The datil pepper is an infamous hot pepper grown locally in the Tri-County Agriculture Area (TCAA) of Putnam, Flagler and St. Johns Counties. Datils are a unique pepper in that they are relatively hot compared to other peppers such as jalapeno and cayenne peppers, but they are also packed with a sweet, robust flavor that makes a distinctly delicious datil hot sauce. Datil peppers are mostly grown as a backyard crop, but there are currently a few commercial growers left in the TCAA. Datil pepper plants are generally considered annuals (although they can persist through the winter if protected) and they are planted in pots around February or March and harvested July through November. The color of a “true” datil pepper grown from heirloom seeds changes directly from green to orange when fully mature. However, pollinators play an interesting role in changing the genetic phenotypes of a datil pepper.
There are a few crosses that became popular such as “Wanda” and “Super Datil” with a distinct yellow phase prior to full maturity. Dr. Daniel Cantliffe started as a plant researcher with UF in 1974 and the emphasis of his work (even so long ago) was sustainability in agriculture in regards to water, fertilizer and pesticides. He focused on protected agriculture and growing in greenhouses and he studied different cultivars of datil peppers. According to research by he and his colleagues, the ability to store datil peppers is highly dependent on the pepper’s maturity stage. They found that fruit harvested while it was yellow had greater fruit quality than those that were orange, but that the orange peppers were slightly sweeter based on the 18% greater ratio of soluble solids content to total titratable acidity (i.e. SSC:TTA ratio) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333734398_Harvest_Maturity_and_Storage_Temperature_Affect_Postharvest_Quality_of_’Wanda’_Datil_Hot_Pepper_Grown_under_Protected_Culture
2023 Datil Pepper Season
The handful of commercial datil pepper growers that remain today are very focused on staying true to type! Some folks like to harvest the pepper early while they are still green, while others wait until they are fully ripe in the orange stage. The sweet distinct flavor is more recognizable in the green datil, while the peppers become hotter as they ripen. The heat of a pepper is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) and there is a laboratory (Southwest Bio-labs) in Las Cruces, New Mexico that specializes in measuring pepper heat using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). We harvested datil peppers at different maturity stages as well as a mature red Carolina Reaper, all grown under the same conditions, and sent them to Southwest Bio-Labs. Upon receipt at the lab, the peppers were dried in an oven, crushed, and evaluated using HPLC. The results we obtained were as follows:
- Green Datil peppers had 61,500 SHU
- Orange Datil peppers had 123,000 SHU
- Carolina Reaper peppers had 1,090,000 SHU
Articles generally suggest that the datil pepper ranges from 100,000 to 300,000 SHU. The heat is dependent on both genetic types as well as environmental conditions and stage of maturity. Testimonials from many datil pepper sauce makers indicate that they prefer green datils for flavor, but add orange datils if they want to turn up the heat. In addition to sauces, datils are also famous for their contribution to marinades, soups, spicy salsas, jellies, relishes, mustards and chili powder.
The challenge with the 2023 datil season has been the persistent heat. It was literally too hot this summer for the datil pepper plants to flourish. During optimal weather conditions, commercial plants can produce up to 7 lbs/plant, but generally average 4 to 5 lbs/plant. However, with the extreme heat of 2023, plants only produced about 1 to 2 lbs per plant. One grower even added an air conditioning unit with a system of fans in their greenhouse to provide some relief. Hot days are tolerable for datil pepper plants but when the heat index at night stays above 85°F, they simply do not produce peppers. The cooler temperatures that we are finally enjoying in mid-October is good for our datil growers.
Where Can I buy Fresh Datil Peppers
Anyone interested in purchasing datil peppers directly are welcome to visit the Mayhem Brothers that will be selling their sauces and fresh peppers at their booth at the 2023 Putnam County Rodeo on October 27, 28, and 29 held at the Putnam County Fairgrounds. If a cold datil-infused beer sounds better then just head over to Azalea City Brewery in downtown Palatka that always has a Hot Blonde on tap!