Q: I recently purchased an attractive plant from a hardware store. The clerk knew nothing more than that it was a pepper. It has dark green leaves, purple flowers and purple fruit. I’ve tried to research it on the Internet and think it is a Tepin pepper, reputed to be the hottest in the world. What do you know about purple peppers?
A: As a child, I was scarred for life when I took a bite of dried jalapeno pepper. I distinctly remember running to a nearby metal cabinet and licking it frantically to get the fiery taste out of my mouth. Your question, though, caused me to venture into my garden to do a taste test.
I’d planted a purple-leaved ornamental pepper this spring because it caught my eye in a garden center. Believing it to be similar to yours, I took a small bite of the fruit. It was hot…but not so hot that my dentures melted.
Since your plant has green leaves, not purple, I think it is the ‘NuMex Centennial’ variety. This was one of the first ornamental/edible chili peppers released by New Mexico State University. If purple, red and yellow fruit are on the fruit at the same time it could be the ‘NuMex Twilight’ variety. My purple-leaved pepper, on the other hand, is probably the ‘Pretty Purple’ variety. The fruit originates purple but changes to red when it is mature. ‘Tepin’ pepper is indeed very hot but the plant is so sprawling it’s unlikely to be found at a nursery.
With pepper-type plants it is good to ask before you eat. Dr. Wayne McLaurin, a University of Georgia vegetable specialist who never saw a hot pepper he didn’t like, points out that if a pepper is pointed it is probably edible. Marble-shaped, multi-colored fruit however might be those of Jerusalem cherry, which is poisonous.