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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

Storing and Processing Chili Peppers: The Complete Guide



Everybody loves to have an abundant supply of chili peppers all year long. We use chili peppers in literally dozens of different recipes to add intense spice and flavor. What stinks is that chili peppers are available only for a particular short harvest season.

A lot of people prefer to grow their own chili peppers. Since taking care of chili peppers is not much of a hassle, these fruits (yes, chili peppers are fruits!) simply thrive, resulting in an overflowing supply of chili peppers. Even if you were to use chili peppers in every meal, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll use up all your fresh chili peppers before they go bad.

It’s definitely a big no-no to allow chili peppers (or any other food) to go to waste; the only way to keep them usable the year-round is to learn the basics of preserving them. Chili peppers need to be preserved properly so they can last for up to a year or longer. Keep reading to learn about different ways to store chili peppers so they’ll be available in your kitchen all year long.

bunches of hot chili peppers hanging to dry against a white wall
Processing and storing your chili peppers is a cinch.

How to Harvest Chili Peppers

The first rule when it comes to harvesting chili peppers is knowing when they are actually ripe.

There are several types of chili peppers you can grow, but you can always follow a general rule to know when to best harvest any of them.

Your chili plant typically produces ripe chili peppers between 2 to 4 months after planting. You will know when it’s time to harvest them when you observe that the seeds have finally matured. It’s best to consistently harvest individual chili peppers as they become ripe to encourage the chili plant to produce even more. If you want to have an even bigger supply of chili peppers, pick more chilies!

To harvest chili peppers, follow these three easy steps:

  1. Wear gloves to protect your hands while picking hot peppers. The plant’s oils can trigger and irritate sensitive skin. You also need to avoid the residual pepper from making contact with your eyes. Using gloves is your best option–just keep your hands away from your face while you’re working with chili peppers in any way.
  2. You can use either a sharp knife or a set of garden clippers to cut chili peppers off the plant.
  3. If you accidentally pick unripe chilies, remember that they can continue to ripen after you harvest them. Simply place them in a sealed container with a ripe banana–the banana’s ethylene can encourage their ripening–to make them edible.

How to Store Chili Peppers

When it comes to storing chili peppers, no matter which method you use, it’s best to begin the process as soon as you have picked the fruit. It is not recommended to leave them hanging for weeks before you start the process. To store chili peppers successfully, you need to preserve them quickly and properly, as we explain below.

How to Store Chili Peppers in the Refrigerator

If you want to keep hot peppers for a week or so, then one of the best things you can do is to store them in the refrigerator. You can’t expect to extend their longevity if you just toss them in the fridge, though; you need to follow these steps to store them correctly.

  1. First things first: check all the chilies and discard the spoiled ones to avoid ruining the rest.
  2. Wash the chili peppers, then dry them using a paper towel (or allow them to air dry).
  3. Pull the stems out of the chilies gently. Remember that you don’t need to use a sharp knife. A gentle tug should be enough. Removing the stems helps prolong the chilies’ shelf life. Refrain from slicing or chopping the chilies, as this, too, will reduce the shelf life of these fruits.
  4. Store the chilies in an airtight bag or container before placing them in the refrigerator.

How to Store Chili Peppers in the Freezer

Freezing chili peppers is the best option if you want to effectively preserve your abundant chili harvest. Completing this process properly will save chilies for a much longer time than simply refrigerating them: frozen chilies will last up to six months, properly stored. Oh, and there’s no need to cook the chilies before freezing; however, you may choose to peel them instead.

  1. From your pile of fresh chili peppers, choose which ones have no signs of rot or spoilage. Throw away the others.
  2. Wash the chili peppers and allow them to air dry or dry them off with a clean paper towel.
  3. Gently remove the stems. There is no need to use a sharp knife for this.
  4. Slice open the peppers and remove the membranes and seeds, if you wish.
  5. You can choose to either chop up the peppers or freeze them whole.
  6. Place the peppers inside freezer bags, ensuring that the bags are as empty of air as is possible.
  7. Place the freezer bags inside the freezer.

