If you are growing cayenne peppers for the first time, understanding the best times to pick them, can be a bit confusing. After all, the picking time does depend on what you are actually using them for.
Cayenne peppers can be added to almost any dish for a little more flavor or a spicy kick. They are often used whole, in Mexican and Cajun cooking, for salsas, soups, vegetable dishes, gumbos, beans, and may also be dried and crushed, and used as a spice. Some people also like to pickle them or eat them raw.
The first question, new pepper growers usually have is, “When do I pick them?” As a general rule of thumb, remember that the redder they are, the hotter and more flavorful they will be. If you pick them green, they will have a milder flavor, and less heat.
Using Cayenne Peppers as a spice:
If you are using them to make a Cayenne Pepper spice, you will want the Cayenne Peppers to reach their full maturity. You will know they are ready to be harvested, because they will be 4-6 inches in length, bright red in color, and they will feel firm to the touch. After picking the ripe Cayenne Peppers, you can dry them, by stringing them together and hanging them, or by placing them in a warm oven (lowest setting) on a cookie sheet. When they have completely dried, you can crush them or grind them, depending on your preference.
Using Cayenne Peppers whole, in cooking:
If you are using Cayenne Peppers whole, to cook or prepare dishes with, you may want to harvest some while they are still green, and leave some to fully mature until they turn red. Cooked dishes are best made with bright red Cayenne Peppers, either fresh or dried. If you are planning on using them in a cold or uncooked dish, you may prefer to harvest them while green. They have a firm crisp taste, that is not too overpowering or spicy.
Pickling Cayenne Peppers:
If you are planning on pickling them either for taste or to preserve them, you will want to pick them when they are in the last stages of green, when the tips have started to turn orange. There are several different ways to pickle Cayenne Peppers, most of them using vinegar and water for a base. Some people like to add salt and other spices as well. Pickled Cayenne Peppers, are a great addition to cold or hot dishes, and the pickling process provides an extra tangy kick. In the South, sometimes only the liquid from the jar is used for cooking. Then the liquid is replaced with more vinegar, water, and spices, so it will be ready for next time.
No matter how you use Cayenne Peppers, you can expect them to provide you with a tasty, spicy, amazing flavor like no other pepper can.