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A Fresno Chili Pepper Guide – Colors, Uses, Origins, and More

The Fresno chili pepper is a versatile hot pepper similar to the Jalapeño in size, flavor, and growing pattern. It can be used in many different recipes and has been a part of American cuisine since the 1950s.

The Fresno chili pepper is a sweet and spicy pepper that is often mistaken for the Jalapeño. It is native to Fresno County, California, and is commonly used to make salsas, sauces, and marinades. This pepper can be purchased in red or green varieties or grown at home.

This article will cover everything there is to know about the Fresno chili pepper, from the origin of the pepper, to recipes, to gardening advice if you choose to grow some of your own.

Photo of a red ripe Fresno chili pepper against a white backdrop
Photo of Michael Flippo

What are Fresno Chili Peppers?

Fresno chili peppers are small, hot peppers similar to the Jalapeño. They typically measure about 2 to 3 inches (5.08 to 7.62 cm) long and weigh about half an ounce (14.17 g). Fresno chili peppers have a glossy color and has flavor that combines both sweetness and heat.

These peppers are unique and can be sometimes be hard to find and are even sometimes mislabeled as Jalapeños. But if you’re on the western coast of the United States, you may find these peppers for sale at farmers’ markets or even at regular supermarkets.

Fresno chili peppers can be purchased either green or red. Green Fresno chili peppers are less mature than red, which means they’ve had less time developing spiciness and vitamin content.

Some farmers have learned that besides allowing the fruits to mature longer, there are other things they can do to make the peppers even spicier. Some of these strategies include ripping leaves (and even yelling at the plants!), which stresses them out. The theory behind this is that a threatened plant will build up its defense, in this case, spiciness.

Where do Fresno Chili Peppers Come From?

Fresno chili peppers come from Fresno County, California, where grower and seed merchant Clarence Hamlin first created the pepper in the 1950s. The peppers are still made and sold in Fresno County, California, where Hamlin’s nephew works as a seed merchant.

The Fresno chili pepper is a variation of the species capsicum annuum, and its relatives have existed in the Americas since 7,500 B.C. They have been cultivated in the Americas for at least 6,000 years.

What do Fresno Chili Peppers Taste Like?

Fresno chili peppers are sweet and fruity yet hot and spicy—about as spicy as a Jalapeño. However, they vary from pepper to pepper depending on how the plant was cultivated and how long the fruit was allowed to ripen.

Roasted or cooked Fresno chili peppers can have a distinct smoky flavor.

Dried Fresno chili peppers have a smoky, spicy taste, which is why they are commonly ground and then used as a spice.

Green vs. Red Fresno Chili Peppers

Green and red Fresno chili peppers are the same but differ in how much they’ve been allowed to mature on the plant. The fruits start of as green, but as the plants mature, the fruit grows to be redder and spicier. So, if you pick a green Fresno chili pepper, it will ripen without reaching its red stage.

The green Fresno chili pepper is less common and has a flavor that is more vegetable-like than sweet or spicy. The red has more flavor overall and is more likely to be chosen for cooking purposes. Both green and red Fresno chili peppers develop a smoky taste when they’re broiled or roasted and can be pickled or dried for long-term use.

Although red and green Fresno chili peppers are both high in vitamin content, red Fresno chili peppers have more vitamins A and C due to the longer time spent on the plant.

Are Fresno Chili Peppers Hotter Than Jalapeños, Habaneros, or Serranos?

Fresno chili peppers have about the same level of heat as Jalapeños and are not as hot as Habaneros or Serranos. See the following ranking of the relative heat ratings of these different hot peppers, measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU):

  • Habanero Peppers: 100,000 to 350,000 SHU
  • Serrano Peppers: 10,000 to 23,000 SHU
  • Fresno Chili Peppers: 2,500 to 10,000 SHU
  • Jalapeño Peppers: 2,500 to 8,000 SHU

Although these peppers are all significantly spicy, they’re actually much less spicy than others in the region, like the Ghost and Infinity pepper. See the following list of the world’s spiciest peppers for reference:

