When To Pick Cayenne Peppers Off The Plant (Find Out Now!)

HK Sloan
by HK Sloan

There’s always some confusion when it comes to the cayenne pepper. What is it? Is cayenne a pepper or a spice? And when is the best time to pick cayenne pepper? We shirk away from the unknown, and especially from the spicy unknown. But in reality, we use cayenne pepper every day to flavor our favorite dishes. That pizza you’re enjoying? You can thank cayenne pepper for that fiery tang.

Cayenne pepper is in the same family as bell peppers, jalapenos, and the New Mexican chile. And while a cayenne pepper is ten times hotter than a jalapeno, on the Scoville scale, cayenne is situated comfortably between the serrano pepper and the Thai chili pepper at 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. Considering the Scoville heat scale goes well past 100,000 units, the cayenne pepper is relatively mild.

The best time to pick cayenne peppers is once the skin is bright red and firm to the touch. Cayenne peppers will start green and turn red when they are ripe. With peppers, timing is everything, which allows you to be in control. If you want a hotter pepper, keep the peppers on the plant. If you want a mild pepper, harvest the peppers early.

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What is a Cayenne Pepper?

Cayenne peppers are a type of Capsicum annum, a moderately hot pepper that hangs from the bush instead of growing upright. Cayenne peppers are characteristically long, thin, and red. They’re between 2 – 5 inches long, slightly curved, and sometimes with wrinkled skin.

From the time that you plant them, pods take 70 – 80 days to ripen. You’ll know a cayenne pepper is ready when it is firm and has a waxy appearance. Once your plant is producing, it will keep producing as long as the climate allows. Pick the ripe peppers so that the plant’s energy can go toward new growth.

When to Pick Cayenne Peppers

Timing is critical for cayenne peppers. Once the skin of the pepper is firm and waxy, it’s good to pick. Pull a green pepper early for a taste test.

Harvest cayenne peppers according to your needs. For a mild pepper, pick the cayenne pepper as soon as the skin turns red and firm. As long as the pepper is firm, you can harvest it when it’s partially green. For a hotter spice, allow the pepper to ripen on the vine a little longer. But make sure to pick the pepper before it becomes soft to avoid pests.

Mild Spice Cayenne Pepper

For mild peppers, harvest your cayenne peppers early, when they are still green or have just turned red. When you harvest a pepper early, the pods don’t have a chance to develop. The result is young, mild pepper. Keep in mind that cayenne will continue to ripen after you harvest it.

Extra Hot Cayenne Pepper

If you want spicy peppers, leave the cayenne pepper to ripen as long as possible. The longer you wait, the hotter and more flavorful they will be. The end fruit should be bright red, plump, and firm. As soon as it starts to wrinkle, harvest your cayenne pepper. Some experts suggest waiting until the pepper has “corked” or split, really enhancing the flavor.

Remember as with most peppers, the smaller they are, the hotter they will be. If you want a less spicy flavor, remove the inside pods and seeds before cooking or preserving them.

Cayenne Powder

If you want to make a cayenne powder or hot sauce, harvest the pepper when it is red and firm but not wrinkly. Using a thread, connect the cayenne on a string and hang them to dry. Once the cayenne peppers become brittle in the sun, you can crush them into a powder.

Seeds for Future Planting

If you want to keep the seeds, allow them to mature into viable seeds. Let the pepper ripen as much as possible, even to the point of softening or wrinkling. Using gloves, remove the seeds—dry and store in a cool place.

Picking Cayenne Peppers

Tools You’ll Need:

  • Kitchen scissors
  • Gloves
  • Using kitchen scissors and gloves, cut any ripe peppers from the plant.
  • If possible, leave an inch of stem attached to the pepper. Be careful not to touch your face or eyes when handling peppers. Ripe peppers will be easy to pluck from the plant but use scissors to avoid damaging it.
  • Store your cayenne pepper in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. 

Things to Do With Cayenne Pepper

Since cayenne peppers are hotter than jalapenos yet not quite as hot as habaneros, they make for a versatile and accessible culinary partner. Utilize cayenne as a companion plant for those hard-to-grow veggies. Cayenne pepper has also long been used as an herbal supplement in weight loss and pain relief.

