Purple UFO Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are Purple UFO Peppers?

Purple UFO peppers are a medium heat ornamental chili pepper (30,000 to 45,000 Scoville heat units) with a truly unique look. Its round, flat shape, combined with its vibrant purple color, gives it an appearance somewhat reminiscent of the stereotypical flying saucer, hence the ‘UFO’ in its name. Beyond their look, there’s some flavor here, too. The Purple UFO has a slightly sweet, fruity flavor, making it, even as an ornamental, an excellent chili for pickling and for adding to salads, salsas, and more.

Purple UFO Pepper
The Purple UFO pepper with its distinctive flying saucer shape and bold purple color

Purple UFO pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)30,000 – 45,000
Median heat (SHU)37,500
Jalapeño reference point4 to 18 times hotter
SpeciesCapsicum Annuum
UseOrnamental, Culinary
Size1.5 to 2 inches long, ~ 1.25 inches wide
FlavorSweet, Fruity

How hot are Purple UFO peppers?

The Purple UFO is a medium-heat chili, but it sits near the top of that range, roughly 30,000 to 45,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). That’s nearly equal to the heat of a cayenne pepper (30,000 to 50,000 SHU) with the cayenne having a slightly higher heat ceiling. That’s not out of the ordinary for ornamentals, as they are grown to accentuate their look over spiciness or flavor. So many ornamentals have some surprising bite to them. 

Compared to our reference point, the jalapeño pepper (2,500 to 8,000 SHU) which sits at the lower end of medium heat on the Scoville scale, the Purple UFO is roughly 4 to 19 times hotter. It’s a quick heat – it can surprise – but the spiciness doesn’t linger too long. 

What do they look like?

Here is where the Purple UFO really shines – the shape is fun and even a little kitsch. It is a roundish pepper, commonly with a disc-shaped top (or center), reminiscent of the depictions of flying saucers during the 1950s. Which, of course, is how it gets its name. The bottom of the pepper then tends to taper to a point.The size of the pepper varies, but it typically measures about 1.5 to 2 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. 

In terms of color, the Purple UFO pepper goes through a fascinating transformation as it ages. It starts off as a vibrant violet or purple when it’s young. As it ripens, the color changes to a deep purple, almost black, and then it transitions to a rich, ruby red when it’s fully ripe. But the Purple UFO’s interior stays a purplish hue, even after it matures to red. The vibrant colors really add to the overall appeal of this ornamental chili. 

What do they taste like?

Many ornamentals tend to be rather neutral in overall flavor – just generically “peppery”. Not the Purple UFO. There’s a slightly sweet, fruity flavor here with a touch of tang. Some people also detect a hint of smokiness to the taste. While not the most complex flavor profile on the pepper scale, it’s plenty tasty and very versatile in the kitchen. 

–> Learn More: Can You Eat Ornamental Peppers?

How can you use them?

With its unique shape and vibrant color, The Purple UFO makes an excellent ornamental plant. It adds a dash of color and fun to any garden, balcony, or indoor plant collection. Its striking purple hue, combined with the peculiar flat, disc-like shape that gives it its name, can be a real conversation starter. 

Beyond its ornamental use, as mentioned, the Purple UFO has a tasty sweet, fruity flavor making it quite versatile in the kitchen. It can be used fresh in salads, salsas, and sandwiches, or cooked in stir-fries and sauces. The vibrant purple color can also add a unique visual element to dishes. 

Its thick flesh makes it an excellent choice for stuffing, and when pickled or dried, it can be used to add a pop of flavor and color to meals long after the growing season has ended. Pickling, in particular, is an excellent use case as the sweetness of the chili works well with the tanginess of the brine.

Cooking with Purple UFO peppers

When cooking with Purple UFO peppers, it’s important to handle them with care. They have an upper-medium heat, so the chili burn you can experience could be quite painful. Use kitchen gloves in the handling and know how to treat chili burn just in case. Hint, keep milk at hand.

While these chilies are flavorful raw, roasting the peppers brings out their natural sweetness. Keep that in mind when considering how they fit into your meal. 

And know – there’s a limitation to the purple hue here. Yes, these chilies chopped and used raw or cooked adds vibrant color to the plate. But if you’re processing these chilies for use in a hot sauce, the color is more purplish gray. If you’re after a purple hot sauce, you’ll need to consider adding other ingredients into the mix to deepen the overall color.

Growing Purple UFO peppers

To start, select a location that receives plenty of sunlight, as these peppers require a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. The soil should be well-draining and rich in organic matter. Prior to planting, it’s beneficial to mix in a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer to provide necessary nutrients.

The seeds should be sown indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last expected frost date. Maintain a temperature of 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit to aid germination, which usually takes 7 to 14 days. 

Once the seedlings have 2 sets of true leaves, they can be hardened off and transplanted outdoors, ideally when the soil temperature consistently stays above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Space the plants about 18 to 24 inches apart to allow for growth. Regular watering is crucial, but avoid water-logging the soil. Mulching can help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.

As the peppers grow, they’ll initially be purple before turning a vibrant red when fully mature. Regular monitoring for pests and diseases will ensure a healthy crop. With proper care, you can look forward to harvesting your Purple UFO peppers in about 70 to 75 days after transplanting

–> Learn More: 12 Common Pepper Plant Diseases And Problems

Where can you buy Purple UFO peppers?

Purple UFO peppers can be found in some specialty grocery stores and farmers markets, particularly during the summer and early fall when peppers are in season. For those interested in growing their own, Purple UFO pepper seeds can be purchased in some garden centers (call ahead) and online from various seed retailers.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on December 9, 2023 to include new content.
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