Cherry peppers get their name from their appearance — they ripen into large, round, bright red fruits when they’re ready to pick. These peppers usually appeal to those who like either hot or sweet peppers because they’re a bit of both. Most cherry peppers feature a mild spiciness and a slightly sugary-sweet flavor. For this reason, many people like to pickle them and use them in relishes. When you’re choosing a batch of these peppers, you have a few options. You can choose fresh peppers, either in red or green, or pick up a jar of pickled cherry peppers.
When you’re choosing fresh peppers, keep in mind that most spicy peppers are much spicier when they’re green. If you love a good, hot pepper you may want to harvest your cherry peppers when they’re just about to turn red. They’ll be dark green with a few red streaks around the top and bottom. The peppers should also be firm, but not hard. Discard any peppers with blemishes, squishy spots, or wrinkled skin. These peppers are not good to eat and may not taste good.
If you prefer sweeter peppers, you should typically wait until you cherry peppers turn red. They’ll be about the size of a ping-pong ball and very bright in color. Again, discard peppers with blemishes and soft spots. These guidelines also apply to cherry peppers purchased at a grocery store or at a farmer’s market. Fresh cherry peppers can be added to salads, salsas, gazpacho, and some savory soups, such as tomato or butternut squash. You can also add them to cheese sauces and smoothies, if you’re adventurous.
Pickled cherry peppers are widely available in grocery stores. They usually come in a jar, with pickling spices and a salty brine. Many cooks enjoy these pickled peppers because they have a deliciously sweet-and-sour, salty flavor. Your choices for pickled peppers are also widely varied. Some versions contain only peppers, while others include other vegetables as well. Artichoke hearts, onions, and other types of peppers are common additions.
You also have a choice as to what kind of pickling brine you want to purchase. Some peppers are marinated in a sweet brine, while others are placed in salty or spicy ones. The label usually indicates what kind of brine you’re choosing. If it doesn’t, look at the label to see how much sugar is in the recipe. Most kinds of pickled peppers go well with antipasto platters, pasta salads, and inside pita or wrap sandwiches. Others like to pair them with steak, fish, and chicken, either as part of a sauce or side dish.