Culinary Uses

There are various ways to incorporate cayenne pepper into your kitchen. You can enjoy cayenne fresh, pickled, canned, or as it is most commonly recognized– as a powder.

Cayenne powder is great for stir-frys, Asian dishes, or simply in addition to salt and pepper. Whether you realized it or not, cayenne powder is in most of your favorite hot sauces and pizzas. And though we often use cayenne interchangeably with paprika or chili powder, cayenne powder is made from pure ground cayenne and is hotter.

Health Benefits

Pain Relief: Cayenne pepper is sometimes touted as a natural pain reliever. Cayenne pepper contains the compound capsaicin, which releases endorphins to help manage pain. In this way, cayenne peppers can be an excellent natural remedy for arthritis.

Healthy Weight: Cayenne pepper has several health benefits. Cayenne can boost metabolism. Additionally, cayenne can support natural weight loss by acting as an appetite suppressant in conjunction with a healthy diet.

Anti-Inflammatory: Cayenne pepper has long been revered for its anti-inflammatory properties. Capsaicin, the compound found in cayenne, can help with heart disease, circulation, digestive health, and cholesterol.

Vitamins: The fruit of cayenne pepper is high in vitamins A, B6, E, and C. Cayenne also contains riboflavin, manganese, and potassium, all of which are part of a healthy diet.

Additional Recommendations

Always Wear Gloves

Always wear gloves when handling cayenne peppers. The capsaicin from the cayenne can cause a burning sensation when in contact with your hands. Cayenne pepper is a natural irritant and can be harmful to your hands or face. Don’t allow the pepper to come into contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Clip Gently, Don’t Pull

Although the pepper will be easy to pull from the plant when ripe, carefully clip the pepper instead. When you cut the cayenne pepper away, you avoid bruising the pepper and uprooting the plant. When possible, leave one inch of stem attached to the pepper.

Have Milk Handy

It’s exciting to taste the fruits of your labor, but before you bite into that pepper, make sure that you’ve got some dairy on hand! If you’re not sure of the heat level, begin with a small bite. When things get too hot, have some milk or ice cream. The fat in the dairy will help to balance out the heat.

Related Questions

How long do cayenne peppers last once picked?

When stored at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, cayenne peppers can last up to three weeks. To get the most out of your cayenne peppers, don’t wash them before storing them in the produce bin of your refrigerator. Don’t even brush off that speck of dirt! That way, your cayenne peppers will stay fresh for weeks. If you’re storing your peppers at room temperature, they will last 1-2 weeks, depending on how ripe they were when you harvested them. Remember that peppers will continue to ripen even after picking. Check regularly to ensure that your peppers have not gone bad.

What can I do with cayenne peppers after picking?

There are many things you can do with cayenne peppers after picking. Try drying them and crushing them for cayenne powder, or use them fresh in sauces and stir-frys. If you’re feeling spicy, try making your own hot sauce!

Can you use substitute cayenne pepper for chili powder?

Chili powder usually consists of crushed red chili peppers and other spices such as garlic, cumin, and onion powder. The chili peppers used can vary, and the heat levels may vary as well. Chili powder is generally not as hot as cayenne powder, but you can get away with it in small amounts. In contrast, cayenne powder consists of pure ground cayenne pepper. Since the mixture is pure cayenne, it is usually much hotter than chili powder. If you need to substitute for chili powder, add garlic, onion, cumin, and oregano to your cayenne powder. Adjust heat level as needed. 

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Wrapping Up

Cayenne peppers are good to harvest once they are firm and their skin is waxy. But you’ll know it’s time to pick your cayenne pepper once the peppers turn from green to red. Some gardeners swear that cayenne peppers pick up the most flavor when you allow them to “cork” or split. But as a general rule, pick cayenne peppers early for mild spice, or leave them on the plant longer for more kick.

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HK Sloan
HK Sloan

HK Sloan is a freelance writer currently covering DIY Home Improvement, Health, and Lifestyle. Sloan is passionate about improving situations for less, whether it be working on mind, body, or home.

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