I read in a cookbook once that chillies are only ripe when they are red. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not that simple and there are a few factors you should consider when deciding to pick your chillies.
- Ripeness: ‘Size’ is the best determiner of maturity of a chilli. Every variety will have an average size. You’ll be able to identify the mature size because chilli plants usually produce lots of chillies. They’ll grow to a certain, mature size…for that particular variety…and then they will stop getting bigger. It’s at that mature size when they will have reached the point of maximum flavour and full heat. Obviously, any chilli that has changed color to its final colour (red in many cases) is ready to pick also. So you can pick them green or pick them red…just look at the size of the pod and make sure it’s mature.
- Tradition: Some chillies are traditionally picked red. Cherry Bomb’s are a good example. Some are traditionally picked green such as the Jalapeno and Serrano.
- Use: Another factor in deciding when to pick is probably the most important. What is the recipe? What is the flavour you’re trying to achieve? Red chillies, like red tomatoes, have increased sugar and the flavour is actually a little sweeter. I think the flavour evolves when the chilli changes colour. Also, what does the recipe call for? Verde means green in Spanish so if you’re making a Verde Sauce chances are you should pick your chillies green.
The other thing to keep in mind is your plant. It works very hard to produce you this delicious chilli. Once that chilli reached full size it will likely take another three or four weeks for it to change to its final colour. So the plant will be using its energy to sustain that same fruit for another month; however, if you pick a chilli green the plant will divert that energy to producing another chilli. This means if you wait for all of your chillies to turn red before you pick them you will actually reduce the overall yeild from the plant. I always suggest that people start picking their chillies as soon as they can. This gets the plant into a cycle of flowering, fruiting, and picking and you will maximize the yeild of your crop from that plant. Pick them red or pick them green, its up to you.