Unpacking the Peppadew: What's real, what's fake and does it matter?

We cracked the Peppadew code. Come at us, coppers.

Back in March we went on a quest to discover what makes the Peppadew tick, where it comes from, why it's patented, and how we could bootleg them ("Thugs," Armed Guards and the Black Market for Delicious Patented Pickled Peppers). We had to do it because these poker-chip sized, slightly sweet, slightly hot piquanté peppers are really all that. Stuffed with crab meat or just plain cream cheese, sliced on eggs, tossed in salads, placed oh-so-gingerly on crackers—they pack a big taste that is like no other taste you can taste. And because it's against the law to grow them, allegedly.

What we found was an apparently dodgy "Hippie Seed Co." halfway around the world, and an actively pissed-off online gardening community arguing endlessly whether these or those counterfeit seeds produced the real plants.

We bought the Hippie seeds and grew them.

By August we had a healthy bush of what looked like Peppadews. We enjoyed them, raw, in salads and on hamburgers, eggs, and roasted turkey sandwiches. They were mild, with a touch of heat, like the pickled ones we got in jars for $5 at Wegman's. But they didn't taste the same. We still had to brine them, and so last month we finally got to it.

We wanted to test them against the real deal, so our methods were three. One group of Peppadews was hulled and dropped directly into the leftover brine of the "hot" Peppadews we tested in the spring. I just kept the jar in the fridge. Another group was hulled and then blanched, iced, and jarred in a boiling mix of one part vinegar, one part water, and a goodly amount of sugar. I followed the recipe at Instructibles (instructables.com). The final, control group was a jar of store-bought "mild" Peppadews.

I refrigerated them for four days and brought them to work. I scooped a bit of cream cheese into them and lined them up on a plate, asking co-workers to try one from each line and say which was the real thing and why.

Four out of seven taste testers correctly identified the real stuff. Two said it was because the jarred ones were "not crunchy." One pronounced them "softer, sweeter." An eighth tester (he'd never tried Peppadews before) also liked the originals better than the home-grown because of the "texture."

But one of those who correctly guessed the real Peppadews said he preferred the home-grown-in-legit-brine variant. Three other testers chose those as the "real" stuff. All said they could taste the difference between the homemade brine and the real thing.

I found the crunch of the home-grown ones satisfying but can see how the soggier ones might be preferable to some palates. The home-grown in "hot" (real) brine were my favorite, too, giving those a 5-3 advantage over the mild jarred Peppadews. Crisp and with more bite than the mild original, these seem like the perfect pairing for creamy and mild dips like hummus.

It was interesting that the fresh peppers dropped in store-bought, leftover Peppadew brine had so much more kick than the original Peppadews in that same brine. Could be that the brine-aging process makes it spicier. Could be the home-grown peppers are themselves spicier—although the full-bootleg version, which came in third, did not pop the way the store-bought ones did.

No one thought the home-grown peppers were a different varietal. "This one is pickled," one tester said after tasting the original. They are all pickled. The store ones are just more pickled. Perhaps a bit more boiling would bring the home-growns more into line with the patented, legit Peppadews.

Perhaps a bit of jalepeno in the homemade brine would get the DIY stuff over the hump. Whatever, the home-grown ones went over pretty well in this informal test.

So does it make sense to grow your own? Sure. While you're out there in the garden, I guess. Even with a pretty big garden there's a cost to these that easily exceeds what you pay in the store, but gardening is not usually a sustenance thing, and Peppadews are not likely to become a staple food.

They sure are nice to have around though, however you get them.

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