Hot Pepper Varieties

Make homemade salsa with these hot pepper varieties and learn some of the basics of how to grow hot peppers in your own backyard.


| July/August 2013


Salsa popularity has spread like wildfire, though today’s fresh salsa need not be red, nor even include tomatoes. The one essential ingredient shared by all salsas is peppers — everything from sweet, saucy or sassy, to hot and spicy.

A few decades have passed since my first encounter with salsa. Back then I bought salsa at the supermarket. It was good, but I decided that homemade salsa prepared with vegetables fresh from the garden would kick that taste up to sensational.

Hot pepper varieties

After looking at a few dozen recipes, the one thing that stood out is that each recipe had only one variety of pepper, and it was usually jalapeño. As a recipe developer, I knew there was more excitement to be had than just one pepper could give. For example, there are hot pepper varieties that can add just a touch of sweetness, some that turn up the heat, and others that deliver intense flavor.

So why settle for just one variety? After all, the perfect salsa is complex, with a range of flavors that includes an aromatic sweetness along with both spice and heat. Having grown more than 50 varieties of peppers, I’ve discovered a tantalizing class of premium pepper varieties that will bring perfection to any fresh salsa. Whether you like your salsa simmering or sizzling, the recipe to salsa success begins with choice hot pepper varieties worthy of being called “salsa peppers.”

Salsa pepper showdown

Sweet peppers: Forgo the bitterness of “green” peppers. The key to sweeter, more flavorful peppers is to leave the fruits on the plant until they fully ripen to a richly colored mature stage. If your sweet peppers stay green and never fulfill their colorful destiny, you’re growing the wrong variety. Varieties that will color up fast even in cooler climates include bell-shaped Ace; dark crimson red Italia; cone-shaped, glossy red Lipstick; wedge-shaped and very productive Gypsy; and the sweet Italian, thick-skinned Cubanelle.

Here are some additional favorites, although they may take a week longer to fully mature than the early bird varieties listed above. Heirloom Corno di Toro, also known as Horn of the Bull due to its shape, ripens to a flaming red or brilliant yellow — depending on the variety — cone-shaped pepper even during a cool summer. Banana Supreme produces prolific flavor, despite our typically cool Pacific Northwest nights. And if you fancy the shape of a bell pepper, Red Beauty produces heavy yields of bright red sweet peppers in almost any area of the country.





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