How to Store Dried Chili Peppers

Drying chili peppers will keep them the longest: up to five years! If you follow the correct method of drying them, you’ll have chili peppers to spare for a long time to come. You can follow any of these proven ways below to dry chili peppers.

  • Store your dried chili peppers in an airtight container. Airtight containers allow dried chilies to best maintain their flavor due to the absence of oxygen. Storing them this way also helps the fruits keep their texture. Additionally, it’s essential to keep the container away from light when they’re stored at cool temperatures, as chilies tend to degrade quickly in these conditions.
  • Store them inside the freezer. Freezing dried chilies is the best way to maximize their shelf life. The freezer is the best place to provide a low temperature without the presence of any circulating air. When you store hot peppers in the freezer, the number one rule is to make sure you always keep them inside the freezer bags.
  • Refrigerate rehydrated dried chilies temporarily. Before you use dried chilies for your favorite recipes, you need to rehydrate them by soaking them. This rehydration process takes 30 minutes or more. If you want to have a smoother and faster process, you can rehydrate the chilies, then refrigerate them temporarily until you need them.
clear glass bowl of hot peppers
Freezing dried chili peppers will make them last up to five years. We recommend removal of the stems before storing.

How to Dry Chili Peppers

Drying chili peppers is a good way to preserve a long-term supply of chilies.

There are three best methods of drying chili peppers.. You can choose which one works the best for you in terms of the process, materials, and time.

The Basic Method

  • Wash the chili peppers first, making sure to remove any dirt.
  • Place them on a plate or rack in a dry room. You also can choose to hang your chilies to dry (it works just as well, and serves as a cool decoration, as well!).
  • After a few weeks, you’ll have dried chilies for you to grind or use as ornaments.

Drying Chili Peppers in the Oven

  • Wash your chili peppers to remove any kind of dirt.
  • Cut chilies in half lengthwise to check the insides of the pepper.
  • Arrange the chili peppers on the baking sheet.
  • Bake the chilies at around 100 to 135 degrees.
  • You do not need to set the time for this. You only need to check on the fruits every few minutes and leave the oven door slightly ajar to provide some air.
  • Keep your chilies in the oven until they are completely dry.

Drying Chili Peppers in the Dehydrator

Using a dehydrator is the easiest and simplest way to dry chili peppers. You only need to keep them, prepared as above (cut in half with stems removed) inside the appliance overnight, and it dries them to perfection using its soft heat. We have a good article on the best food dehydrators on the market.

How Long Do Stored Fresh and Dried Chilies Last?

When fresh chili peppers are properly stored inside the refrigerator, they will last for a week. It is best to keep them directly inside the fridge using an airtight container after your harvest or purchase.

On the other hand, once fresh chili peppers are stored in the freezer using freezer bags, they remain in good quality for up to 10 to 12 months. However, they remain to be safe for usage beyond those months.

Dried chili peppers have a different story. Once they are stored in the right conditions, either in the freezer or pantry, they can surely last indefinitely.

Do Dried or Stored Chilies Go Bad?

Stored chili peppers will be in great condition if they are stored properly in the fridge or the freezer. However, once it passes its shelf life, you may notice spoilage signs, such as discoloration, soft texture, and foul smell. When this happens, it is always best to discard your chili peppers.

Dried chili peppers, on the other hand, can last for a long time once stored correctly. It does not necessarily go bad, yet it can lose its flavor or go bland before it becomes bad.

What Can I Do with Extra Chilis?

To ensure chili peppers don’t go to waste, we’ll give you some (we hope new!) ideas about what to do with your extra chilies.

