to 20 times hotter
Origin: China
Products and seeds: Chinese 5-color pepper on Amazon

With its many hues and dark foliage, the Chinese 5-color pepper is a real beauty in the garden. It’s multi-colored, like the aurora pepper or Bolivian rainbow, but what makes it stand out from the pack is the unexpected shades it takes. Layers of purple and cream are in play, along with the more familiar yellows, oranges, and reds. Best of all, the Chinese 5-color pepper, even with its significant medium heat, delivers in the taste department, too – more than most other ornamental peppers – so it’s a great fit for edible landscaping projects.

How hot is the Chinese 5-color pepper?

Like most ornamental peppers, theres a good amount of kick to the Chinese 5-color pepper. It shares the same heat profile as the popular spice-rack staple, cayenne pepper – 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units. Putting that in perspective against our jalapeño reference point, the Chinese 5-color is at least 4, but up to 20 times hotter than a jalapeño pepper, depending on the chilies tested.

What does it look like and taste like?

“5-color” is in the name, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of color to this ornamental. What’s unique is the shades themselves (and the variants in the shades, leading to a lot more than 5 total colors). Chinese 5-color peppers are small conical peppers that grow to about an inch in length. They run from shades of purple, then age into a beautiful cream color (not common), followed by shades of yellows, oranges, and reds – gaining in heat as they change in color on the vine. It creates a vivid landscape as each plant can have a wide variety of these colors as the peppers mature at different speeds through the growing cycle.

The taste is unexpected, too. Many ornamental peppers offer little in terms of flavor. They’re bred to focus on their looks, not flavor, so they tend towards high temps and a bitter flavor. The Chinese 5-color pepper actually has a sweetness to it that’s more flavorful than most other ornamentals. It’s not a complex chili flavor by any means, but it can serve dual purpose in the garden and the kitchen.

What are the best uses for this chili pepper?

For landscaping, the Chinese 5-color pepper is one of the best ornamental peppers around. It works both in gardens and containers, and it performs reasonably well indoors with enough light.

In the kitchen, the Chinese 5-color is a good pickling pepper, especially with its varied hues. They also make good drying peppers, whether to be converted into powder or rehydrated down the road. With their sweeter flavor, they are also pretty tasty fresh, though with a decent amount of pop that may be too much for many to handle. They’re a good base for a colorful salsa, or simply chop them to add some color to salads and soups.

Where can you buy Chinese 5-color peppers?

As these are ornamentals, you’re more likely to find seeds than fresh peppers. Look online for Chinese 5-color pepper seeds (they are easy to source) or try a well-stocked gardening center. These are uniquely beautiful chilies and relatively easy to grow, so for those with even modest green thumbs, don’t be afraid to give this pepper a chance. You’ll be rewarded both in the garden and kitchen.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 8, 2022 to include new content.
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