The Hot Portugal pepper is a moderately hot, highly flavorful pepper with a variety of possible uses in the kitchen, while also being a great snacking pepper for those with heat tolerance.
Originating in Portugal, the Hot Portugal first appeared in the United States in the early 20th century, quickly spreading to home gardens. In recent years it has seen a renaissance as a pepper for gardens as well as for commercial growers looking for a dependable, flavorful, high-yielding pepper.
Profile: Hot Portugal Pepper
Species: Capsicum annuum
Days to Maturity: 65 days
Type: Open Pollinated (OP)
Height: 24+ inches
Heat Level: 5,000 to 30,000 SHU (between jalapeno and cayenne heat)
Get seeds: Seed Savers Exchange (US), Hudson Valley Seed (US), Fedco Seeds (US), Harris Seeds (US), Incredible Seeds (Canada), Bloomling (UK)
Hot Portugal peppers themselves are long, cayenne-type peppers with medium-thick walls, reaching 5 to 8 inches in length. They closely resemble the popular Jimmy Nardello pepper, but while the Jimmy Nardello is a sweet pepper, the Hot Portugal packs some heat.
The flavor is savory, green-peppery when unripe, and very sweet when ripe, often described as much more flavorful than a bell pepper.
The heat of Hot Portugals is highly variable. I’ve had some that were completely sweet with no heat and some being as hot as a medium-hot cayenne, even from the same plant. However, you can expect the heat to be somewhere between a jalapeno and a cayenne pepper.
Hot Portugal pepper plants are highly productive if grown in rich soil and given enough space, easily yielding more than 40 peppers per plant in a season.
Hot Portugal peppers can be eaten fresh or added to salads (if you like heat), or grilled/fried. Chopped up, they make a sweet and hot addition to salsa. They can also be dried and turned into a mild but highly flavorful cayenne pepper powder, which is one of the traditional uses in Portugal.
Planting Hot Portugal Peppers
Hot Portugal peppers are C. annuum peppers, so their seeds can be sown indoors 6 to 10 weeks before your average last frost date. During this time, keep them under grow lights; fluorescent lights or LED grow lights 4 to 8 inches above your seedlings will suffice. Keep the soil or potting mix moist but not soggy.
Transplant your Hot Portugal pepper plants outdoors after your night temperatures no longer drop below 50°F (10°C). You can plant them in the ground or in containers.
Some gardeners like to mix some slow-release fertilizer into the soil right before transplanting to give their pepper transplants to promote early season growth. At this stage, a mild, balanced fertilizer, like a 4-4-4 granular fertilizer, is good for early growth. Later in the season, switch to a tomato fertilizer or bloom formula to promote flowering and fruiting.
Hot Portugal peppers require full sun for best results. Full sun means at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Taking Care of Hot Portugal Peppers
Caring for Hot Portugal peppers is straightforward. They are self-pollinating so you don’t need to worry about pollination (although if you have no wind in your area, giving your plants a gentle shake from time to time helps). They also get few pests, and the ones that you might experience, like aphids, are simple to deal with.
Keep your Hot Portugal pepper plants well-watered early on without having the soil stay soggy. As the plants mature and they develop a deeper root system, you can go less often without watering. Using a thick layer of mulch can also reduce the amount of water you need for your pepper plants.
Harvesting Hot Portugal Peppers
You can harvest Hot Portugal peppers any time, unripe or ripe. For green Hot Portugal peppers, the best time to harvest is after they stop growing and reach their full size. As they continue to mature, the flavor will develop even more. Hot Portugal peppers reach peak sweetness after they fully ripen to their red color. They really do taste better than bell peppers, but they have quite a bit of heat.
If you love the flavor of Hot Portugal peppers but don’t like the heat, try growing Jimmy Nardello peppers, which look almost exactly the same (don’t mix them up if you grow both at the same time!) and have the same robust sweet flavor but with none of the heat.
Related Questions About Growing Hot Portugal Peppers
Can You Grow Hot Portugal Peppers in a Pot?
Hot Portugal peppers can be easily grown in containers however, to get good yields, you should plant them in at least a 5-gallon pot or larger. Also make sure that your container has adequate drainage holes on the bottom and is filled with well-draining, rich potting mix.
Peppers grown in pots also may need to be watered and fertilized more frequently. A few fertilizer spikes added every 2 months or liquid feed every 7 to 14 days should suffice, but follow the instructions on your fertilizer.
Can Hot Portugal Peppers Be Grown Indoors?
Hot Portugal peppers can be grown indoors, but to get the same yields as outdoor peppers, you will need powerful lights. You need not break the bank, as there are lots of LED grow lights on the market now in the price range of $75 to $125 which can grow full-sized pepper plants with prolific yields.
There are now many LED grow lights on the market for home growers, but I’ve had the most success with Mars Hydro and SANSI grow lights.
If you want to overwinter your Hot Portugal pepper plants, you can get a cheaper $25 to $50 LED grow light or even use fluorescent T5 lights to keep your plants alive until next spring, while getting a few peppers over the winter as well.