Drying is a common method of preserving peppers. In hot, dry climates, peppers were traditionally dried by simply hanging them in a sunny spot. Modern dehydrators and ovens can also be used to dry peppers. Spicy chili peppers are commonly dried and used as a cooking spice, either chopped or ground into a powder. Sweet peppers can also be dried and made into powder or flakes to add color and flavor to food.
Dried peppers are a convenient ingredient commonly used to add flavor, color and heat to food. Any pepper can be dried as a way to preserve the fruit for later use. Once dried, peppers can be stored for years, but the delicate flavor is best when used within six months to a year.
Paprika is a spice that is made from sweet red peppers. After harvest, the red peppers are dried and then ground into a powder. The color varies considerably depending on the intensity of the color in the peppers. Paprika is used predominately to add color to food, but the mild, slightly earthy flavor contributes to the dish as well. Traditionally, paprika comes from Hungary, but commercial production is common in Spain, South American and California as well.
Cayenne powder is made from dried, spicy red chili peppers called cayenne peppers. The dried peppers are ground into a spicy powder that can be used to add heat to food. The spice in different cayenne spices varies depending on the quality and heat of the dried peppers used. Dried whole cayenne peppers can also be chopped up and used in cooking.
Dried peppers in flake form can be made from sweet red peppers or chili peppers. Pepper flakes made from sweet peppers can be added to salads and other dishes as a topping to add color and subtle flavor. Dried pepper flakes made from chili peppers add color and intense heat to food.
Chili peppers can be hung to dry outside in the sun or indoors in a dry, warm room. The peppers usually are left whole, and the stalks are used to string the fruits together. Strings of red chili peppers hung to dry outside houses is a traditional image in the American Southwest and parts of Mexico and South America. The peppers can also be spread out on a clean cloth or sack and dried in the sun.
Given the larger size and higher water content of sweet peppers, they are better suited for drying indoors in the oven or a food dehydrator. To prepare for drying indoors, both hot chili peppers and sweet bell peppers should be washed, and the stems and seeds removed. Small chili peppers can be left whole or cut into sections. Large sweet peppers should be cut into strips for drying.