Chilli peppers can easily be pickled in a brine or vinegar solution, alone or with other vegetables and seasoning. The bright red-coloured chillies make attractive pickles. Certain varieties can be pickled as whole pods, while larger peppers are cut into strips.
Examples of small-scale pickled chillies:
Harvesting of chillies
Chillies are harvested at full maturity. Picking is done by hand at 7 to 14 day intervals over a harvesting period of about three months. The chillies are usually picked with the calyx and fruit stalk attached, in order to prevent bacteria and fungi from infecting the scar left by removal of the calyx.
Storage of fresh chillies (optional)
Harvested chillies may be stored for up to 14 days under cool, humid conditions, with good ventilation in order to remove the accumulating ethylene that will accelerate the fruit ripening and senescence. Storage temperatures of between 7 and 10 °C, and a relative humidity of 95% are recommended.
Washing of chilli peppers
The harvested chillies are washed in a water bath assisted with soft rotating brushes or by gentle jet sprays to remove impurities such as soil and insecticide. The wash water may be chlorinated up to 100 ppm chlorine. After washing, the excess water is removed by draining, spin-drying, or blow-drying.
Selection of raw materials for pickled chillies
Choose peppers that are firm, fresh, and free from damage such as bruises, blemishes, and insect damage. Pickling must be done as soon as possible after harvesting and an average of 4 kg of peppers is needed per canned load of nine 500 ml jars.
Only plain salt designated for use in canning or pickling should be used. Table salt must not be used as it contains additives that will make the pickling liquids cloudy, and the iodine in iodised salt turns the peppers dark. As the salt in the pickling of peppers is used for seasoning, it may be safely omitted by those on sodium restricted diets.
Only good, clear, standard vinegar, which is free from sediment with at least 5% acetic acid or 50-grain strength should be used. Distilled white vinegar aids in keeping the original colour of the peppers, whereas cider, wine and malt vinegar will darken the peppers a bit, although they may still be used if so desired. Unless it has been tested for the percentage acid, homemade vinegar must not be used. In order to prevent the loss of acetic acid, long boiling of the vinegar must be avoided.
Peeling of chillies (optional)
The chillies may be peeled if desired using the following method: slash between two and four slits in each chilli and then heat it in a gas flame or under a broiler until the skin separates from the flesh. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover, leave for between five and ten minutes. The skins will then slip off easily.
Pickling of chillies
Smaller peppers may be kept whole, but all peppers should be flattened to remove air, and larger fruit must be cut into quarters. The chillies are packed into the canning jars, leaving a headspace of about 1 cm. The vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and garlic (see recipe below) are combined, heated, and allowed to simmer for ten minutes after which the garlic is removed and the solution poured over the peppers, again leaving a 1 cm headspace. Any trapped air bubbles are removed from the jar by running a plastic knife or spatula between the food and the jar, after which the jars are wiped with a clean, damp cloth and the lids and ring bands secured.
A typical recipe would be as follows:
- 1,8 kg chilli peppers
- 0,7 kg green bell peppers
- 0,7 kg red bell peppers
- 1,25 ℓ vinegar (5%)
- 250 ml water
- 10 ml sugar
- 20 ml canning or pickling salt
- 2 cloves of garlic
Preparation of jars for pickles
For successful canning, carefully select and clean jars and lids, discard chipped or cracked jars and always use new lids. The ring bands may be reused, but replace any that are dented or show signs of rust. Clean jars with hot, soapy water and then rinse well.
Canning of pickled chillies
For the successful canning of the pickled chillies, the following steps must be observed:
- Prepare all lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Fill the cleaned jars with peppers leaving a 1 cm headspace.
- Cover the peppers with the hot brine, remembering to leave a 1 cm headspace.
- Remove air bubbles from the jars.
- Clean the outside of the jars after filling.
- Place a heated lid on the jar and secure it using the ring band. Again, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Place the jars in a water bath canner with a rack. The rack is used to prevent the jars from touching the bottom of the canner in order to allow the water to circulate around the jars. Add enough water to cover the tops of the jars to a depth of at least 2,5 cm.
- Begin to time the process when the water bath temperature reaches a gentle boil, at about 83 °C. Process the jars for the time indicated below, and do not substitute larger jars than those specified as this will result in the under-processing of the product and an unsafe end-product. At altitudes of higher than 305 m above sea level, the processing times will be longer, and the proposed times must be used to adjust the processing time accordingly.
- When the processing time has been reached and the jars are removed from the canner, hold them level and do not disrupt the seal. The ring bands must be left in place until the jars have cooled completely.
- For cooling, the jars may be placed on a rack or folded towel, away from drafts and cool surfaces and well separated from each other. The jars must be allowed to cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours, after which time the ring bands must be removed before storing the jars.
- If the jars have not sealed for some reason, they may either be stored in the refrigerator for immediate use, or reprocessed. Reprocessing lowers the quality of the end product.
- When the jars have cooled, check that all the lids have sealed properly. If the jars have sealed correctly, the lids should be concave and should not give when pressed in the centre.
The recommended processing time for hot pickled peppers in a water batch canner is as follows for pint size containers:
- 10 minutes at 0 to 1 000 ft altitude
- 15 minutes at 1 001 to 6 000 ft altitude
- 20 minutes at above 6 000 ft altitude
Labelling of vegetable products
Product must be correctly labelled according to the requirements set out in the Labelling and Advertising Regulation R2034/1993.
Published with acknowledgement to the ARC Agricultural Engineering for the use of their manuals. Visit www.arc.agric.za for more information.