Shishito pepper is a sweet, heirloom variety of pepper native to East Asian countries, especially in Japan and Korea. The name is a portmanteau of the Japanese words “shishi,” which means “lion,” and “togarashi,” which translates to “chili pepper,” referring to the tip of the pepper that looks like a lion’s head. This pepper is also called shishito in the United States. However, it is often confused with Pimiento de Padrón, a pepper that also has a similar appearance.
Meanwhile, it is called “kkwari-gochu” in Korea, which translates to “ground cherry pepper.” The name refers to the pepper’s wrinkled surface that resembles ground cherries.
Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Genus: Capsicum (Pepper)
Species: Capsicum Annuum
Binomial Name: Capsicum Annuum ‘Shishito’
Shishito Pepper Trivia
- Shishito peppers are roughly 100 times milder than jalapeños.
- Some people compare shishito peppers to the game Russian roulette due to the fact that every single shishito plant only produces one out of ten peppers that’s hot. And, you wouldn’t know which one unless of course, you’re the lucky one to bite into it.
- Perhaps, the shishito pepper got its roots from the Pimiento de Padrón, a pepper native to Spain which most likely came from South America in the 16th century.
Shishito Pepper Buying Guide
- Shishito peppers can be found in the gourmet supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and online shops. Some even offer them in the Austin Airport!
- Choose shishito peppers based on its color. Though it is commonly sold as unripe or green in color, it provides more bitterness and less sweetness than the ripe or red ones.
- Check the size of the peppers and choose the ones that are 2 to 4 inches long.
- Check out the pepper’s skin. Though shishito peppers are naturally wrinkly, choose the ones that are firm and glossy. Avoid the ones that have soft spots.
- If possible, buy organic shishito peppers. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, peppers from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you might be able to get a free taste before you buy them.
Shishito Pepper Production & Farming in Texas
Generally speaking, peppers are great summer crops. However, growing them in Central Texas can be quite a challenge. If you plant them too early, they can be susceptible to cold damage. If you plant them late, there’s a higher chance that you’ll miss the best production time. Thus, it’ll be best to choose pepper varieties that have a short maturity time. Fortunately, shishito plants are. And, they’re productive, compact, sturdy, and easy to grow. They also thrive in warm climates and it can perform well even in containers, raised beds, or the ground.
In Texas, the seeds are sowed indoors 8 weeks before the last frost date. They need moist, fertile, well-drained, and warm soil that falls between 70 and 90ºF to germinate nicely. Thus, heating pads or grow lights are recommended. But, if you don’t have any, you can simply place them on top of your refrigerator and wait for it to sprout, which usually takes a few days to a couple of weeks. When they’ve sprouted, they will need less moisture than before. So, make sure that the plants receive at least ¼ to ¾ gallon of water per week, either through rain or by watering. But, make sure that the plants are dry in between waterings as too much moisture can cause fungus to grow and kill the seedlings. At this time, the sprouts will also need more light, preferably at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Eventually, shishito peppers will turn red upon ripening. But, it’s common to harvest the pods when they’re still green and about 2 to 4 inches long. Note that the smaller the pepper, the less heat they’ll provide. Expect that they’ll have thinner walls and that they’re going to be wrinkly. Keep on harvesting using a sharp scissor for the plant to reproduce. Like other pepper plants, they will stop their production when they become overloaded with pods.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA. However, this list doesn’t rank peppers. But, since they tested positive on pesticides that are known to be toxic to the brain, they’ve created their Dirty Dozen Plus™ list instead and included these peppers.
Between the years 2010 and 2012, the USDA found oxamyl, acephate, and chlorpyrifos in peppers. These toxic pesticides are banned from use on some crops. However, they’re still permitted to be used on chile peppers. Thus, it is better to buy organic peppers to reduce your pesticide consumption. If they’re unavailable or too expensive, we suggest you cook the conventional ones instead before eating them as heating these peppers can reduce the levels of pesticides. Or better yet, consider growing your own peppers organically.
