If you know me personally then you know that we, as a household, grow what most people would consider an excessive amount of peppers. All kinds, typically at least a dozen different varieties each year. My husband uses our spicy peppers to make an assortment of culinary concoctions, but tends to focus mostly on blending fiery hot sauces or grinding powders for rubs and marinades. The easiest way to ensure you’ll have your favorite peppers for years to come is to save seeds from your preferred cultivars. Bonus? Peppers are one of the easiest veggies from which to save seed; no sacrificial fruit and no fermentation necessary.
Pepper seeds are viable once the fruiting body has transformed to its fully-ripe color. In the case of the Scotch Bonnets shown here, the fruit changes from green to a vibrant yellow-orange. Buena Mulatas turn from bright purple to rich red, Golden California Wonder bell peppers mature to a sunny yellow and classic Cayennes convert their green pods to crimson. Even peppers that are often consumed when green, such as jalapenos, change color when fully mature. If you are planning to save seed, you should let your peppers remain on the plant until they have undergone this chromogenic transformation to ensure thorough development of the seeds inside.
Once your peppers have turned color it’s time for seed saving and eating/processing. You’ll want to wear some latex or nitrile gloves if you are saving seeds from hot peppers. Capsaicin (C18H27NO3) is the component in chili peppers that gives them their spice. It is an irritant for mammals including, but not limited to, humans and squirrels. I know this seems like an odd list but squirrels are often deterred from bird seed when hot chili powder and/or crushed pepper flakes are added. Use that little tidbit to your advantage, you can thank me later.
Avoid touching your face (especially your eyes) when handling hot chilies.
Once you have cut your peppers open, you’ll see that most of the seeds are attached to a cream-colored membrane on the inside wall of the pepper. The seeds can easily be shucked off onto a plate or piece of parchment paper. Try to arrange them in a single layer for quicker drying. I’ve learned the hard way that labeling can prove very helpful if you’re saving seed from multiple varieties at once. (What were those ones again?!) Leave the seeds to dry in a warm spot out of direct sunlight for about one week. At the end of the week, test dryness by bending a seed in half. If it is dry it should break, if not it will fold over without snapping. Once dry, seeds can be stored in an airtight container, ideally between 40-50°F.
And the rest of the pepper? Put it to good use!! Above I have some photos of my dehydrating process (125°F for 8-12 hours depending on the thickness of the peppers) as well as a shot of Dan’s first Caribbean inspired hot sauce of the season. Scotch Bonnets, papaya, garlic and more — delicious!
Saving pepper seeds, like other veggies we’ve discussed here on the blog, is a very simple process. If you are concerned that you didn’t wait long enough through the color changing process, you can always test viability by putting a handful of seeds on a damp paper towel and storing it in a Ziploc bag in a warm place for a week or so. If your seeds have been saved properly, they will germinate and you’ll see little white roots protruding from the seed casing. I tend to work in multiples of five for easy calculation of germination rates. If you have any questions about the pepper seed saving process, feel free to comment below. Cheers, friends!