Most people think that they know everything about the food they consume almost every day. One of those foods that most of us enjoy on regular bases, or very often, are peppers.
You can find so many varieties of peppers and they are all able to enrich your favorite dish perfectly.
But, did you ever wonder what peppers are exactly? Are peppers fruits? Are peppers vegetables? Well, it can freely be said that they are both.
Although it seems easy at first, the classification of fruits and vegetables can sometimes be a difficult task.
I wrote this article to help you understand more easily what peppers are exactly, and what makes certain foods fruits or vegetables.
What Are Peppers Exactly?
In order to know whether peppers are fruits and understand why they can be called both fruits and vegetables at the same time, it is first important to understand what peppers are and how they are classified.
If you are into biology, botany, or any closely related field, you certainly know about the Solanaceae family, also known as nightshades.
For those of you who don’t know, it is the family from which peppers come, alongside many other plants, including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. (1)
The exact genus whose members are peppers is called genus Capsicum and this genus includes more than 30 different species of peppers.
What most people today refer to as “peppers” and use in their everyday culinary applications, belong to one of five domesticated species.
Those species from which your flavorful and spicy peppers come include Capsicum Annuum, Capsicum Chinense, Capsicum Baccatum, Capsicum Frutescens, and Capsicum Pubescens. (2)
Although they are all genetically diverse, they all share some botanical characteristics in terms of plant anatomy, reproductive system, and growth habits.
Pepper plants are bushy plants that grow to a height of 1-2 meters and they are typically annual plants that commonly grow as a crop in warm, sunny climates.
These plants contain a woody base, smooth, waxy leaves, and white or purple flowers. The flowers have both male and female reproductive structures.
The ovary of the flower develops peppers and berries, and the seeds inside them are the plant’s means of reproduction.
Those are all important information about peppers in botanical terms you should know. Now let’s see what fruits exactly are from a scientific point of view.
What Is The Definition Of Fruit?
In general, fruits can be defined as the type of food that is typically sweet, fleshy, and contains seeds.
In terms of science, the definition of fruit is based on the structure of the ovary and the way in which it develops. When a flower is fertilized, the ovary of the flower grows and develops into a fruit.
The wall of the ovary thickens and matures, and the seeds inside mature. When the fruit matures, it typically contains seeds that are surrounded by a fleshy tissue that is rich in nutrients and sugars.
Overall, fruits are a specialized type of organ that develops from the flowers of angiosperms, or flowering plants. They serve as a means of protecting and dispersing the seeds produced by these plants.
Now that you know all the important information about peppers and their classification, as well as the scientific definition of fruits, let’s see if peppers really are fruits.
Are Peppers Fruits?
If you read two previous parts carefully, you could easily conclude what the answer to this question is.
Yes, from a scientific point of view, peppers are fruits.
The main characteristic of a fruit is that it develops from the ovary of a flower and that it contains seeds.
As you could see, pepper berries are produced from the ovary, i.e. the ovary of the flower swells and becomes the pepper fruit.
This pepper’s fruit also contains seeds, which is why it is considered a fruit and not a vegetable, at least as far as the scientific approach is concerned.
Are Bell Peppers Fruits?
As you could have seen in the part where I explained what peppers are exactly, what most people today refer to as “peppers” are all part of the plant genus Capsicum.
Cross-pollination in nature, as well as through intentional efforts to create hybrids has resulted in a mind-blowing range of over 3000 known varieties of Capsicum, with new varieties counting to emerge.
Among all those species, genus Capsicum is now widely accepted as consisting of 26 wild species and only 5 domesticated species.
Among those domesticated species is the so-called Capsicum annuum, the most common and extensively cultivated one.
Aside from cayenne, jalapeno, and New Mexican, bell peppers are also members of this Capsicum species.
So logically, if peppers are classified as fruits in botanical terms and bell peppers belong to one of their species, bell peppers themselves are fruits as well.
Just like other varieties, bell peppers also come from a flowering plant, and they contain seeds, which means they meet the botanical definition of a fruit.
So Why Are Peppers Referred To As Vegetables?
While the botanical definition of fruits is quite clear, it is not that simple when it comes to defining vegetables.
The only defining rule about vegetables is that they must be edible, or at least one of their parts must be.
Because there is no clear definition for vegetables in science, they are mostly defined from a culinary perspective.
Namely, while fruits are generally sweet or tart in flavor, vegetables are typically more savory and less sweet and are often eaten with protein, or incorporated into soups, stews, or stir-fries.
When you think about it, you can conclude that peppers are vegetables from a culinary point of view because they also have these traits.
They are not very sweet, have a somewhat mild, earthy flavor, and are mainly used in savory dishes, including soups, stews, and stir-fries.
So yes, peppers are vegetables for most of us, especially for food lovers and those who spend most of their time in the kitchen.
Why Is This Classification Important?
Well, aside from sheer knowledge, there are some other more or less important reasons to know whether peppers are fruits or vegetables.
First, from a culinary point of view, knowing that peppers are fruits can help us better understand their role in the culinary world and how they can be used in different types of dishes.
Aside from that, since peppers are technically fruits, they contain similar nutritional value to other types of fruits, i.e. they are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
For example, it is important to know if you want to follow some type of healthy diet which requires these nutrients, but limits sugar intake. Namely, most traditional fruits are high in sugar, while most types of peppers contain low amounts.
Finally, for people involved in agriculture and horticulture, knowing that peppers are fruits is essential.
I won’t go into a lot of details because I am not an expert in this field, but as far as I know, this fact is important for reproductive biology, breeding new varieties, harvesting and storage, as well as pest and disease management.
So yes, the fact that peppers are technically fruits can be very important for some people.
Black Pepper: Fruit, Vegetable, Or Spice?
In the end, I decided to cover this topic because many people don’t fully understand what black pepper is. It bears the word “pepper” in its name, so many people think that peppers and black pepper are somehow related.
They are actually two different things, i.e. black pepper is a dried version of peppercorns that comes in forms of cracked, pre-ground, and whole black pepper berries.
It is part of the Piper nigrum plant, which belongs to the Piperacea family.
Peppers, on the other hand, are a part of genus Capsicum, which belongs to the nightshade family.
The only thing that these two have in common is the fact that they are both fruits in botanical terms.
Peppercorns are the dried fruits of the Piper nigrum plant. More specifically, they are drupes, which are a type of a fruit that has a fleshy outer layer surrounding a hard seed in the center.
However, black pepper is not used as fruit in the kitchen, but rather as a spice or seasoning.
So, in botanical terms, black pepper is a fruit, but in the kitchen, it is considered a spice.
So, are peppers fruits or vegetables? You won’t go wrong if you give either of these two answers.
In botanical terms, peppers are fruits because pepper berries are produced from the ovary and they contain seeds, which are the main characteristics of fruits.
From a culinary point of view, peppers are considered vegetables because they are less sweet and are mostly used in savory dishes.
1. The Plant List, Solanaceae Family, accessed 31 March 2023
2. United States Department of Agriculture, TaxonomyDetail, accesses 31 March 2023