Learning how to dry habanero peppers allows home cooks to preserve fresh chilies for up to one year and create tasty, spicy dishes without relying on store bought blends. While drying peppers is easy, proper selection and handling is an important component of the process.
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Before touching habanero peppers, wear gloves to protect your hands from the natural oils that create the heat within these vegetables. These oils, called capsaicinoid compounds, can be severely irritating to the eyes and mucus membranes so be careful not to touch your face while handling the peppers. If gloves are not available, wash your hands thoroughly in warm, soapy water to remove all traces of the hot oils from your hands.
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Whether choosing habanero peppers from the home garden or local market, it’s important to select a pepper that is free from any soft spots since this can indicate spoilage. Check for any mold or discoloration and discard peppers that give off an unpleasant odor. Select peppers that have a firm, shiny skin and are blemish-free.
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Preparing for drying
Chili peppers can be dried whole or halved. Halved pieces will dry quicker, if time is a factor. If cutting in half, slice the stem off the top of the pepper with a sharp knife and cut the pepper lengthwise down the center of the vegetable. The seeds may be removed or left intact.
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Drying peppers outside
Figuring out which method to use when learning how to dry habanero peppers depends on what equipment is available, what time of year it is and where you are located. If the climate is agreeable, the habaneros can be strung up by their stems in a sunny area outside or in the house where fresh air is available. Do not make the strands tightly wound as the peppers dry best when there is good airflow.
The habaneros can also be dried by laying them out in a single layer on a sheet or cardboard surface in direct sunlight. This method works best if several days of sunlight will be available in a row. Turn the peppers regularly to check for spoilage and for even drying. Outdoor drying can take two weeks or longer, depending on the weather. A habanero pepper is sufficiently dry when it has a brittle, tough feel to the skin without being hard. A slight, uniform flexibility is okay.
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This method is easy, but dependant on a location that gets excellent sunlight, plenty of ventilation and will stay bone dry. As in the outdoor method, lay the peppers in a single layer on a plate or sheet and rotate regularly, turning them at regular intervals and checking for any signs of rotting. If the location and weather are optimum, the peppers should dry within a couple of weeks. On dry, sunny days take the peppers outdoors for full sunlight drying.
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Drying in the oven
Oven drying is quicker than relying on sunlight but requires more maintenance. Using the oven can take anywhere from a number of hours to a couple of days to dry completely, but they will have to monitored regularly to make sure they are drying and not cooking. Place the whole or halved peppers on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven on the lowest setting or between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Prop the oven door open just enough to allow moisture to escape. If the peppers are beginning to turn black, this is a sign that they are cooking. Turn the heat down if this is the case. Turn the peppers every hour to ensure even drying.
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Storing dried peppers
Once dried, store the habanero peppers in a self-sealing plastic bag or glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Keep the peppers in a cool, dry location of the pantry for best results. The dried peppers may also be blended in a food processor and stored in a recycled spice jar.