  • Make a chili powder. You can do this once you have successfully dried your chili peppers. Keep this on-hand for chili night instead of buying the store-bought kind.
  • Make a hot sauce. If you have the time to explore how to do it, you can make your own hot sauce through fermentation. It may be time-consuming, but it’d be very cool to find out what surprising or unique ingredients you can incorporate in your hot sauce aside from chili peppers.
  • Make a fresh salsa. Who wouldn’t say no to a well-loved Mexican sauce paired with a taco? All you need is fresh tomatoes and extra chili peppers, and you’ll experience the best flavors this side of the Rio Grande.
  • Create a spicy syrup. Flavored syrups can definitely bring an interesting, spicy, and elevated cocktail experience to life. You can make a simple habanero syrup and add it to your favorite fruit cocktail.
  • Make a simple and delectable appetizer. A favorite bar food is jalapeno poppers. Have you ever tried making them at home? If not, find a recipe and use up some of those hot peppers!


Sadly, there’s only a short season for fresh chili peppers yearly. Still, there’s always a way to enjoy an abundant supply of chili peppers all year long by following hot pepper preservation basics.

You can extend both your fresh and dried chili peppers’ shelf life if you store them properly. You only need to figure out about how often you need chili peppers and which method and process of storing them will work best for you.

What matters most is that you won’t be letting any chili peppers go to waste, since you’ll now be storing them properly in the fridge or freezer and maximizing your extra chilies in the best and most creative ways possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep chilies fresh longer?

You can keep chilies fresh for a longer period by storing them properly through the refrigerator or the freezer. If you plan on storing them in the fridge, here is what you need to do:

  • Ensure to wash them first to get rid of dirt.
  • Gently take out the stem.
  • Place them inside an airtight container.

If you prefer to freeze your chilies, you can follow the same steps above but only place them inside the freezer bags afterward.

How long do fresh chili peppers last in the fridge?

If you prefer to keep your chili peppers inside the fridge, you need to remember how to do it properly. You need to first ensure that the chilies are clean and dry. Next, you need to take off the stem gently. There is no need to use a sharp knife for this. Lastly, place them inside an airtight container. Once this process is followed correctly, you can expect your chili peppers to last for a week inside the refrigerator.

Can you freeze fresh chili peppers?

Yes, you definitely can. If you have many chili peppers left and wish to store them for future use, freezing them is your best bet. To do this properly, you only need to follow these four easy steps to freeze: First, you need to wash your chili peppers and remove all the dirt you can see. Second, remove the stems gently. Next, slice your peppers into half if you wish to or chop them. Lastly, place chilies inside a freezer bag and ensure it has no air inside.

What is the best way to preserve hot peppers?

The answer to this question depends on your preference: do you want to extend the chilies’ shelf life for the coming week or long-term? If you wish to only prolong the chilies’ longevity for a week, you can store them inside the fridge using an airtight container. However, if you wish to have a supply of chili peppers all year long, freezing them is your best option. Use freezer bags to ensure that air cannot pass through.

What to do with lots of chillies?

This question is common for those who have an abundant supply of chilies. If there are lots of chilies, it is also equivalent to the many ways you can do with it. One of the simplest things you can do with extra chilies is creating your own hot sauce. This way, you can control the level of hotness and add other ingredients as you wish. Also, you can make homemade chili powder to add as toppings or supplementary ingredients for your favorite recipe.

Does freezing chillies make them hotter?

The truth is, it does not make your chilies hotter. We could not blame you for thinking that way too, though. During freezing, the actual process involves rupturing of chilies’ cell walls, resulting in the release of capsaicin to the whole batch. Therefore, the heat is, rather, well-distributed but not necessarily increased. One essential piece of information to note when you freeze chili peppers is that their natural shape and texture may slightly change.

Additional Resources

Image Credits via Flickr: Pedro Nuno Caetano; mathplourde

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Rose Reinhard

Rose Reinhard is a Thai-American foodie from Chiang Mai, Thailand. She's been a creative writer since she could speak and enjoys making vegetarian/vegan dishes and reading about food science. She claims her air-fryer is the best purchase she’s ever made to date.

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