Around this time every year I always get a handful of emails from readers asking me about black chillies. Why are my chillies black? What have I done wrong? Can I eat black chillies? Are my chilli plants mutant?!
As part of the natural ripening process it is quite common for chilli peppers to be black in appearance or have black/dark streaks on them.
Most chillies such as the common Birds Eye or Cayenne will start off life green and ripen through to orange or red. However as the pods start to ripen, the sugar content in the fruit increases and the skin will often turn a dark brown or black colour temporarily.
As the ripening process continues the blackness will eventually give way to red. These changes in colour can seem like they are taking an age to happen, especially when you’re waiting for pods to ripen at the start of the summer!
How long this ripening process takes depends on a number of different factors such as weather, feeding regime and watering levels. There are no hard or fast rules how long the ripening process takes and the only thing that tends to speed up the process is the amount of sun your plants are getting.
Usually however these changes happen so slowly that you begin to think there is something wrong with your plants. Then inevitably you’ll turn away for a second and your plant will suddenly be full of wonderfully ripe red pods.
The lesson here is to be patient!
Of course there are some varieties of chilli that naturally are black or brown in colour when ripe. The most popular such variety is the Chocolate Habanero (pictured below, these are great for making chutney by the way) that ripens from green through to a deep chocolatey brown colour.
Chillies can be eaten at any stage in the ripening process, including when they are black or brown in appearance. However the flavours can change significantly throughout. The best way to work out what is best for your tastes is to try some pods at different stages of ripeness!