  • California Reaper: 1,400,000 to 2,200,000 SHU
  • Komodo Dragon Pepper: 1,400,000 to 2,200,000 SHU
  • Trinidad Moruga Scorpion: 1,200,000 to 2,000,00 SHU
  • 7 Pot Douglah: 923,889 to 1,853,986 SHU
  • Dorset Naga: 1,000,000 to 1,598,227 SHU
  • Naga Morich: 1,000,000 to 1,500,00 SHU
  • Trinidad Scorpion: 800,000 to 1,463,700 SHU
  • Naga Viper: 900,000 to 1,382,118 SHU
  • 7 Pot Brain Strain: 1,000,000 to 1,350,000 SHU
  • 7 Pot Barrackpore: 1,000,000 to 1,300,000 SHU
  • 7 Pot Primo: 800,000 to 1,268,250 SHU
  • Infinity Pepper: 1,067,286 to 1,250,000 SHU
  • Trinidad 7 Pot Pepper: 1,000,000 to 1,200,000 SHU
  • 7 Pot Jonah: 800,000 to 1,200,000 SHU
  • Ghost Pepper: 855,000 to 1,041,427 SHU

The unit of measurement used to rank these peppers—Scoville Heat Units—are based on the amount of sugar-water it takes to dilute mashed peppers enough so that you no longer feel the heat. This is based on a one-to-one ratio.

So, if a Fresno chili pepper has a heat index of 2,500 SHU, this means that one cup of mashed Fresno chili pepper would take 2,500 cups of sugar-water to dilute the spiciness. Because sugar counteracts spiciness, eating it is one of the best ways to reduce the spicy aftertaste of a hot pepper. You can also try beer, tomato juice, citrus fruits, and oil.

Many Fresno chili peppers laid out on a burlap cloth
Photo by Maneesh Upadhyay

What are Fresno Chili Peppers Good For?

Fresno chili peppers are great for cooking in everything from salsa to salads to cooked meals. Both red and green peppers can be eaten raw or cooked and used for similar purposes as a Jalapeño pepper. They can also be dried and then ground into a spice to flavor any dish.

Fresno chili peppers can also be dried and used as decorations, hung in strands along fences or patios, or at farmers’ markets. These are known as ristras and are said to bring good luck and good health. They can also be hung up as ristras for future use.

How do You Cook with Fresno Chili Peppers?

Fresno chili peppers can be chopped, minced, or pureed for use in salsas, soups, sauces, or marinades. They can also be roasted on a gas range for an extra smoky flavor. But if you roast them, be sure to remove the charred skin before you use them. Fresno chili peppers can also be chopped into rings as a spicy addition to a sandwich or burger.

One recipe from Prevention calls for Fresno chili peppers to be halved, seeded, and broiled, then stuffed with goat cheese, apricots and scallions. This makes for a low-calorie, flavorful appetizer.

See the recipe below:

  1. Toss six red Fresno chilis with 1 tbsp. olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Broil chilis in the upper third of the oven for about two minutes.
  3. Combine ¼ cup dried apricots, two chopped scallions, ¼ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper.
  4. Slice open the peppers and divide 1 oz. (28.35 g) fresh crumbled goat cheese between peppers.
  5. Spoon apricot mixture on top.

See the following recipe from Bon Appetit to learn how to make a hot sauce from Fresno chili peppers:

  1. Fill a large saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add 8-10 red Fresno chilis to the saucepan and cook for two minutes.
  3. Remove the chilis from the water and blend with six peeled garlic cloves and three tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
  4. Season with salt and let cool.

This recipe can be made ahead of time and can stay fresh for up to a week as long as it is covered and then chilled.

What are Good Substitutions for Fresno Chili Peppers?

If you’re looking for a substitution for Fresno chili peppers, you can use either Jalapeño or Cayenne peppers. Jalapeños are usually your best bet because they are similar in flavor, heat, and size to the Fresno chili pepper. However, Cayenne peppers also work well in salsas and hot sauces; they’re just quite a bit hotter.

Even though Cayenne peppers are hotter than Fresno chili peppers, they work very well as a spice when dried and ground and have a very similar smoky flavor. If you’re looking to substitute dried and ground Fresno chili peppers, Cayenne peppers will be your best choice.

Another option more common on the East Coast of the United States is the Holland chili, a pepper that’s very similar in shape, size, color, and spiciness.

Growing Fresno Chili Peppers

Fresno chili peppers are a great choice for the garden. They’re easy to cultivate, last for years, and produce many peppers per plant.

Fresno chili peppers can be grown at home either from seed or from seedlings and do best when they’re started indoors before being taken outside to the garden. They need to be spaced out at least 18-36 inches (46-91 cms) from each other once planted, with 2-3 feet (0.61-0.91 m) between rows. They can also be grown in containers, so long as the containers have enough room for their root systems.

When growing Fresno chili peppers, be sure to watch out for common diseases and pests that can get in the way of healthy growth. Common diseases include bacterial spot, mildew, and rot, and common pests include aphids and spiders.

