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What are Fish Peppers and How to Use Them?

You may have heard of Fish peppers, but what are they? Are they real, or are they just a part of American folklore?

Fish peppers are a medium-hot pepper that are hotter than Jalapeños, but not as hot as Cayenne peppers. Fish peppers originate in the Caribbean but were brought over to the U.S. in the 19th century where they became particularly popular in African American communities in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

In this article, we’ll explore the history of the Fish pepper, the many uses for it, as well as a quick guide on how to grow them in your garden. Finally, we’ll let you in on a secret recipe for making your very own Fish pepper sauce.

Illustration of a Fish Pepper plant with Green and Red pepper pods
Photo by Maxim Tatarinov

What are the Key Characteristics of Fish Peppers?

The Fish pepper is a cultivar plant, which means it comes from a species containing many pepper varieties similar to it. In this case, it is within the Capsicum Annuum species. Here are a few of its most well-known cousins:

  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Cayenne peppers
  • Poblano chilis

Fish peppers are generally two to three inches long and about an inch wide. They come in a variety of colors from green, to orange, to brown, white, and red, with red being the hottest variety.

Brief History of Fish Peppers

The Fish pepper became popular in crab and oyster houses in Baltimore and Philadelphia in the late 19th century as a way of adding a bit of flavor to otherwise bland seafood dishes. They have gained popularity in recent years despite going somewhat out of favor in the 20th century.

The Fish pepper has become popular in recent years for its ornamental value. The two-foot-tall plant boasts full, white, and mottled green leaves that make it an attractive addition to any garden. The peppers come in a wide range of colors, adding to their broad appeal as an ornamental plant.

How Hot Are Fish Peppers?

Fish peppers can be very hot. It just depends on how mature it is. For example, the green ones are the mildest, while the mature red peppers usually pack the biggest punch. Fish peppers can range from 5,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units.

Like a lot of peppers within this species, the red and white varieties are the hottest. They are also the sweetest tasting. In contrast, the dark green peppers are slightly bitter and not quite as hot.

Photo of a farmers market with strung chili peppers hanging in the foreground
Photo by Phinizrl

Where Can I Find Fish Peppers?

It is very difficult to find Fish peppers, especially if you don’t live around the Mid-Atlantic region. You will not be able to get them in most grocery stores. About the only place to find them is in Mid-Atlantic farmers’ markets. However, you can find Fish pepper seeds online, so you could grow your own Fish pepper plant.

How to Grow Fish Peppers

Let’s face it, Fish peppers are hard to find, especially if you don’t live in a Mid-Atlantic state. So, if you’re craving these delicious peppers, one option is to grow your own. The good news is that you can grow them in pretty much any climate, as long as it is not during a freeze. These are the steps to grow your own Fish peppers at home:

  1. Start the seed indoors. Use a grow-light or set in a sunlit portion of your home. Sow the seeds in either a 16-inch pot or tray. Avoid deep planting.
  2. Cover the pot. It is best to use a plastic lid for this step.
  3. Use a heat mat under the pot. Pepper plants prefer bottom heat, and this step will help the plant germinate faster.
  4. Once the seed begins to sprout, remove the plastic covering from the pot. This will help the air circulate and provide oxygen for the plant.
  5. As the plant grows, keep the grow light on for 16 hours per day. Turn it off for the remaining eight hours. You can also keep your plant close to a sunlit window, instead of using a grow light, but a grow light certainly helps boost your plant’s growth.
  6. Water regularly but avoid soaking the soil.
  7. To move the plants outside, prewarm the soil. Do this by covering the area where you will be placing the seedlings with black plastic material for two weeks before planting.
  8. Plant the seedlings 24 inches apart.
  9. Use wooden stakes to stabilize the plants as they grow.

How Do You Use Fish Peppers?

Much like other chili peppers, you can spice up a lot of otherwise bland dishes using Fish peppers. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Serve raw. Slice lengthwise to add some zip to a snack of cheese and bread. You can also add them to a salad. Make sure to discard the seeds before slicing, because otherwise it could be quite hot!
  • Sauté them. You can pair sautéed peppers with your favorite foods, to add some additional spice to any dish.
  • Pickle them. You pickle Fish peppers and them as a topping to any dish.

How to Pickle Fish Peppers

Some people believe that the best way to enjoy Fish peppers is by pickling them. Here is a quick guide on how to pickle Fish peppers.


  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1.5 cups vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
  • 3 cups Fish peppers
  • 2.5 tablespoon pickling salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds


  1. Fill a one-pint mason jar with whole Fsh peppers.
  2. Slice the remaining peppers and place them in with the whole peppers. You can skip this step if you only want whole peppers.
  3. Combine the water, salt, vinegar, and spices in a saucepan and bring to a low boil.
  4. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes before pouring in the mixture over the peppers, making sure that the peppers are fully submerged. Seal and allow to sit in the refrigerator for one week before consuming.

Uses for Pickled Fish Peppers

Here are some common uses for pickled Fish peppers:

  • Add to your favorite sandwich
  • Add them to fresh salads
  • Use them to make hot sauces
  • Chop them up and sprinkle on pizzas
  • Make homemade salsa
  • Add as a topping to any dish to give it more flavor

In addition to pickling, you can also use Fish peppers to create a sauce or salsa. You can use these sauces as either salsa or over your favorite dish. It is best to refrigerate to keep their freshness intact.

Fish Pepper Sauce


  • 4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 20 Fish peppers
  • Table salt


  1. Cut the bottoms and tops off the peppers
  2. Blend the peppers in a food processor
  3. Mix in the apple cider vinegar with the pepper paste
  4. Add salt to taste and stir well

White Fish Pepper Salsa


  • 3.5 oz. white Fish peppers
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup finely chopped apple
  • 2 tablespoon table salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped pineapple


  1. Seed and chop the Fish peppers and put them in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add the pineapple, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and apple.
  3. Simmer on medium heat, covered, for 30 minutes.
  4. Puree the mixture, then return to the pan.
  5. Bring the mixture to a low boil.
  6. Stir in the salt.
  7. Pour into one-pint mason jars.
  8. Seal jars and store them in a cool dark pantry or closet until ready to consume.

Final Thoughts

Fish peppers have a long history of adding a bit of zest to otherwise bland dishes. Their sweet flavor is unmistakable, and their heat is unforgettable.

Although they are sometimes hard to find, don’t let that stop you from enjoying their remarkable flavor. Grow your own and see what happens. We guarantee, if you do, you’ll eventually get hooked.