Earlier this year, my husband read an article about a cute little Japanese pepper that foodies are loving! The next thing I know, he’s ordered seeds and we’re growing shishito peppers.
The appeal of the shishito pepper is simple: it has great taste, and it’s small size and thin skin make it easy to work with in the kitchen.
Plus it has a surprise element in that 1 in 10 of these peppers is hot! And that makes serving it at parties extra fun!
We’re countryfied foodies, so when we hear about a new veggie getting rave reviews in the culinary scene, we like to jump on board. But we don’t just want to eat it, we want to grow it!
So we planted our first crop of shishito peppers this year, and there’s no doubt they’ll be making an appearance in 2018 as well.
What are shishito peppers?
Shishito peppers are a Japanese heirloom pepper variety with a crisp fruity sweet pepper flavor and just a tiny hint of heat and smokiness that is brought out by cooking them.
Padron peppers and shishito peppers are not the same. Shishitos look similar to Padron peppers and are prepared in a similar manner. However, shishito peppers have a more wrinkled shape and are less spicy than Padrons.
But are shishito peppers hot?
Although they are a sweet pepper, they can be mildly hot. And about 1 in 10 is crazy spicy which makes eating them a bit like playing Russian roulette.
On the Scoville scale, shishito peppers fall in the 50-200 range. For comparison, a jalapeno is 2500 to 4500.
So that means most people will notice, but not be concerned by, the heat in a shishito pepper.
My husband made me some blistered shishito peppers this spring, and I was hooked after the first bite! They tasted like a more delicious version of a grilled bell pepper with a smokiness from the blistered skin.
Honestly, I just sat down with the full plate and ate them all by themselves.
My husband told me to pick them up by the stem and eat the whole pepper in one bite. For a girl, it’s a good mouthful, but I devoured them one after the other until…
I got a hot one.
And when I say hot, I mean my eyes started watering, my nose started running, and I couldn’t talk or swallow. I just had to sit there crying and drooling until it went away.
Now, I love hot peppers, and I can take some heat. But holy moly that was hot!
At least my husband and kids got a good laugh out of it.
I’ve eaten shishito peppers several times since then, and I never got one that hot again…thankfully!
Cooking with shishito peppers is simple because they don’t need any prep. You just cook them whole-stems, seeds, and all! Their small size means they soften deliciously on the grill, stove, and in the oven.
Growing shishito peppers is very rewarding.
In our garden, the shishito pepper was a standout plant. It’s a compact, sturdy, and easy to grow plant. And boy is it productive!
It held up to our southern heat like a champ and wasn’t phased by pest or disease pressures.
The pepper itself is a small finger-shaped fruit with deep wrinkles. It will turn from green to brown to red if left on the plant. However, they’re usually harvested and prepared while still green.
How to grow shishito peppers
You’ll most likely need to start a shishito pepper from seed, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t.
We bought our seeds from Buckeye Pepper Co last year, but you can find them at many other online retailers.
Starting shishito pepper seeds.
Start your pepper seeds indoors 8 weeks before your last frost date. Pepper seeds need warm soil to germinate so use a heat mat or the top of your fridge for the first few days until they sprout.
Once they have sprouted, they need off heat and into the light.
Your sunny window will keep them alive, but stronger healthier plants grow from seedlings set under a grow light. Keep the light down really close to the seedlings. Just a couple of inches above the leaves is great.
During this time, they just need to have even moisture and good light. Room temperature is fine at this point, but if they’re close to a window it could still get a bit cold.
Harden off your seedlings
In the last week before you plant them outdoors, set them outside in the sunshine for a few hours every day. This is a process called hardening off, and it gives them a smoother transition from the safety of the indoors the garden outside.
Shishito peppers adapt well to container gardening, raised beds, and planted directly soil.
Plant peppers in a container or your garden where they’ll get 6-8 hours of sunlight, and bury them level with their root ball.
Give them a boost with an organic fertilizer every 4-6 weeks, and get rid of pests with neem oil or spinosad in the worst case scenario.
Harvesting shishito peppers
Shishito peppers are usually harvested young. They should be shiny and green. If you prefer red peppers, you can let them mature on the plant.
Personally, I thought they were best green to brown color, but if you’re growing them at home why not try some of all?
Once they’ve been harvested, they’ll hold for a few days on the counter. Like all peppers, they are best eaten while their skin is still firm.
You can cook your fresh peppers or preserve them by pickling or fermenting.
If you’re a market gardener, you should be growing shishito peppers in 2018!
This pepper is hot on the culinary scene, and it’s making its way from big cities into the suburbs and rural farmers markets. If they haven’t already, people in your community are sure to come looking for them next year.
They’ve traditionally been difficult to find in some areas and the prices have reflected that! I found them on the internet for $7-9 per pound!
It’s rare to be able to grow something as prolific as the shishito pepper and get that kind of price at the farmer’s market. So definitely get a few plants in the garden next year!
Now let’s move on to the good part: cooking shishito peppers!