How to preserve chile peppers

Chile peppers can add flavor and heat to almost any dish! Learn about the various ways to preserve your chiles to last all year round.

Photo of dried chile peppers
Photo by Coyot/

Chile peppers are a common ingredient in most of Hispanic cuisine. According to Michigan State University Extension (MSU Extension), they are native to Central and South America and are believed to be one of the first domesticated plants. They are versatile and can be consumed raw, cooked, grilled, or pickled. Chiles are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants such as vitamins A and C. They are considered a summer vegetable with peak harvest times during July through October.​ However, according to New Mexico State University, green chiles will turn red from September until frost. Chile peppers come in many varieties and range in heat from mild to extremely hot. Their heat depends on a chemical they contain called capsaicin. The more capsaicin a chile pepper has, the hotter the taste will be.

MSU Extension recommends wearing food-grade gloves for protection and to avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth, or nose when handling chile peppers to prevent potential burns. According to Colorado State University Extension, the inner veins with seeds contain most of the capsaicin and they can be removed to lower the heat, if desired.

Choose mature, soft, crispy chiles. Avoid chiles with soft spots, discoloration, mold, or shriveled skin.

According to New Mexico State University, chiles contain a tough outer skin. You can safely remove the skin by applying direct heat. First wash and dry the chiles, then cut a small slit to vent steam. Place chiles in the oven under the broiler for 5 minutes or until skin blisters so that it can be pulled away from the flesh. Turn over after the top side blisters. You may also use the grill or stove top. Allow the chiles to cool in a single layer then peel the skin when cool enough to handle. You may also plunge them in ice water to cool prior to peeling.

Blanching chiles is not required prior to freezing. You can choose to freeze with or without the skin. If you choose to freeze with the skin intact, first freeze the chiles flat on a baking sheet, then transfer them into moisture-vapor resistant freezer containers or bags and place immediately back into the freezer. Be sure to label and date.

If you choose to freeze chiles without the skin, you may apply heat to their skin until they blister (as mentioned above) and remove the skin. You may freeze them whole or diced. Place them into moisture-vapor resistant freezer containers or bags, leave ½ inch headspace, date, and label.

They will keep for up to one year in the freezer.

According to University of California, Davis, you may air dry your chile pods. Removing the skin is not necessary for drying the chiles. Tie a string to the stem of the chile and hang in a dry, well-ventilated room. You can also use a needle to thread the string into multiple stems. However, the high humidity levels in Michigan may result in failure of drying and cause spoilage before the drying process is complete. This air-drying method may also require up to 4 weeks.

Another option is to use the dehydrator. Wash chiles and pat dry. Slice as desired and place onto the dehydrator shelf. Dry the chiles until easy to break. You may also use an oven to dry the chile peppers. Set the oven to 200 degrees F and check chiles frequently for dryness. This may take 3-6 hours. Place the dried chiles in an airtight container and store in a dry, dark cool area. You may choose to use a food processor to grind the dried chile peppers to make your own crushed pepper flakes. You may also powder them in a blender to make your own spice.

Pickling and Canning
For full pickling and canning instructions, refer to MSU Extension Michigan Fresh: Hot Peppers factsheet.

For more information on the naming conventions of chile peppers, check out this article from MSU Extension. For more information on keeping your family's food safe, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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