You may find yourself needing to ripen peppers off the vine if you are a gardener who has had to pick all their peppers at the end of the season. The situation may also arise if you can only find green peppers in your local produce market. Peppers can and do ripen off the plant, but they do it at a much slower rate than other nightshades, such as the tomato. Tomatoes ripen readily on or off the plant.
If you have the option, the best course is to allow peppers to ripen while still on the plant. If you don’t, there are still some avenues that you might try. Here’s the best way to ripen unripe peppers, along with a few tips and one debunked method to not rely on.
Using sunlight is the best way to ripen peppers off the vine
The best way to ripen peppers is to expose them to sunlight. Place your peppers in a warm and sunny spot to speed up the ripening process. The warmer the temperature of their environment, the faster the ripening process; you will get the best results at 70 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
Examples of ideal places for ripening peppers include a sunny windowsill or on a patio table. If all goes according to plan, they will start to change their color within a few days. Once they have ripened to the desired degree, you can place them in the refrigerator to preserve them. This can take a week or two, so patience is key.
When using the sunlight method, make sure that there is sufficient humidity or the peppers may begin to dry out and start wrinkling. You don’t want to go too far in the other direction as they become moldy if there is too much humidity.
Create a warmer climate using a cardboard box
You can also store the peppers in a cardboard box. This can help create a better environment for ripening as peppers tend to ripen faster in warmer areas. But it’s still a slow process (two to three weeks.)
The cardboard box method entails placing all the peppers in the box, spaced apart atop multiple sheets of newspaper. Place the box out of direct sunlight, but somewhere with decent air circulation (you don’t want the peppers to get moldy.) For instance, an open pantry shelf works. Monitor them over two to three weeks.
This can also work with a paper bag, but obviously it would hold fewer peppers than a cardboard box.
Choose the right pepper at the start for better results
There is no guarantee that you will be able to ripen a green pepper, but you can maximize your chances if you know how to pick your peppers. That’s true whether you are harvesting peppers from your backyard garden or buying peppers at the farmer’s market or from a store.
The main principle that you should keep in mind is this: When a pepper has started to ripen, it will usually continue to ripen.
Look for peppers that already have a little color. On peppers that will be red when fully ripe, this can show up as purplish or brownish areas early in the ripening process. Remember that to ensure that your pepper will change its color completely, you will need to keep it warm. Storing it in the refrigerator will halt its ripening.
The debunked (for peppers) “tomato in the paper bag” method
One of the most popular methods to ripen peppers off the vine is the paper bag method. You place the green peppers in a paper bag with a ripe tomato and close the bag. Supposedly, the presence of the tomato will cause the pepper to ripen more quickly.
There is a scientific principle behind this method, which is that the ripening tomato will release a phytohormone called ethylene. Ethylene is important to the ripening of many fruits so that withholding it or exposing fruit to it can speed up or slow ripening times; however, it doesn’t work for peppers. Scientists have found that ethylene exposure has no impact on the ripening of chili peppers. They studied habaneros specifically, but it holds true for other chilies as well.
That said, peppers can still ripen if you keep them in warm enough temperatures, so they might ripen if stored in a paper bag just because they are stored in a warmer area.