Peppers can be preserved by pickling, drying, or storing in oil. Of those three preservation methods, the oil option is the one that often confuses most people most often, as many folks have questions on how to do it, whether or not it’s safe, and its benefits.
To preserve peppers in oil, there are two popular styles. One is the traditional method that relies entirely on storing the pepper in oil in a sterilized and sealed jar. The other way is a hybrid method involving a pickling brine and oil, which allows for a longer shelf life.
In this post we provide guidance on how to preserve peppers in oil as well as best practices and safety tips for using oil as a preserving agent.
Three Steps to Perfectly Preserve Your Peppers in Oil
The process for storing peppers in oil involves two parts: first, you must prepare the peppers. Second, you must ready the jars where the peppers will be stored.
1. Prep the Peppers
It is best to start with the freshest batch of peppers you can find. The fresher the peppers, the more flavorful they will be when preserved. Once you have the peppers, the first step in the prepping process is to wash them thoroughly.
After the peppers are washed it’s time to cook them. Folks will differ in opinion on how to cook them but roasting, steaming, charring, sautéing all work—there is no wrong choice here.
Theoretically, you could even boil the peppers. However, since one of the reasons for cooking the peppers beforehand is to seal in flavors, boiling would be the least recommended path as flavors will leech into the water.
Our favorite method of cooking is to roast or char the peppers before steaming them and peeling off the skin. A good roast or char will give the peppers a deeper, more complex flavor that is really nice.
Before roasting or charring the peppers, you should cut them in half. You can remove the seeds and pulp if you want a milder pepper but leave the seeds and pulp in the peppers if you want a spicier taste.
Depending on the peppers’ size and how hot your broiler or roaster can get, this step can take from five to 15 minutes. What is important to note is that you only want to char the skin. You also want to roast the skin as evenly as possible.
Once the peppers have been charred or roasted, immediately place them in a paper bag, and close the bag tightly. In doing so, the pepper will undergo a steaming effect while inside the bag. Leave them in the paper bag for approximately 20 minutes.
This steaming effect will make the process of peeling the skins off easy. Of course, if you prefer to keep the skins on the peppers, you can roast or boil the peppers and skip the steaming bag step.
You can choose to preserve the peppers in their nearly whole state. However, to ensure more uniform coverage with the oil, it is best to cut the peppers. It can be a broad cut, such as halving or quartering the pepper. You can also slice the pepper into strips ranging from half an inch (1.25 cm) to one inch (2.5 cm) thick strips.
What About Preserving Uncooked Peppers?
Roasting or charring the peppers before preserving them enhances their flavor and kills some microbes. However, if you choose, you can preserve uncooked peppers in oil. To do this, first wash the peppers, dry them, and then cut them into thin slices. Then, you can sprinkle the slices with kosher salt and leave them to dry in a strainer over a bowl. The next day, you can remove the excess salt, and your uncooked pepper slices will be ready for preservation in oil.
2. Prep the Storage Jars
To safely preserve peppers in oil, you need to start with sterilized storage jars and lids.
For your safety, it is best to follow the National Center for Home Food Preservation guidelines. These guidelines state that you should boil the storage jars and their lids in water for ten minutes if you live in a location that is 1,000 feet (305 meters) above sea level or lower. If you live in an area higher than that, add one minute of boiling time for every additional 1,000 feet of elevation.
3. Pack the Peppers
Packing the peppers is the simple process of transferring your peppers to the sterilized jars and sealing them.
While this sounds simple enough, this is where published information on the subject can confuse those new to canning. It comes down to understanding the difference between classical preservation in oil and preserving peppers in an oil and acid marinade. These two different food preservation methods are frequently used interchangeably—especially when it comes to peppers.
Preserving Only in Oil
If you opt for the classical method, you place your peppers in the jars, allowing for a one to two-inch (2.5 to 5cm) gap from the rim. You then pour in your olive or canola oil, making sure to cover the peppers fully. You may add herbs or other aromatics to the jar.
The Marinade Method
The marinade method is viewed as a variant of preserving peppers in oil because it includes oil. However, oil is added primarily as a flavor enhancer. The main preservative in this type of pepper storage comes from the acid in the vinegar that is also used.
Packing the peppers is the same as the classical method. The only difference is that you only add two to four tablespoons (29.6 to 59.2 ml) of oil, filling the rest of the jar with vinegar before sealing it.
While some might see this as preserving in oil, in reality it is a variant of pickling.
Why Should You Preserve Peppers in Oil?
When you preserve peppers in oil, it results in a rich, flavorful product. The longer the peppers are stored, the softer they become, and their flavor does not fade. If preserved with aromatics, the herbs and other ingredients’ flavor infuses in the pepper, resulting in a tastier treat.
What Type of Oil Is Best for Preserving Peppers?
Olive and canola are the two oils used most frequently for preserving peppers.
Canola oil is less expensive than olive oil but lacks the flavor and essence of olive oil. For those on a tighter budget but who are still looking for the taste and nutritional advantages of olive oil, you can use commercial olive oil instead of a gourmet extra virgin olive oil.
What Peppers Can be Preserved in Oil?
Nearly every pepper variety you can grow in a garden or obtain fresh at a market can be preserved in oil. These include:
- Bell peppers
- Serrano peppers
- California/Anaheim chilis
- Hungarian wax peppers
- Arbol peppers
- Tabasco peppers
- Rocoto pepper
The important thing to remember is to use the freshest peppers you have available when preserving in oil.
How to Safely Store Peppers Preserved in Oil
Peppers preserved in oil—especially using the classical pure oil method—need to be kept refrigerated for optimal safety. Yes, the oil creates an oxygen-free environment, but the risk of contamination still exists. Make sure to properly sterilize the jars before packing the peppers in.
If you use the marinade method, the high concentration of acid from the vinegar will allow you to store it unrefrigerated safely.
Can the Bacteria that Causes Botulism Grow in Peppers Preserved in Oil?
Peppers are not acidic, so if they are preserved solely in oil and not refrigerated, the threat of botulism is present. While oil alone can create an oxygen-free environment to prevent other microbial contaminants, the spores that cause botulism prefer a low oxygen environment.
Peppers preserved in oil can be safely stored in the refrigerator for six months to one year provided that:
- The proper steps for sterilizing the storage jars were followed
- The peppers were roasted, charred, or otherwise heat processed before preservation
- The jars were sealed correctly
- The jars were refrigerated immediately
Preserving peppers in oil is one of the best methods to store peppers and maximize their flavor. However, when only oil is used without acid—such as vinegar—it offers a shorter shelf-life than other methods.
Ignoring the need for refrigeration can expose you to the risk of botulism. However, if proper sterilization protocols are followed for the jars and refrigeration is used, oil preserved peppers will hold for six to 12 months.