When To Pick Jalapeños: A Primer For Fielding The Freshest Flavors

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Lucky you!

You’re growing jalapeños, seeing the fruits age, and likely salivating like Pavlov’s dog to get them from plant to plate. But when’s the right time? What should you look for that’ll signify when to pick jalapeños for the absolute best flavor? Well, that depends on whether you want them for fresh use or for drying. Let’s review both so that you’ll have the best flavor possible.

When to pick jalapeños for fresh use

First – let’s put it out there that you can eat jalapeños no matter what their age. But the plant does have tells that speak to just the right moment for perfect flavor. Look for these during the three to four-month mark, when the pepper is in its green prime:

  • The jalapeño’s skin is green and glossy. There’s a sheen to it that makes the pepper look very appealing.
  • The chili takes on a plump firmness, signifying the jalapeño has likely reached its growing peak.
  • There may be slight color splotches of orange and red. These would be small areas. This signifies that the pepper has reached near the end of its green color cycle.
  • There may be some skin cracks around the pepper’s curves. These aren’t a bad thing, nor do they detract from flavor. It’s simply a tell that the time is right to pick your peppers.

Now you can keep the jalapeños on the vine and let them age to full red maturity. Red jalapeños are not as common in stores, as they don’t have the tasty bright bite of the green jalapeño. Instead, they are slightly sweeter and hotter, due to the increased capsaicin from further aging.

When to pick jalapeños for drying

Whether you’re simply drying the chilies or making chipotle peppers by smoking them too, you’ll want to bring your chilies to full red maturity for the best drying flavor. Green jalapeños simply don’t dry as well.

Keep the jalapeños on the vine past their green prime. They’ll change colors, turning dark green (it can seem blackish), then to shades of orange, and finally to a rich red. When they’ve reached this moment, don’t dawdle in harvesting. These chilies are in jeopardy of falling off the plant which can lead to rot. Pick as soon as possible and begin the drying process.

What should you do if you harvested your jalapeños too early?

Just like other fruits and vegetables, jalapeños can continue to ripen off the vine. Just make sure you provide some light to the chilies, like setting them on a windowsill. Beware too much direct sunlight here, as this can start the drying process. North/south facing windows work the best to help promote ripening without drying.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 19, 2022 to include new content.
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I don’t grow my own jalapenos, but buy them at the supermarket. I have found that, in general, the ones that are blotchy looking are hotter than the ones with smooth shiny skins. Lucky me, because the blotchy ones are overlooked by others!