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The sun is hot and there’s not a cloud in the sky, why not add some extra sizzle to your days by sun drying some chili peppers?
Sun drying is an ancient method of food preservation. There is nothing worse than watching your beautiful harvest rot away because you are simply unable to use everything up. Unless you have some superhuman ability to consume large quantities of chili peppers without breaking a sweat, you will probably need to look at ways of preserving them for future use.
Why dehydrate chili peppers?
Chili peppers don’t have a long shelf life, so regardless of whether you store them in the fridge or on the kitchen counter, they won’t keep longer than 2 weeks. In contrast, dried chili peppers can last for up to 1 year if stored properly.
Drying chilies can bring some versatility into your kitchen. You can crush them to make chili powder or a spice rub, add them to a soup or stew or use them to infuse your favorite oil. Some people even create beautiful, vibrant chili pepper ‘ristras’, which is an arrangement of chili pods on a long thread commonly used to decorate the kitchen or dining area.
Things to consider prior to sun drying
- Which drying method you want to use
- Your outdoor space
- Materials you will need
- Weather and access to direct sunlight
There are 2 standard methods that you can use for sun drying chili peppers. You may choose thread the pods onto a string and hang dry them or you can lay them out onto a flat surface.
Your available outdoor space
If you live in an apartment, your outdoor area is quite windy or you do not have sufficient space, hanging the chilies up to dry may be the best option.
If you have more space available, you can lay your chilies out flat.
Materials you’ll need
If you go the flat method, you’ll want trays made of stainless steel or stone, or mesh or wire. Avoid using aluminum as it may provoke a negative reaction with the acids in the chili peppers.
See my post on the best rimmed baking sheets.
For the hanging method, you will need a needle and some sturdy, cotton thread or fishing line. If your chilies have their stems, you can tie the thread firmly around each stem instead of using a needle.
Once you have chosen the method you would like to use, you need to check the weather forecast. Ideally, you want a row of hot, sunny days with a low chance of showers as well as low humidity. You also need to look around your outdoor space and choose an area that has the most exposure to direct sunlight.
Preparing the chilies
Just to be on the safe side, I highly recommend using gloves when handling chili peppers. Some chilies can be so potent that it takes more than just soap and water to get their oils off of your fingers.
Start out by sorting through the chili peppers and remove any rotting, mushy, slimy or foul-smelling ones. Rinse the remaining chilies to remove any dirt or dust and towel dry them. Your peppers are now ready to be dried.
Fancy crushed red peppers in a melty cheese panini? Here are the best commercial panini presses.
Whole or halved?
Although drying chilies whole is the easiest method, it will take the chilies longer to be fully dried. To increase drying speed, you may want to cut each chili in half, lengthwise, or remove the skin through blanching. Cutting the chilies is generally only used when laying the chilies flat to dry. Stringing chilies are almost alway done whole.
Use the best knives when you cut your chilis.
I’ll show you my pick.
Since dehydrating chilies increases their pungency, some people choose to remove the seeds to bring down the heat factor. Whatever you decide to do will depend on how you intend to use your chilies once they are dry.
Ready to hit the sun
Unlike using a dehydrator or an oven, both of which will run up your energy bill, the sun is free and there is nothing like outdoor ventilation.
When drying, airflow is critical. Make sure that your chili peppers are spread out evenly and are not overlapping one another. If you chose to string them up, you should ensure that there is some space between each chili pod.
Proper spacing will allow the sun’s rays to toast your chilies evenly.
How long until they’re dry?
The length of time it will take for your chilies to be completely sun dried will depend on the intensity of the sun and the humidity levels. If your chilies are cut in half and you are lucky enough to get a few dry, hot days, your chili peppers could be ready in as little as 3-5 days. If you are drying whole peppers, it may take 2-3 weeks. When completely dried, the pepper should be somewhat fragile, yet you should be able to bend it slightly without breaking it.
The day has finally arrived. Your beautiful chili peppers are nice and toasty, ready to be used or stored away. Dried chilies can be stored in a Ziploc bag, jar or airtight container.
As with any dehydrated fruit, you need to ensure that you store the chili peppers in a cool, dark and dry place away from humidity or moisture. If moisture seeps into the bag or container, your chili peppers could become covered in mold.
There are countless ways to dry your chilies. Using the sun is free and easy. When you’re done, you’ll have peppers that will last a long time, and are always ready for any dish.
Next I’ll show you how to cook baby back ribs in the oven.