The Shishito pepper is an asian variety of the generic capiscum annum species. It’s not too spicy and is sometimes called the Korean Jalapenos.
In Korea they refer to the chilli pepper as kkwari-gochu or ‘ground cherry pepper’ as the chilli’s wrinkled appearance is similar to the ground cherry plant or chinese lantern as it’s sometimes called in the US.
The name ‘shishito’ is Japanese and refers to the tip of the pepper as a ‘shishi’ which means lion, and thus we have ‘shishito’.
THis chilli is often confused with the similar and similarly named shichimi chilli pepper, and in the US they are quite similar to the Pimento de Padrón peppers which they are confused for, so read on to learn more about the humble shishito.
Like many other chilli’s, the shishito pepper is used most commonly in cooking, and like a Clabrian chilli, the Shishito is recognised for its flavor rather than its spicy capabilities.
As this is an asian capiscum, it’s most commonly sold and used within Asian countries, specifically Japanese and Korean cuisine. It’s thin skin is what makes it different from other peppers and also ideal for cooking and eating raw.
The Shishito chilli pepper is long and thin like a finger chilli, they are usually harvested when around 2-4 inches in length. It has extremely thin skin in most examples and this gives it a wrinkly skin that is what earned it the name kkwari-gochu in Korean cultures.
Like other chillies it goes from green to red upon ripening, however, the shishito chilli is often harvested when green.
As the shishito pepper is harvested when green it can have a sharper and more acidic taste than your sweet red pepper. It’s pretty comparable to green bell pepper.
The difference between this chilli and a green bell pepper is that the shishito has more spice and capsaicin flavor that is common with chilis.
This means it pairs perfectly with strong umami flavors and the chilli is often fried in soy sauce or fish sauce as the sharpness of the pepper can cut through this umami wall.
In a similar way, these chilli peppers are often stuffed with different kinds of cheese and fried or deep fried for a great pairing.
How Spicy Are They?
The quick answer is not very; the long answer is a little more interesting if you like horticulture.
For those who want the numbers the shishito pepper has a scoville range from 100 to 1000, this means it’s hotter than the common bell pepper but even at its hottest it’s still milder than a jalapenos.
Shishito peppers can vary widely in their scoville rating, though. Many find that one in eight shishito peppers can be really hot, meaning they have a high level of capsaicin.
This is fairly verifiable, the specific genetics of each pod can vary widely which causes capsaicin levels to differ.
Moreover, the capsaicin level of each pod is largely affected by its growing conditions. Horticulturists have come to learn that this is to due with the water level or dryness of the conditions that affect capsaicin levels.
Essentially, if you want your peppers to be hotter, harvest them once the soil is completely dry and they will have higher capsaicin levels.
It seems that shishito peppers have a genetic quality that causes capsaicin to vary even more widely than this. This is common in their close relatives, such as the Pimento de Padrón chilli pepper which has 500 to 2000 capsaicin levels.
Surprisingly, the unpredictability of each pepper’s capsaicin makes them quite popular to grow for the fun of trying to guess.
The chilli pepper has a natural habitat within the Asain nations, so is popular among these countries. Specifically, it is popular in Japanese and Korean cuisines which aren’t commonly spicy in comparison to other Asian cuisines.
Their sharpness makes them perfect for Asian dishes that have strong umami flavors. Particularly with soy, fish, and other strong flavors.
Like most chilli peppers, this is used most commonly within cooking. As mentioned, it’s specifically popular among Asian cuisines such as Japanese and Korean cooking. Due to it not being that spicy, it’s preferred in cuisines that don’t value spiciness that much.
One particular use that is used across the world is as blistered peppers. As the skin is so thin it makes them perfect for clustering. The chilli pepper is fried on high heat without oil so that parts of the skin blister and become crispy and carbonated.
This carbonation gives them a nice smokiness and can add depths of flavor to their profile. They are usually dressed in lemon juice and salt, or soy sauce and sesame oil for the Asian version.
As their skin is so thin they are great to eat raw or even to roast.
For both methods, their thin skin makes them ideal as they are easy to eat and blister much easily under heat which makes their flesh and skin amalgamate and become quite jammy. They are also great pickled and preserved like most other chillies.
Growing Shishito Chilli Peppers
In Asia it’s particularly easy to get seeds for this plant, in the US it’s not so easy but definitely achievable. Whether you have bought these as seeds or as a starter, they should be moved outside once the first frost has passed – follow your natural climate’s seasons.
If you live in a cold climate you can ‘pre-heat’ the soil by putting plastic over the top for 7 to 10 days before planting.
Like many other capiscum varieties, the shishito chilli pepper requires as much sun as you can get. They need around 8+ hours of sun per day, so find the best position in your garden for the optimal results.
Make sure the chillies are in well drained and nutritionally rich soil when planting. Top your soil with compost or manure to encourage growth even further.
These peppers usually grow upwards and compactly, but try not to over saturate one area with too many seeds as this will cause them to fight for sunlight.
As a rule of thumb, plant around 18-24 inches apart and bury them a little deeper than you think to make sure they have robust roots. Water the chillis well during the growing process and don’t let frost catch them if the weather turns.
The harvesting season for shishito peppers is a little earlier than you would expect.
Usually, most shishito lovers pick them around 60 to 65 days after planting in order to get them while they are green. You are welcome to let them turn red, but they are a little sweeter than the sharpness that people associate with the shishito.