Peppers are usually considered vegetables. However, this assumption about peppers is incorrect. If we look at the botanical requirements of fruits and vegetables, then we might discover they are actually a fruit. Let’s take look into the question of are peppers fruits or vegetables?
Peppers are classified as fruits botanically and as vegetables culinarily – the pepper forms in the flower of the plant with seeds inside. Pepper is therefore classified as a fruit or berry, to be specific. Peppers are served in savory dishes. Thus the vegetable myth prevails.
After some investigation, I’ve compiled this easy-to-digest explanation of why pepper is botanically a fruit and not a vegetable. Please take a look at where peppers come from and some information about their viability as a crop.
Are Peppers Fruits or Vegetables?
This sounds like a simple question but does it have a simple answer?
If we consider the recommended intake of five fruits and vegetables for adults, peppers are counted as a vegetable. They are often incorporated raw in salads and cooked in savory dishes. This is why it may come as a surprise to you that peppers are classified botanically as fruit. Some varieties are even processed into spices.
The culinary classification of peppers is perhaps more useful in general as foods that are from the same botanical classifications don’t necessarily fit the same nutritional profile. If you think of a Venn diagram with Vegetables on the left and fruit on the right, peppers will fall in the center overlap.
Botanically speaking, peppers are classified as berries.
The botanical criteria for a berry are as follows: the fruit must have seeds, and the fruit must form in the plant’s flower. Propagation of the plant must be by wind or by animal droppings. Pepper easily fits into this bracket.
With versatility, attractive bright color, and sweet-spicy flavor, peppers have had no problem cementing themselves as a global staple and a high-earning popular crop.
Why Are Peppers Not Vegetables?
Vegetables are classified as a part of a plant that animals or humans can eat, including the stem, leaves, roots, bulbs, fruit, and seeds. On the other hand, fruits must be grown in the flower of the plant and contain seeds.
Even though some vegetables are the plant’s fruit, the way that pepper grows most resembles a berry. This is because the fruit is formed in the flower of the capsicum plant.
Like more traditionally recognizable berries, peppers also come in bright colors that make them attractive to birds and animals. This “berry” likely started producing the spicy compound Capsiasum to repel natural predators and pests.
If we consider the qualities of pepper and what part of the plant is consumed, it is clear to see that pepper is more aligned with the classification of fruit and not a vegetable.
What are sweet peppers?
Sweet peppers are a type of chili pepper that is used as a vegetable. They are also known as sweet bell peppers. Sweet peppers are native to Central and South America. Sweet peppers come in many different colors, including red, yellow, orange, and green. They are frequently used in salads, pizzas, and pasta dishes. Sweet peppers have a sweet taste and a mild heat.
Sweet peppers are crisp and refreshing and very versatile when it comes to using them in cooking and even as a snack. Sweet peppers can come in a variety of colors and shapes and even sizes. They are more than just red and green, as they were in the past. Now you can find sweet peppers in yellows and oranges as well. The color often helps you determine the sweetness level of the pepper, although this isn’t a hard and fast rule.
What are savory peppers?
Bell peppers are a common type of savory peppers. The green pepper is a bit more bitter and has a savory flavor. Some green-colored peppers are actually spicy, like habanero or jalapeno. So, just remember that color alone is not an indication of the flavor or spiciness of the pepper.
Few things are as tantalizing as the smell of savory peppers wafting through the air. These tantalizing little morsels are a type of chili pepper that is usually used in savory dishes, rather than sweet ones. While they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, savory peppers typically have a deep, rich flavor that is perfect for adding a touch of spice to your favorite recipes. So next time you’re looking to add a little zing to your meal, be sure to reach for savory peppers!
Peppers Commonly Considered As Vegetables
Peppers come in all shapes and sizes, varying in intensity and flavor. The species of peppers will determine the flavor and also the level of heat within it. The hotness or intensity of a pepper is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Let’s look at common types of peppers that are often confused for vegetables and how they score on the SHU scale.
Bell peppers have a sweet flavor and no heat. They are often eaten raw and come in a variety of bright colors ranging from red, yellow, green, and orange. 0 SHU (Scoville Heat Units)
Here’s how to grow bell peppers.
Banana peppers are also sweet though a little tangier than Bell peppers. One would think the name of this pepper is a dead giveaway, but alas also considered a vegetable. They are often used in sandwiches and on pizzas. Banana peppers have a soft yellow color when ripe hence the name. 0 – 500 SHU
Shishito peppers are often blistered or charred and served as an appetizer. These peppers have a mild flavor and come in soft green hues. 50 – 100 SHU
These peppers are commonly used for canning. They are considered medium-hot peppers though there is a variety from New Mexico that is very spicy. These peppers are green in color. 500 – 2,500 SHU
Jalapeno peppers are widely available and can be prepared in many different ways, often stuffed and deep-fried. These peppers can be on the spicier side. Fun fact – Chipotle is smoked Jalapeno peppers. Fresh Jalapeno peppers are a deep green color. 2,500 – 8,000 SHU
Habaneros are considered very hot peppers and score high when compared to other peppers on this list. Though these peppers are hot, they still have layers of sweetness to their taste. These peppers have a bright yellow color. 100,000 – 350,000 SHU
Using Peppers in Cooking
We LOVE roasted red peppers! So sweet and delicious!
Pepper seeds can be eaten. Bell pepper seeds can be a bit bitter and although they can be eaten, they are usually not.
In hot peppers, the seeds themselves are often hotter than other parts of the pepper. Peppers are usually in seasons year-round throughout the United States, although it can vary, depending on which part of the country you’re in. Even if it’s not in season for you to grow peppers in your area, there are ways to grow them in-season and store them, and some people like to grow them indoors or in a greenhouse that is climate controlled.
Uncut, green bell peppers can last from about 1-3 weeks in the fridge. Uncut orange, yellow, and red bell peppers can last from five days up to two weeks in the fridge. Cut peppers will usually only last about three days in an airtight container when kept in the fridge. You can also freeze cut peppers.
What About the Spice Called Pepper?
The spice called “pepper” is not the same as the vegetable called “peppers”. It is made from the fermented, dried, unripe berries of the pepper plant. Pepper plants are native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. The pepper family is known as Piperacaea and comprises more than 3,600 species in five genera. The most common commercially produced genera are Piper with 2,171 subspecies.
The most common species is Piper Nigrum. This variety yields the black peppercorns we all use on a daily basis. Peppercorns come in a multitude of bright, bold colors and flavors. Many relatives in this family are processed into spices.
After the Columbian Exchange, pepper hit the international market. It was soon becoming a widely sought-after ingredient used in a variety of ways. From traditional medicine to food, this little berry made a big impact.
Peppers are indeed a type of fruit, more specifically a berry. Peppers made their way from the Americas to international cuisine staple. Many people enjoy the give and take of sweet and spicy that is associated with peppers. Sweet peppers can range from tangy to sugar-sweet. Spicy peppers can range from mild to melt-your-mouth heat. You can eat them whole, cut them and put them in a stir fry, dry them, freeze them, and so much more. It’s so versatile, there’s a pepper for just about anyone and for any need.
Peppers are commercially produced both for food and for the extraction of useful compounds. They make up a large part of the global food market. Though peppers are well known, they are still erroneously classified as vegetables. This misclassification doesn’t matter too much in lieu of practicality. So, at the end of the day, you can see there are many reasons to love peppers, whether you call them a fruit or a vegetable.
Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project. Check your her books below: