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Grow your own hot chili peppers

Robert Thomas, former Information Specialist, Cooperative Media Group, University of Missouri Extension


Attention chili pepper lovers: you can grow your own peppers as hot as you can stand them in your backyard garden.


“Chili peppers are relatively easy to grow and usually flourish in warm climates with relatively long growing seasons,” said David Trinklein, University of Missouri horticulturalist.


They prefer light, well-drained, fertile soil but can be produced in a wide range of soils. The plants are grown from seed and require six to eight weeks from seeding to transplanting outdoors.


“There is an increasing market for the really hot peppers, especially in larger cities where there are ethnic markets,” Trinklein said.


There are 11 common categories of chili peppers, classified by the degree of hotness and fruit shape. The heat comes from capsaicin, an alkaloid compound found in the fruit seeds and surrounding tissue. The discomfort inflicted by capsaicin when chilies are consumed is thought to trigger the release of opioid compounds called endorphins in the brain. This reaction has been credited by some for the popularity of chili pepper consumption.


The hottest chili commonly sold by most commercial bedding plant growers is the jalapeņo, which in terms of hotness is just a drop in the bucket compared to some of the fiery ones, explained Trinklein.


Some of the super hot varieties include the habaneros, Scotch bonnet, the Thai types and Bhut Jolokia (also known as Ghost pepper). The latter registers more than 1,000,000 units on the Scoville scale, which measures the heat of chilies, compared with the jalapeņo which comes in at a mere 5,000 to 10,000 units.


To produce the hottest peppers, start by selecting hot types of seeds and consider growing conditions. Peppers cultivated in a hot climate with days in the 95-degree range are spicier than those grown where temperatures are in the 70s. Drought-stricken chili peppers are hotter than those grown with lots of water. Keep the water and nitrogen fertilizer to a minimum for maximum heat. Generally, the riper the chili, the hotter it is, Trinklein said.


Use caution and wear latex gloves when chopping and handling the really hot chilies.


Source: David Trinklein, 573-882-9631


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Last update: Friday, July 29, 2016