Banana peppers not only add flavor to your meals, but they add bright pops of color to the garden

Story by Darren Sheriff
@TheREALCitrusGuy on Facebook

Tropical fruits have always been a passion of mine, so when asked about veggies, I sometimes like to mix the two and mess with people’s heads. Today, we will discuss a member of the Capsicum annuum family, the banana pepper. The reason for their common name is pretty obvious. With its shape and color, the banana pepper does a really good impersonation of the tropical fruit. They grow 2-3 inches long, some as large as 8 inches, and their curved shape resembles a banana. Their color starts out green and matures to a greenish yellow or even a full yellow, again, just like a banana. They will occasionally turn an orange or even have some red hues as they mature. This is where the similarity ends, other than some banana peppers can be sweet and neither one of them likes cold weather. 

Banana peppers are usually yellow or chartreuse with a shape similar to that of a banana, thus their name. Photo by Jaykup (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Growing Banana Peppers
Banana pepper seeds need high soil temperatures to germinate, so you will need to start them indoors 40 days before your last average frost date or when you think you will be ready to plant them outdoors. You can grow banana peppers from seeds or transplants.

They need to be planted where the plants will receive full sun. If that is a problem, these peppers can easily be grown in containers. The best results will be obtained by using a pot that is at least 18 inches in diameter. To provide enough room for the roots to grow, the container should be at least 12 inches deep and have holes in the bottom and along the side to ensure adequate drainage. The type of container you use is a personal choice, but there are a few things you will need to consider. Terra-cotta pots are very pretty, but they tend to dry out faster than plastic. Terra-cotta is also much heavier and if you need to move it for some reason, you better have a handcart or a strong helper. Wooden barrels are nice, but will eventually decay. As for potting soil, there are many very good ones on the market, or you can make your own. It must be well-draining, but able to retain some moisture, and sturdy enough to hold up the plant. Any combination of peat moss, perlite, compost, sand, and very fine pine bark will suffice. Keep your plants moist, but not wet.

Hot or Not
The Scoville scale measures the “heat” of a pepper in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which are determined by capsaicin content. Peppers can range from zero SHU – not spicy at all – to SHUs in the millions. Law-enforcement pepper spray is in the 5 million range of the Scoville scale. Bell peppers have zero SHU and jalapeno peppers average 2,500-5000. Banana peppers range 100 to 500 SHU, spicier than bell peppers but much less spicy than jalapenos.

Uses of Banana Peppers
Many people think of banana peppers as a pizza topping, they are tangy and sweet, so their flavor mixes well with cheese and other toppings. Let’s say you’re really good at growing these things and end up with a bumper crop of banana peppers, you can always pickle or can them. That way you can enjoy your banana peppers all year round. They are especially good on top of hamburgers and hot dogs during the picnic season. One last use for these little treats, you have seen stuffed green peppers, I am sure. Not everyone likes the taste of bell peppers, so what about trying it with a banana pepper? They have a much milder taste than the bell peppers, plus they bring a really different flavor to this dish. You can stuff them with meat or go meatless by using rice, quinoa or some other meat alternative.

The most common way people eat banana peppers is on salads and sandwiches – simply wash, slice, and enjoy! Photo by Jennifer Williams.

Varieties To Look For
There are many varieties of banana peppers. For example, the ‘Bananarama’ is a large sweet banana pepper, measuring in at 8 inches. A smaller sweet banana pepper is the ‘Chilly Chili’, which looks a lot like a cayenne pepper, but is not hot. 

Beware of impersonators: ‘Hungarian Wax’, sometimes called ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ is often referred to as the hot banana pepper, whereas the banana pepper is often referred to as a wax pepper. One is hot, the other is not.

Banana peppers are bright yellow and turn shades of orange and red as they mature.

Pick banana peppers after they’ve turned from green color to the yellow color that you expect. Pick your peppers often so your plants will continue to produce. Use snips or scissors to remove the pepper from the plant, leaving approximately ½ inch of the stem attached. Don’t pull the peppers by hand because this will frequently damage the plant.

Happy Growing!

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