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So, I keep running into this difficulty. I buy and use a lot of fresh chillies in my cooking, but sometimes the dish turns out, well, significantly worse and I cannot identify anything I am doing differently, at least, until I started suspecting the sometimes-soft chillis i'm buying from my local supermarket.

Smelling them, some smell different, almost sweet, and when bitten into, have an odd, bitter taste. Others don't have that smell, and taste how I would expect chillis to taste.

How do I tell if a chilli has gone off? Am I imagining this difference in taste? I've checked google but only found advice on growing chillis, not determining fresh from off, or even if they go off.

  • Is there a specific type of pepper you're using? I don't know that it matters but I'd bet that it might to some degree. – Catija Jul 7 '15 at 17:16
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When I buy hot chilies, I look for firm, uniformly bright (or dark, depending on the type) green specimens. Unless I'm in a big hurry, I pick through the pile and choose them individually. I avoid any that are soft, discolored (including the ends), missing caps (the part that attaches to the stem -- they spoil faster after this is removed), wrinkly or otherwise look damaged or old.

If your store doesn't have any that look bright green, crisp and plump, try to find a new place to buy them, or just buy them in smaller quantities and get the least disreputable specimens and use them immediately.

You want to buy chilies from a place that has a high turnover on them and most supermarket produce sections don't really do that much business in hot peppers, so they tend to sit for a while. My favorite place to buy green chilies is at Indian markets (the busier, the better for turnover), second favorite is other Asian food markets, then other specialty markets from places that like spicy food, then farmers' markets, then a long way down the list, regular grocery stores.

When I get them home, I clean them off by hand (remove any stray leaves or any bad ones I accidentally missed, etc) and put them in the fridge in a lightly closed baggie. If I bought a large amount (or if I happen to be growing them and have a lot ripe at once), I will sometimes freeze them. I have a small bag of frozen habaneros at home right now. The texture is most definitely affected by freezing, but the flavor isn't (unless you keep them so long that they get freezer-burned), so if you are planning to cook with them, freezing is perfectly fine.

I usually don't wash them before storing, just pick them over. I wash them just before using them, whether I get them from the garden, the store, the fridge or the freezer.

If I have chilies I'm not sure about, I do smell and taste them to see if they are ok. If they feel/smell/taste weird, I don't put them in the dish. I'd rather replace green chilies with red pepper powder instead of using something iffy.

  • agreed on the places with high turnover -- indian, asian, or latin markets near me (or the one supermarket that has a huge latin section as they cater to that market) have better turnover, better variety, and better prices for hot peppers. – Joe Aug 3 '15 at 21:46
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Signs that a chili is going past its prime:

Darkening of seeds:

Peppers (in general) have white-creamy colored seeds if they're fresh. If they start to darken, you want to use the pepper sooner, rather than later.

Softening of the outer body:

Peppers (in general) have a firm outer body & skin. If you poke them, and it leaves a dent, you want to use the pepper quite soon, rather than later.

Growth of spinal cord and/or limbic system:

Fresh peppers tend not to have them. Do not eat. Run.

I love peppers, and (disclaimer: to the best of my knowledge, and all varieties I've worked with), all peppers share the above qualities.

  • Peppers don't have spinal cords or limbic systems. Both of these are only found in animals because both of these are nervous system specific. – Caters Apr 23 '16 at 20:46
  • @Caters: Thanks for the heads-up. I'll be sure to put in a smiley or (attempt-at-)joke disclaimer next time, so it's easier to recognize it for what it is. – Willem van Rumpt Apr 24 '16 at 8:14

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