Even though shishito peppers are native to Japan, they are used and grown extensively even in the United States. Generally speaking, China remains to be the world’s largest producer of sweet and chile peppers, accounting for more than 70% of world production. Mexico and Indonesia rank next. Other major producers include Spain, Turkey, and the United States.
Fresh shishito peppers are commonly sold and priced by weight, either by the pound or kilogram. Some also sell them in 8-oz pouches. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these peppers in bushels, cartons, and even crates. Meanwhile, you can also buy pickled, roasted, or other byproducts of shishito peppers that are packaged in glass jars, pouches, or containers.
Enjoying Shishito Peppers
Shishito peppers have a fruity, grassy, and peppery flavor. It mimics the brightness of a bell pepper but it’s slightly sweeter than that. Still, that tiny jolt of heat is what most people love. Not to mention that it brings that extra smokiness when roasted or blistered. It makes a great side dish on steaks, roasts, and other meat specialties. You can also put them raw on salads, sandwiches, and more.
All fresh peppers are best kept unwashed, in a sealable and airtight container lined with paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Properly stored, they will retain their freshness for a week or two. You may also marinate peppers in olive oil to extend its shelf life for up to 1 month. It’s also good to consider that peppers with thick skins last longer than the thin ones. And, whole peppers are more shelf-stable than the sliced ones. Meanwhile, you can also freeze fresh peppers. Spread them evenly, on a single layer in a sheet tray, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the peppers onto freezer-safe bags. Here, it’ll last for up to 6 months but take note that frozen peppers can only be used in cooking. It’s not meant to be eaten raw as it requires further heat to kill the bacteria. But, to further retain its crispness, you can half-cook the peppers in oil prior to freezing. Fully cooked shishito peppers usually last 3-5 days, while pickled, roasted, or dried can last for 1 year in the fridge.
Shishito peppers are traditionally served in Japanese cuisines, where it is roasted and tossed with a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil. You can also sauté them quickly in olive oil, using a skillet or cast iron under high heat, and turn it frequently until the skin starts to blister and turn brown. Then, add in your favorite seasonings (sesame oil and/or seeds is a must-try!) lower the heat, cover the pan, and let it cook for another minute. Remove the charred parts, serve warm, and enjoy!
Another popular method is to grill them and finish with some sea salt and/or creme fraiche. They are also famous for being stuffed with soft cheeses prior to battering and deep frying.
Raw shishito pepper is composed of 92% water, 6% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and >1% fat by weight.
- Carbohydrates: This pepper is naturally low in calories, which are primarily composed of water and carbohydrates. Though it is mostly composed of natural sugars, it is also a good source of fiber.
- Fiber: Like bell peppers, shishitos are also an excellent source of fiber. A cup of 100 grams can provide almost 2 g of fiber, which is 18% of the DV. Fiber makes you feel full faster without eating too much. It also helps maintain good bowel health.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Shishito peppers are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. As a matter of fact, a cup serving gives 123% of DV for vitamin C and 21% of vitamin A. They’re also a good source of potassium, calcium, and iron.
- Shishitos promote weight loss because of their high water and adequate fiber content. Thus, it is very low in calories and it’ll help you feel more satisfied and full after eating.
- They also do not contain any bad or risky components like sodium, cholesterol, added sugar, and saturated fat.
- The high levels of vitamin A promotes healthy vision. It also helps in preventing cancer too!
- The high levels of vitamin C acts as an antioxidant. It helps in boosting immunity and repairing cells, which retards the human aging process. It can also reduce the development of gout significantly.
- Although shishitos contain a relatively small amount of capsaicin, the compound that gives chiles their heat, they’ve been proven to kill cancer cells efficiently. It also boosts our immune system, helping our bodies fight against inflammation. It also contributes to weight loss as it speeds up our metabolism.
When Are Shishito Peppers in Season in Texas?
To find out when Shishito Peppers are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.