If one of your plants becomes infected, clip the infected parts and re-pot the remaining plant into a new pot with fresh soil. You can also use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to effectively wipe away insects.

Are Fresno Peppers Hard to Grow? Where do They Grow Best?

Fresno chili peppers are not hard to grow, but they do take patience because they take longer than other similar plants to develop fruit. They grow best in warm climates, where temperatures are usually between 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit (27-29 degrees Celsius). They also do well in climates where there’s a good amount of rain, but you can make up for lack of rain with generous watering.

Fresno chili peppers are most common in the American Southwest, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where they originated.

How Long do Fresno Chili Peppers Take to Grow?

Fresno chili peppers grow slowly, only budding after a good 8-12 weeks after being planted. They reach maturity after about 60-90 days and sometimes longer. You can tell that the plant has matured when it reaches a height of about 3 feet (0.91 m) and starts to bear fruit.

When is the Best Time to Grow Fresno Chili Peppers?

The best time to grow Fresno chili peppers depends on the climate you live in. In temperate climates, the plants will do well if you start them indoors in the spring and then transfer them outdoors in the summertime. In hotter climates, you’ll want to start growing the seeds indoors in the winter, then plant in the early spring.

Are Fresno Chili Peppers Annual or Perennial?

Fresno chili peppers are perennials, meaning that the plant lives for more than two years once planted unless they’re left outside in the cold. If you leave your pepper plants outside during harsh winter conditions, they won’t make it to the next year. But if you bring them inside during the winter months, and overwinter them properly, you’ll be able to enjoy the plants for several years.

Photo of Fresno chili peppers in a white bowl ranging in color from green, yellow, orange, and red
Photo by Swan555

Will Fresno Chili Peppers Ripen off the Plant? How Long Does it Take for the Fresno Peppers to Ripen?

Fresno chili peppers will ripen off the plant but do better overall if they’re allowed to ripen on the plant. They ripen more slowly than other nightshades like tomatoes, taking about two to three weeks if stored in a warm area. But if the peppers are stored in a sunny area, this process may take as little as one week.

One recommended way to ripen Fresno chili peppers indoors is to pull out the entire bush and hang it to ripen upside down in a warm, dry place. This is an effective way to allow the fruit to ripen on the vine while hastening the process.

If you harvest a green Fresno chili pepper and then ripen it off the plant, it will not mature into a red chili pepper. It will ripen and become sweeter and more edible, but it won’t develop the same level of spiciness, nutrient content, or color as the red variety.

Can Fresno Chili Peppers be Grown in Pots?

Fresno chili peppers can be grown in pots. The best way to do this is to use a 5-gallon (18.93-liter) pot, about 12 inches (30.48 cm) deep, filled with potting soil that allows for good drainage. The pots can be stored inside or outside the home, so long as the plants are never subjected to heavy wind or cold temperatures.

If you’re growing your peppers in pots, try using compost or another fertilizer to ensure that the plants have all the nutrients they need. Tomato fertilizers work well for Fresno chili pepper plants if you can’t find a fertilizer cultivated for chili peppers.

You’ll need to add this fertilizer before planting and then again once the peppers begin to appear on the plant. This gives the plant a boost in growth when it needs it most: when it’s just getting started and when it’s doing the work of producing fruit.

Can Fresno Chili Peppers be Grown Indoors?

Fresno chili peppers can be grown indoors as long as they have plenty of sunlight, are watered regularly, and have big enough pots to make room for their root systems. Growing Fresno chili peppers indoors is a great way to guarantee that these plants survive through the winter.

If you do grow your Fresno chili plants indoors, take these tips into account:

  • Check to see if the soil is dry 2 inches (5.08 cm) down into the pot before watering. Indoor plants tend to need less water than outdoor plants, and overwatering is a leading cause of root rot and other life-threatening diseases.
  • If you’re growing plants indoors just for the winter, don’t use fertilizer. This is still a dormant period for the plant, and it won’t need it.
  • Clean each plant’s leaves to avoid dust accumulation, which can get in the way of photosynthesis.
  • Keep the plants away from heat registers or cold windows (but not so far away that they can’t receive sunlight).
  • Increase the amount of humidity surrounding the plant. You can do this by standing the plant on top of a saucer filled with water and rocks (provided the pot is not sitting in the water). Or you can simply use a humidifier.
  • Once warm weather is around the corner, use fertilizer or compost to prepare for the warm weather season. Increase the amount of fertilizer as the weather grows warmer.
  • Refresh the soil every now and then by removing the plant from the pot, trimming the roots, and reinserting it into fresh soil in a new pot.

