How to harvest & store chillies


Having studied organic farming, I enjoy trying out new cultivation methods and other gardening experiments with friends in our community garden. I care deeply about exploring sustainable and mindful approaches to working with nature. This is my biggest passion, but I am also a real ornamental plant enthusiast!

Favourite fruit: strawberry, mango, guava
Favourite vegetables: artichoke, tomato, rocket

Harvesting chillies with care is essential for getting the proper heat. This article will walk you through the process of harvesting and storing chillies correctly.

Harvesting chillies by hand
Harvesting chillies correctly requires a delicate touch [Photo: Puckpao/]

The correct harvesting of the fiery pods determines the heat and aroma of the chillies (Capsicum). Many chilli aficionados wonder at some time during the summer, “when do I need to harvest my chillies?” And “what is the best way to store my chilli harvest?” Harvesting chillies is simple if you follow a few guidelines and use your intuition. Read on to find out about harvesting chillies, from the best time to harvest and how to go about it to how to store chillies.

Chillies belong to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and, like peppers, to the Capsicum genus. Hot chillies are cultivars or varieties of the following five Capsicum species: Capsicum annum, Capsicum chinese, Capsicum baccatum, Capsicum frutescens and Capsicum pubescens. Experts estimate that there are between 2,500 and 3,000 chilli varieties worldwide.

What is most appreciated about chillies is their fiery, sometimes fruity heat. However, the precise ripening and picking of the chillies is critical. Keep reading to find out the secrets to chilli harvesting, so you can enjoy some fiery punch.

When to harvest chilli peppers

Unfortunately, one disadvantage of the amazing variety of chillies is that many types ripen at different times. A peek at the seed packet may be useful here: it is frequently specified how long it takes for the chilli variety to ripen. Otherwise, a search on the internet is worthwhile. The ripening times of the most popular chilli types are easily found online.

Ripe red chillies on the vine
A change in colour and a slightly shrivelled skin are two of several signs of ripeness

The colour of the chilli is another important indicator of when to harvest. Chillies begin to change colour at the top of the pod. The colour change continues downward from there. Once the pod begins to change colour, it will be completely coloured within a few days. When the chilli has completely changed colour, be patient and wait three to five days before harvesting. This will give it time to develop its finest flavour.

Tip: If your chilli plants are outdoors, the weather in our area sometimes puts a spanner in the works of the chilli ripening. In this situation, harvesting the chillies while they are still unripe is preferable to tolerating frost damage to the pods.

But not all chilli varieties are harvested red. ‘Jalapeño’ and ‘Serrano’ can also be harvested green. The varieties ‘Yellow Wax’ and ‘Hungarian Wax’ only turn yellow, but never red. So, finding the right time to harvest chillies is not so easy and requires practice and experience. Once the chillies have been harvested, they do not ripen any more, unlike tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum).

Ripe green Jalapeño chilli on the plant
Jalapeños are harvested while still green [Photo: Gatis Grinbergs/]

The following signals aid in determining how ripe the chillies are:

  • Colour change
  • The skin slowly becomes wrinkled and shrinks
  • The flesh gives slightly under pressure
  • Small, black spots appear

Tip: Before harvesting all of the chillies, pick one pod, and taste it. This ensures that the chillies have reached the perfect aroma and amount of heat for you.

How to harvest chillies

If you have finally decided that it is time to harvest, you have already completed the most challenging task. Take great care not to damage the chillies when picking them. Never break the chillies off. It is better to use scissors or a very sharp knife. Snip the chillies off in the middle between the stem and the plant. Do not be put off by small discolourations and black spots. These in no way mean that the chilli is bad or even inedible but are perfectly normal with chillies. Only heavily discoloured pods are no longer suitable for drying.

Harvesting chilli using a knife
When harvesting, be gentle and use scissors or a knife [Photo: Niyada/]

If you want to grow chillies again next year, you can collect the chilli seeds right after harvesting. To do this, cut a chilli pepper in half with a knife and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Lay the seeds out on a kitchen towel and dry. If you save your own chilli seeds, be aware that the next generation of chillies will no longer be true to the variety.

Tip: Wear gloves when removing the seeds from chillies. If you are extremely sensitive to heat and have a particularly hot variety in front of you, protective goggles may also be advisable.

Summary: How to harvest chillies

  • Use scissors or a sharp knife
  • Do not simply break off
  • Cut off in the middle between the pod and the stem
  • Black spots on the chillies are normal
  • Collect seeds straight after harvesting
Cutting open chilli pods with a knife
Cut the pods lengthwise to remove and save the seeds [Photo: Arissa Farrel/]

Getting the right level of heat in chillies

Although identifying the optimal degree of ripeness for chillies is tough enough, we now have to consider the degree of spiciness. While it is true that the riper the chilli, the more capsaicin – the component that makes chillies fiery. But when the chilli is fully ripe, it contains very little capsaicin. Paradoxically, the longer the chilli is left hanging, the less hot it becomes. It is best to find out for yourself which harvesting time is best for each specific chilli variety to satisfy your heat preferences.

Chilli preservation and storage

Freshly harvested chillies are best stored in the refrigerator. It is best to keep the pods uncovered rather than in a closed container, as condensation and mould can form. Fresh chillies will keep for several weeks in the fridge.

Pickled chillies in a jar
Chillies can be pickled in addition to being stored in the fridge or freezer [Photo: Agnes Kantaruk/]

If the chilli harvest has turned out to be exceptionally rich and you are unable to prepare all of your chillies at once, then there are numerous options for preserving them. The easiest method for preserving chillies is freezing. Chillies tolerate freezing very well, and frozen chillies can be used at any time like fresh chillies. Other ways to preserve chillies are drying, pickling, or canning.

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