Answer: Peppers can be eaten at any stage of maturity, but the best flavor comes from fully ripe peppers. Here are a few guidelines for picking peppers:
When possible, use the "days to maturity" on seed packets as an estimate for planning when to pick each variety of pepper. This information is also available on many websites that sell pepper seeds or plants. Usually the first peppers are ready to harvest 75 to 90 days from transplanting, but that will vary with differing growing conditions. Harvest can last into fall until frost.
Size and color give you the best clues about when to harvest hot peppers and sweet peppers. Most peppers will cycle through different colors and shades while ripening. As explained, fully ripe color will vary depending on the variety of pepper. Compare the color of those you suspect are beginning to ripen with others that are obviously immature.
Some chile varieties will develop "corking", or small stress stripes, on the pepper surface when they reach full size. This a great clue that peppers are ready for early harvesting. A few of the peppers which show corking are certain jalapenos, habaneros, Hungarian Hots, Chilcostles, and Fresnos.
Often the decision of when to harvest is influenced by the intended use of a particular pepper. Depending on what the ultimate use will be, the ?best? time to pick will vary considerably. Chiles to be pickled are often picked before they reach their final ripe color, so that they will stay crispy. For example, Jalapenos are most crisp when still green, so are most often pickled when mature and darkened green, but not yet red. Adding a few red Jalapenos when pickling makes a nice presentation. Serranos are usually used for salsas when green, versus red and mature. Sweet bell peppers are picked at every stage, but are especially sweet after turning ripe color. Cayennes are normally picked when red, and Habaneros are most often picked in the final ripe color for the particular variety.
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