Do Fresno Chili Plants Need Support?

Fresno chili plants can generally stand on their own, but they sometimes need support towards the end of the growing season once the fruits have begun to develop and the plant has reached its full height. This is especially true if you live in an area that’s particularly windy or prone to thunderstorms.

If you do provide your plants with supports, make sure to use a sturdy material like wood or bamboo, and stake it at least 6 inches (15.24 cm) into the ground near the plant. It’s best to do this while the plant is still young so that you don’t disturb the root system.

How Much Sun do Fresno Chili Pepper Plants Need?

Fresno chili peppers need at least six hours of sunlight every day, or else they won’t produce peppers. However, this is just a minimum. Fresno chili peppers can do well with even more hours of full sunlight, provided that they have enough water to keep them from drying out.

This is because Fresno chili pepper plants have small leaves, in contrast to the large leaves of shade plants that can make the most of low light conditions. Fresno chili pepper plant leaves also have chloroplasts that take turns in the sunlight, hiding behind each other for shelter when they’re processing their stored sunlight.

Because Fresno chili peppers need so much sun and water, it’s important that other plants don’t crowd them. Ensure that you weed your garden regularly if your peppers are planted outside to prevent them from being starved.

Harvesting and Storing Fresno Chili Peppers

Knowing when to harvest Fresno chili peppers is key to growing the kind of plant you’re looking for. You can cultivate your peppers to be sweeter or more nutritious simply by recognizing the signs that the plant is or isn’t ready for harvest. If you want a less spicy flavor, you can harvest your peppers when they are green. But, if you want to the sweeter, spicier flavor that Fresnos are best known for, you should wait until they reach the classic red color.

After you’ve harvested your Fresno chili peppers, you can either eat or cook them fresh or store them for long-term use. There are many different ways to do this, but the most popular ways are drying and pickling.

How Big do Fresno Chili Pepper Plants Get?

Fresno chili pepper plants grow to about three feet in size when they reach full maturity and vary in how wide they grow. If you want a bushier plant, start clipping the growing tip of the plant once it reaches about 6 inches (15 cms) in height. Removing flowers as they develop is another way to conserve the plant’s energy and encourage it to grow taller and wider.

How Many Fresno Chili Peppers do You Get per Plant?

For each Fresno chili pepper plant, you can expect about 20-50 peppers to develop. You can increase the number of peppers that grow each season by eliminating early flowers on the plant, which divert the plant’s energy away from fruit production. These plants grow a lot more fruit than Bell pepper plants, which generally produce about 5-10 peppers per plant per season.

When to Harvest Fresno Chili Peppers

You can harvest Fresno chili peppers as soon as they’re firm to the touch, but you can also leave them on the plant to ripen until they change color. If you wait to harvest them until after this has happened, you’ll not only have a sweeter and spicier product, but you’ll also have peppers that are higher in vitamin C.

How Long do Fresno Chili Peppers Stay Fresh?

Once ripe, Fresno chili peppers only stay fresh for about a week, even if you store them in the refrigerator. If you want your peppers to last for a long time, consider preserving them by pickling or drying the peppers before putting them away. Both of these methods change the pepper’s flavor overall but keep the characteristic spiciness and sweetness.

What is the Best Way to Store Fresno Chili Peppers?

Fresno chili peppers can be stored unwrapped in the refrigerator short term or pickled or dried for long-term storage. To pickle peppers, simply combine the peppers with two cups of boiling vinegar and your choice of seasonings in a jar, then allow to cool. The pickled Fresno peppers can then be used in soups, stews, or pizzas or as a condiment for sandwiches.

There are a few different ways to dry Fresno chili peppers for long-term storage. The first way is to simply place them on a wire rack or string them across a dry, well-ventilated room. If you choose this method, your peppers will be dried and ready to be ground into powder or used as ornaments within a few weeks.

A faster way to dry Fresno chili peppers for long-term storage is to bake them for several hours at a low temperature in your oven, 100 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to 57 degrees Celsius). If you choose this method, it’s a good idea to keep the oven door slightly open to allow for some airflow.

You can also use a dehydrator like the NESCO Snackmaster to dry your chili peppers. This method will dry your peppers overnight and will work faster if you slice the peppers first. For more on how to use a dehydrator to dry your chili peppers, see the following video:

Closing Thoughts

Fresno chili peppers are a versatile and nutritious fruit that are easy to grow and that can be cooked in many delicious ways. They can be purchased green or red but are sometimes hard to find outside of the western coast of the United States. Growing them yourself is a good way to ensure you have a constant supply of this delicious pepper variety.