Growing chillies is a popular pastime, and for good reason.
These plants are easy to get hold of, don’t require any specialist care to grow big and strong and, most importantly, they provide an ongoing supply of chillies to use in your cooking. And if you’ve decided to try your hand at growing chillies after finding your garden or kitchen lacking spice, you may be wondering how best to dry them – in this article we’ll give you a few answers to that question.
The tips in this article are good for all kinds of chilli, so whether you’re growing a regular old chilli plant from your local supermarket or a special-bought Carolina Reaper plant, you’re in good hands.
Why grow chillies?
First up let’s sing the praises of the humble chilli. These colourful peppers – ranging from green to orange to fire red – are from the capsicum family, which also contains bell peppers, sweet peppers, and all similarly tasty varieties.
Growing chillies at home is an easy way to ensure you always have something spicy to hand. While the plants don’t put out fruit year-round, there are many ways to preserve them to keep them usable until you need them.
Drying is one option, as we’ll see shortly. You can also freeze chillies either to defrost before you need them, or to plonk straight into a pot of chilli while it cooks. Note that if you go for the defrosting option they’ll go a little soggy, but they’re still good to eat.
How to dry chillies: Three ways to keep them fresh
Drying chillies retains their spice and flavour while extending their life, and is a great way to keep your supply fresh and usable. There are three main ways to dry them, which we’ll go through in detail in the following section. They are –
- Air dry your chillies
- Dry your chillies in an oven
- Using a dehydrator to dry your chillies
Let’s take a look at each one.
How to air dry chillies
To effectively air dry chillies you need to find a sweet spot in temperature: too hot and they’ll get crispy, too cool and they’ll go mouldy rather than drying.
Received wisdom is that this temperature is around 25°c, and the observant amongst you will notice that this is potentially prohibitive to us UK gardeners!
Don’t write this method off just yet, though. If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, the temperature inside will be a few degrees higher than outdoors: enough to make air drying viable for a little more of the year.
To air dry your chillies simply place them on a rack somewhere warm enough and leave them out until they’re dry. Some people recommend avoiding full sun, but this seems to be more preference than compulsory.
You can also string thread through the tops of your chilli peppers then hang them in bunches, like in the photo above.
Or, finally, you can uproot your entire chilli plant and hang it upside down from the roots! Obviously this hinders its ability to grow again next year.
When air drying chillies make sure to turn them occasionally to ensure all angles get their share of sunlight.
How to dry chillies in an oven
Drying your chillies in the oven is quicker than air drying, but it requires more energy input. If you’re keen to keep your gardening activities as environmentally sound as possible, bear this in mind.
To dry in the oven simply pop your chillies on a tray, making sure they’re not too cramped, and leave in an oven heated to between 100 and 125 Celsius. They’ll take at least six hours to dry, maybe longer. Check them by hand occasionally: if they’re crunchy and they begin to crumble under pressure, they’re ready to go.
Take them out, leave to cool, then put the dried chillies in a container for use later on.
We’ve heard stories of the kitchen air getting quite spicy when cooking and drying chillies, so be prepared for this outcome. You don’t want to accidentally mustard gas your housemates or guests!
How to dry chillies in a dehydrator
Dehydrators are appliances designed to remove moisture from whatever you put inside them. If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to dry your chillies, this is it.
Using a dehydrator is easy: you just slice your chillies into chunks small enough to fit inside, put them in, turn it on, and wait until they’re dry.
The end result here is the same as the other methods, and unless you already own a dehydrator it’s probably not the most cost effective option. If you’re planning to grow and dry chillies and other veggies fairly often, though, a dehydrator can make quite a good investment.
What to do with dried chillies
So you’ve got a container full of dried chillies… What now?
The most common option is probably to just drop a dried chilli or two to a pot of whatever you’re cooking, whether it’s chilli, pasta sauce, stew, or anything else. This is a great way to impart the spice and flavour to your recipe, while still having the option to remove the chilli once the desired level is hit.
You can also grind up dried chillies, whether in a pestle and mortar, with a hand blender, or even in a Nutribullet or similar. The resulting powder will capture the essences of the chillies’ flavour and spice, giving you a spicy and flavourful ingredient to use in all manner of cooking. Sprinkle a pinch onto some cheese on toast to give it a little kick, for example. Or work a couple of teaspoons through a ragu to make it particularly frisky.
Or if you don’t want the end result to be quite as fine as a powder, stop grinding a little sooner and you’ll have chilli flakes. These are just as versatile: great on pizza, great in marinades, and much much more.
Spice spice, baby
Growing chillies is one of our top gardening recommendations. The plants are attractive whether bearing fruit or not, and make a good conversation piece. Your friends will be interested to know which varieties you’re growing, how hot they are, and so on. You can even dare people to eat them if you want to liven up your dinner parties.
Then, once the chillies have borne fruit, you can deploy their spice and flavour in myriad dishes, whether fresh or dried. And if you go for the latter option, there are plenty of ways to get your chillies dried without them going mouldy. We hope this guide has been useful, and that your chilli-flavoured cooking exploits bring you only joy.