One of the yearly highlights at Heckers is our selection of sweet and chilli peppers. I am always amazed by the amount of fruit produced per plant as the value of the peppers far exceeds the price of the actual plant. Our peppers are grown right here on the nursery premise. This means that they have a low carbon footprint and are well adapted to our local climate. Sweet and chilli peppers have ingrained themselves into our cooking traditions due to their culinary and medicinal versatility. Hotter peppers are great for sauces, while sweet peppers add colour to salads and stir-fries. Though a word of caution: choose your peppers wisely as some are so hot that they can send you to the emergency room!
Capsaicin and the Scoville scale
Have a look at the following video which explains exactly why chillies burn:
But what is the difference between sweet and hot peppers? The answer relates to their Capsaicin content. This is an active component in chilli peppers which acts as an irritant and gives them the characteristic burning sensation. Capsaicin content is measured using the Scoville scale. It involves dissolving purified Capsaicin from a specific chilli pepper in a sugar solution until the burning sensation ceases. Sweet or Bell peppers have a very low Capsaicin content of under 100. Hotter chillies such as Jalapenos range from 3500 to 8000 Scoville heat units.
Looking after your pepper plant
Pepper plants are easy to grow as long as a few boxes are ticked:
- Ensure that your peppers get enough sunlight, preferably full sun or at least the hot afternoon rays.
- Be careful of over-watering your plant. Water it thoroughly at time while allowing it to dry out in-between waterings. In rainy periods it best to move your pepper out of the rain. This is another advantage of growing them in pots.
- Peppers are mainly seen as annuals. This means that they grow for one season and then die off. If you manage to protect them from frost you should be able to get a second season of fruiting. Move the plant to a less exposed area and decrease watering. In Spring move it to a warm, sunny spot and give it a good trim. Trim away at least a third of the plant.
- Peppers are generally pest free but one can expect infestations of Aphids and Mealy bugs at times. Practise companion with marigolds, or use a natural insecticide such as Ludwig’s insect spray.
New and rare peppers
Every year we manage to introduce new varieties to our pepper selection, and this year is no exception!
- Snack peppers – These bite-size sweet peppers look like hot peppers but will surprise you with their sweet taste. They are great for adding colour to any dish and perfect for making poppers. They grow to about 6cm in length.
- Ghost or Bhut Jolokia pepper – These are one of the hottest peppers around with a Scoville rating of around 1 000 000 SHU. This makes it five times hotter than the already scorching Habanero pepper! Thus handle with extreme care. I cannot emphasise enough that every precaution should be taken. This includes gloves and eye protection.
- Yellow Dream sweet pepper – A new sweet pepper to brighten up summer salads with its delightful yellow fruit. It’s compact growth habit makes it ideal for pots and containers.
Potted peppers make great gifts for the foodie in the family or can serve as a summer project for kids. You can make your own chilli infused oil or even pair it with chocolate for absolutely decadent deserts. This year we have over 10 varieties of chilli peppers and seven varieties of sweet peppers for sale. So add some colour to your homegrown summer dishes and impress with a prized pepper collection!
(And if you bit off more than you should – do not drink water! Instead drink milk as it contains Casein. This contains a fatty compound that binds with the Capsaicin and neutralises it.)