There are many benefits to drying peppers, whether it be because you have an excess of peppers in your harvest or you simply want to save them for later use in cooking. Dried peppers can last quite awhile, anywhere between a few months to even years if you store them correctly. If you dry hot peppers, the process also increases their flavor and heat that takes any spicy dish to the next level.
There are a few different ways peppers of all kinds can be dried. The guide below will help you easily transition your peppers from fresh to dried, plus some tips for storing them as well as how they can be used for later.
Keep in mind that before you begin any of the drying methods, it is important to wash the peppers with warm water and let them dry completely. To intensify their flavor even further, you can soak them in boiling water for a few minutes before beginning the drying process, again allowing them fully dry after their soak. Use gloves to handle the peppers to prevent your skin from burning. Touching hot peppers and then touching sensitive areas of your body, such as your eyes, nose or mouth, can cause irritation and burning, even if you wash your hands after handling the peppers.
If you want your peppers to dry more quickly, you need to prep them accordingly. If you slice the peppers or remove their skin, they will dry faster. However, if you are drying the peppers naturally as opposed to in a food dehydrator or in the oven, slicing them too much or peeling them is not ideal because they will spoil more quickly. Drying naturally tends to take much longer than other methods, but smaller peppers tend to dry faster than larger peppers. Also, if you don't plan to string and hang the peppers as they dry, their stems can be removed beforehand to expedite the drying process.
Another thing to remember before beginning is that natural drying is safest to do with small and thin-skinned peppers, such as tabasco, Pequin and firecracker cayenne peppers because they dry more quickly and thus have a lower chance of rotting during the process. However, if you are going to dry larger or thick-skinned peppers, such as jalepeños and habeñeros, it is a good idea to slice them in half if you are laying them to dry and not hanging them. Thicker-skinned and larger peppers also dry best when they are placed in the sun to dry.
If you're looking for a method of drying peppers that involves little equipment or investment, drying them naturally either indoors or outdoors is a good route to take. For this natural method of drying peppers, you can either lay them out on a baking sheet or string them up and hang them to dry. Make sure they are placed in a space that receives a lot of sunlight -- if you are drying the peppers indoors, make sure they are under a sunny window.
If you're laying out your peppers, place them so they have space from one another and don't pile up. Rotate them at least once a day for a few weeks until they are completely dried. You also might want to consider buying a screen to protect them from insects if you are drying the peppers outdoors.
Stringing them up to dry takes a bit more work, but is overall more effective. To dry your peppers on a string, you will need heavy fishing line, a large-eyed needle and a hook on which to hang them. Begin by attaching the fishing line to the needle. Pierce the largest part of the stem with the needle and pull it through with the fishing line, sliding the pepper down until it reaches the anchor (the knot you've made at the end of the string to prevent them from falling off). Repeat this process with all your peppers. Once you're done, all you need is a place to hang them. If you want sun-dried peppers, hang them near a window. After a few weeks, your peppers should be completely dried.
You will know your peppers are done drying when they have become not only dry, but brittle. If any pepper shows signs of softness, rotting or spoilage during the process, discard it immediately.
Drying peppers in the oven will be quicker than drying them naturally, speeding up the process from a few weeks to a few hours or days, depending on the type of pepper. Simply place the peppers on a baking sheet in a single layer. You can cut them in half or slice them if the peppers are large or even just to speed up the process even more. The cut side of the peppers should be set face down on the baking sheet.
With the oven on a very low setting, place the peppers in the oven, leaving the door open a few inches to allow for air circulation and proper drying. Small peppers with thin skins should only take a few hours. Larger peppers or thicker-skinned peppers can take days to dry fully. After about an hour, it is important to check that you have the temperature setting right. If your peppers are getting soft or black, they aren't drying -- they're cooking. Turn down the heat and open the door another inch or so to combat this. Some ovens don't have the option to place at a low enough setting to dry peppers, which makes the oven-drying method useless. In that case, the natural method should be used instead, unless you happen to have a food dehydrator. If your peppers are drying correctly in the oven, make sure to rotate them every hour or so so they dry out evenly.
The fastest and easiest method of drying peppers is in a food dehydrator, so if you have this tool you should make use of it. Slice larger peppers before placing them into the food dehydrator, making sure to give each pepper plenty of room.
If your dehydrator has temperature settings, set it to somewhere around 125 degrees, and dry the peppers for anywhere between five and 12 hours. You should check them every hour or so because if you are drying both smaller and larger peppers, the smaller ones will dry faster and can be removed once they are brittle and the larger peppers continue to dry.
Dried peppers have many uses -- they can easily be ground up into seasoning, be used to make hot sauce, or added to any recipe including pasta, pizza, meats and even desserts. While many whole spices have a longer shelf life, dried peppers are best when they're used within a few months.