Cherry peppers are mild to moderately hot peppers that are small, round, and red, hence the name. Cherry peppers are commonly pickled and found on salad bars or in jars on grocery store shelves. They are most often used as a condiment, are part of an antipasto platter, or can be stuffed and made into poppers.
What Are Cherry Peppers?
Though the cherry pepper sounds like a sweet variety of Capsicum annuum, it does have a spicy profile, which can range in intensity depending on the variety; cherry peppers are 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale, coming in a little behind jalapenos. Some cherry peppers may lean on the sweet side while others will have more of a kick. Because of their firm skin, cherry peppers are one of the best peppers to pickle.
Cherry peppers are often confused with pimentos because of their similar appearance and use. Pimentos, however, are a lot less spicy and sweeter than the cherry pepper and are heart-shaped while cherry peppers are spherical. They do both offer a similar flavor and can be interchanged.
There are a few types of cherry peppers, 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.
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. But the pepper can also be used fresh, either diced up and tossed into an omelet or mixed in with ground beef to give burgers, meatloaf, or meatballs a colorful burst of mild heat and slight texture variation. Because the skin is thick and fibrous, it's not the best pepper to munch on whole when unpickled.
Before using, make sure you know what variety of cherry pepper you're working with; while many have a much lighter, milder flesh, some varieties are on the hotter side. If you want to assure the lowest level of spice, remove the seeds before using. Add minced cherry pepper to a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, or use in Southern pimento cheese. 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 They 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 5,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs)—less than a jalapeno or cayenne pepper. The walls of this pod tend to be a little juicier than other peppers but the skin is tougher, too. That's one reason you often find the cherry pepper pickled—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 pimento. You can also use cherry peppers raw the way you would other small peppers, replacing many types, from bell peppers to jalapenos.
Where to Buy Cherry Peppers
Chances are you won't see cherry peppers raw in the produce section of the supermarkets, but many gourmet or higher-end groceries will carry a jarred pickled version. Pickled cherry peppers may also be found on salad or tapas bars at stores like Whole Foods. The best way to find fresh, raw cherry peppers is during 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 if the jar is unopened, and for months in the fridge once opened. Fresh cherry peppers can stay in a cool, dark spot, but keep in mind that they will dry out over time. To keep the peppers from getting soft, place them in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator and use them within a couple of weeks.