It’s no secret that Americans love sampling exotic dishes from other cultures and then making them a dietary staple here at home. As a result peppers, a common ingredient in a variety of Asian and Latin dishes, are finding their way onto more and more American plates. Considering their delicious, zesty, flavorful taste they are a welcome addition. However, for peppers to pack the most nutritional punch, and for them to taste their best, they need to be properly cooled, stored, and handled.
General Facts About Peppers
There are many varieties of peppers, each with its own unique flavor profile. Some common, popular ones include bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapenos, cayenne, pimiento, and chili peppers. Though each of these peppers has its own distinct properties and culinary uses, there is much overlap with regard to proper harvesting, handling, cooling, and storage methods.
General Information About Cooling and Storing Peppers
One important trait that sets peppers apart from many other types of fruits and vegetables is that they do better in mid-range temperatures than many other types of produce. However, this also means that they are very sensitive to damage if temperatures are either too high or too low. Peppers also require careful handling to avoid sustaining physical damage.
Respiration – Like other fruits and vegetables peppers continue to respire after they have been harvested. This respiration in turn releases heat and if left unchecked it will hasten the ripening, color change, and decay of the pepper.
Temperature – Peppers should be stored at temperatures of about 45°F to 50°F. Above 50°F their respiration and degradation rate is much higher and they are subject to shrinkage, softening, and even the development of disease. However, below 40°F the pepper is subject to chill damage in the form of pitting, softening, and more rapid decay. Over-cooling can be just as detrimental to peppers as under-cooling.
Relative Humidity – Peppers require a high relative humidity of about 90% to 95%. Without enough humidity they will suffer water loss and reduced quality.
Handling – Pepper are typically harvested during hot summer months. This results in harvest temperatures that are often upwards of 90°F. Thus it is imperative that peppers be cooled within at least 1-2 hour of harvest. They should also be handled carefully and never left out in the sun or they may suffer from sunscald.
Storage – Peppers often require separate storage from other fruits and vegetables. This is because of both their preference for somewhat higher temperatures than many other fruits and vegetables as well as their sensitivity to ethylene. Ethylene is released naturally by many fruits and vegetables as a byproduct of ripening and it in turn further accelerates ripening. If peppers are exposed to ethylene their shelf life will be dramatically reduced.
Shelf Life – Under optimal conditions peppers can last for up to 2-3 weeks with little loss of quality.
Methods of Cooling Peppers
There are two primary cooling methods for peppers:
Forced-Air Cooling – Forced-air cooling is the preferred cooling method. It involves placing the peppers in a cooler on pallets and pushing chilled air through the pepper containers with the use of a fan. This forced circulation significantly reduces cooling time and helps chill the peppers more quickly and efficiently.
Room Cooling – The other major cooling method for pepper is room cooling. This involves placing the coolers in a chilled room such as a cooler and allowing them to gradually chill to the ambient temperature. However, room cooling is a much slower process than forced-air cooling and depending on the circumstances it may not be a sufficient method by itself.
Semco understands how important it is to protect harvested peppers with reliable, high-quality cooling and storage methods. We design and build customized cooling systems for our customers which can be perfectly tailored to fit the needs of pepper crops. This in turn results in better prices for sold peppers and improved quality and taste for end consumers.