The most common way you'll find mild to moderately hot cherry peppers is pickled, usually in a jar on the shelf of a gourmet grocery store. This small round capsicum has never had a big following like its cousins the jalapeno and bell pepper, but the ingredient is prized as a condiment on salad bars and in sandwiches. Seek out the cherry pepper to add to your pantry and learn why you should be cooking with this specialized ingredient.
What Are Cherry Peppers?
Though the cherry pepper sounds like a sweet variety of capsicum, it actually gets its name due to the shape and color, not the flavor. Some cherry peppers may lean on the sweet side, but unlike the aptly named sweet peppers, it's not always going to hit those notes. Instead, think of it as one of the best pickling peppers. This is how you'll often see the colorful food, whole and packed into jars.
The cherry pepper has also been used as an ornamental plant since the pretty round balls are firm and offer an array of shades from yellow to orange to red. The mature pods will always be red, though you can eat them at any stage.
How to Use Cherry Peppers
The most common way cherry peppers are used is as a pickled condiment commonly found in sandwiches, on cheese boards, and atop salads. You can work with this food raw, either diced up and thrown into an omelet or mixed in with ground beef to give your burgers, meatloaf, or meatballs a colorful burst of mild heat and slight texture variation. Because the skin proves thick and fibrous, it's not the best pepper to munch on raw.
Often you will see this ingredient confused with pimento and the two can be used almost interchangeably. However, make sure you know what variety of cherry pepper you're working with since some are on the hotter side while many have a much lighter, milder flesh. Mince the pepper for a take on the Southern pimento cheese, or sprinkle into that grilled ham and cheese sandwich you're making for lunch. A side of pickled cherry peppers goes well with just about anything, especially fatty foods that need a little mouth-tingling pop to help break down the richness.
What Do Cherry Peppers Taste Like?
Like most capsicums, the cherry pepper is crisp with sweet, watery flesh. The heat can vary from not spicy at all to a mild burn that won't reach above 3,500 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs)—less than a jalapeno or cayenne pepper. The walls of this pod tend to be a little more juicy than other peppers but the skin is tougher, too. That's one reason you often find the cherry pepper pickled often—it holds up well to the preservation and maintains a bit of a crunch.
Cherry Peppers Recipes
This capsicum works great in most recipes that call for pickled peppers, especially when it's pimento. You can also use cherry peppers raw the way you would other small peppers. Try these recipes with cherry peppers and give mealtime a whole new twist.
- Gourmet Tuna Melt with Gruyere and Cherry Peppers
- Pimento Cheese With Green Olives
- Skillet Corn Medley With Peppers and Onions
Where to Buy Cherry Peppers
Chances are you won't see cherry peppers raw in the store, but many gourmet or higher-end groceries will have a jarred pickled version. You might even see the option in a nice salad or tapas bar at places like Whole Foods. If you really want the ingredient raw, the best way to find cherry peppers is in the late summer and early fall at your local farmers' market, especially if there is a vendor that specializes in pepper variations.
Pickled cherry peppers can be kept for years in the unopened jar and for months in the fridge once they're opened. If you're dealing with fresh cherry peppers, they can stay in a cool, dark spot, but keep in mind that they will dry out this way over time. To keep the peppers crisp longer, place them in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator and use within a couple weeks.
Nutrition and Benefits
Like most peppers, the cherry pepper is packed with immune system-boosting vitamin C. There's also a hearty dose of vitamin A, iron, and some capsaicin, a compound used to stimulate blood flow.
Many types of Capsicum annuum exist, all with varying degrees of heat. Besler's Cherry is a nice heirloom variety that's a little sweeter with a mild kick. Another sweet varietal is Cherry Pick, also an heirloom. The most popular hot option is the Cherry Bomb, which may be the spiciest a cherry pepper can get. If you're looking for this ingredient in the Caribbean you'll find it under the moniker wiri-wiri.
You may see information floating around that a cherry pepper is the same as a pimento, but this isn't true. The two capsicums are different, the former being spherical and the latter a heart-shaped plant. However, they both offer a similar flavor and can be interchanged.
Another thing to look out for is the Jerusalem cherry, which is not actually a pepper but looks a lot like the cherry peppers we've been discussing. This ornamental plant can be found all over, but though it looks pretty, it's actually poisonous. The best way to tell these two species apart is by checking the anther, the part of a stamen that contains the pollen. A cherry pepper's anthem is bluish while the dangerous plant sports orange coloring.