Are Shishito Peppers Spicy? Here's What to Know Before You Cook Them

If you're new to shishito peppers or are wondering how to cook them at home, read our expert info and tips here.

My first experience with shishito peppers was at a new restaurant opening years ago. It was a small plate of thin, green, slightly wrinkly peppers. I was told to eat them whole and there might be an occasional spicy kick (more on this later). After the first bite of the perfectly blistered shishito pepper, I was in love with the mild-spice flavor and had to know more. Thanks to their growing popularity, it's getting easier to find shishitos on menus and grocery store shelves nationwide. If you're curious about shishito peppers or grabbed a bag and want to know how to cook shishito peppers at home, this is the place to learn all about those (sometimes) spicy little peppers.

Soy Ginger Shishito Peppers on black platter with spoon and small cup of sauce
Antonis Achilleos

What Are Shishito Peppers?

Shishito peppers originated in Japan and are a small, savory green pepper that's perfect for easy roasting and snacking in large part due to its thin skin that helps it cook quickly and absorb flavor easily. Approximately one in 10 shishito peppers might have a surpising kick of heat, but most of them are mild.

Why Are Only Some Shishitos Peppers Spicy?

Shishito peppers are part of the chile pepper family, which can produce capsaicin (aka spice). According to Noah Robbins, founder and CEO of Ark Foods, "If you encounter a spicy shishito, it's more of a quick kick of heat, rather than an overwhelming, lingering spice." (For reference, bell peppers have no capsaicin, which is why they are universally mild.) "Each pepper on the shishito plant reacts differently to natural elements and the soil," he says. "While some shishitos on the plant can withstand extreme variance in temperatures and stay mild—for example, uncharacteristically hot nights—the stress caused by nature on the pepper can make its natural capsaicin more pronounced."

Buying and Growing Shishito Peppers

Like most peppers, shishitos grow best in a warmer environment. If you're a gardener, Robbins says they are a really fun pepper to grow in your own garden from seeds ($8, Amazon) during warmer months. You can buy shishito peppers year-round (with peak season in late summer and early fall) from larger grocers and popular chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

Buy It: Ark Foods Shishito Peppers ($4, FreshDirect)

How to Store Shishito Peppers

Shishito peppers will last up to two weeks (maybe longer) when kept dry and stored in the fridge. As long as they're still firm and not mushy, they're still good. Ripe shishitos are bright green, but if you find a red or orange pepper in the bag, it's perfectly normal and still fine to eat.

Bacon-Shishito Relish
Blaine Moats

How to Cook Shishito Peppers

Blistered shishito peppers—which slightly chars them over high heat on the grill or in a heavy-bottomed pan with bit of oil—are probably the most popular way to enjoy them. Robbins achieves this at home using his mother's well-seasoned cast-iron pan ($20, Amazon). "Watch your peppers carefully in the pan," he says. "The perfect blistering should show caramel brown spots on the skin, but can burn quickly if you don't take them off the heat at that point." As for the seasoning, Robbins goes for the classic olive oil and sea salt combo. "The flakier the salt the better!" When eating shishito peppers, you can enjoy the entire thing (seeds, too!), just not the stem.

There are plenty of ways to enjoy shishito peppers beyond a tasty snack. Toss them in pasta or in a stir-fry with steak. You can also use your trusty air fryer ($108, Amazon) to make our shishito pepper recipe pictured above featuring a sweet soy-ginger sauce.

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