Food is Medicine: How and Why to Dehydrate Peppers
This season we’ve had a serious bumper crop of jalapeño peppers on the farm where I work, which is how I ended up with nearly 8 pounds of peppers last week. I had no idea what to do with all of them when I brought them home, but I liked the challenge of coming up with some way to preserve them. I settled on dehydrating.
Dehydration is an excellent method of preservation because it keeps your foods as close to raw as possible – nearly 100% of the vitamins and nutrients are retained. Even better, dried produce can have a shelf life of decades, because removing moisture inhibits the growth of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that would otherwise cause it to rot.
Hot peppers like jalapeño, cayenne, and habanero are much more valuable than for their flavor alone – capsaicin, the alkaloid compound responsible for a chili pepper’s heat, has been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-diabetic properties.
Jalapeño peppers actually contain more vitamin C per gram than raw greens, and they’re also a rich source of antioxidants and flavonoids. All together, hot peppers are a powerhouse medicinal food, and you’d do well to make them a regular part of your diet.
Here’s the best way I’ve found to preserve one season’s bumper crop of peppers for many years to come.
How to dehydrate hot peppers
What you’ll need:
- Cutting board
- Grinder (optional)
1. Rinse and slice the peppers.
When you’re working with hot peppers, I would highly advise that you wear some kind of gloves to protect your skin. Touch your eyes or nose after cutting up a pepper or twenty with no gloves and you’re in for a world of hurt. Others recommend covering your face during the process as well, but I found this wasn’t necessary for me.
Rinse the peppers well, then towel dry. Cut each pepper into roughly 1/4” slices, discarding the tip and the stem.
2. Dehydrate on medium heat.
Spread your slices on your dehydrator trays, being mindful to separate them and make sure they’re not overlapping.
We have a Waring Pro dehydrator which suits our current needs pretty well. I have heard lots of good things about the Excalibur brand but they're quite a bit outside of our price range. I believe that brand lets you dial in the temperature a little more accurately than with the Waring, which only gives Low / Medium / High options.
For hot peppers I use the Medium setting, which would translate to around 110 – 120 degrees with other dehydrators. Expect to let it run for 6-10 hours, depending on how thick you cut your slices. As a general rule, you’re better off erring on the side of “too dry” than “not dry enough,” so if you’re not sure, let it run a little longer.
3. Store in airtight container in a cool, dry place.
I keep my jalapeño slices in standard-issue Mason jars in the pantry, and they should last for many, many years this way. You could also vacuum seal them if you choose.
(Optional) Make hot pepper powder!
If you would prefer to use your dried hot peppers in powder form, that’s a cinch, too. For that you’ll need a grinder, like what you would use for grinding coffee beans. I have one of these and it has never let me down. Simply grind up your slices until you’re satisfied with the consistency, and then store just like you would cayenne powder from the grocery store.
In our modern era, we often have a hard time seeing the food we eat as medicine, because we’re trained to believe that medicine is a pill that a doctor gives you after you’ve already become ill. But by incorporating potent medicinal foods like hot peppers into our diet, we take a preventive approach to our own health and reduce our chances of getting sick in the first place.
About the Author
Sam Sycamore is a writer and homesteader located in Simpsonville, Kentucky. He helps tend to a small-scale market garden alongside his wife Brooke, while propagating edible perennials and raising chickens in their backyard. To learn more about Sam and Brooke's story, click here. Contact Sam here, and keep up with his daily adventures on Instagram @doityoursammy.