This question gets asked a lot: Are peppers fruits or veggies? You might know that anything with seeds – like peppers and tomatoes – can be called fruit, but it’s not as simple as that.
When making a fruit salad, for example, you probably wouldn’t add “fruits” like chiles. (Correction: Chiliheads put peppers on everything, but I’m talking about the general public.)
So the real answer to whether peppers are fruits or veggies is this: it depends. For some purposes, it’s right to call peppers fruit; for others, it’s more accurate to say they’re vegetables. It all comes down to context.
And strangely, it’s easier to identify a fruit than a vegetable. Let’s get into the reasons why you might call peppers one or the other.
The Differences Between Fruits and Vegetables
Botanists define fruits as the ripened ovaries of flowers containing at least one seed [source]. Examples include citrus, apples, berries, and even nuts.
Vegetables are classified by the non-woody plant parts they come from; for example, leaves like kale, roots including sweet potato, and stems such as asparagus.
For you, the definition of fruit and vegetable might depend on how you cook with these plants.
So, Are Peppers Fruits Or Veggies?
Peppers are vegetables to many of us because of how we use them in the kitchen. If you spend time on chili pepper forums, you’ll eventually come across the “fruit or veggie” debate and see a response from that science-y person who explains why peppers are fruits.
(I can picture Ross from Friends responding with: “Actually, it’s scientific fact that peppers are classified as fruits. Since the Cretaceous period of the dinosaurs,…” 🤣)
Peppers are both fruits and vegetables. In the following sections, we’ll get into why the botany and culinary worlds call them different things.
Peppers, According To Botanists
Botanists classify peppers as fruit. The reason is that the pods are ripened ovaries, which contain seeds you can grow into new pepper plants.
Here’s some plant science:
Pepper pods grow out of a pepper plant’s highly-specialized reproductive organs – the flowers. The upper part of the flower, the stigma, receives pollen from pollinators. The lower portion is the ovary, which contains ovules.
Chile peppers are known as a self-pollinating crop. After pollination, the ovules develop into seeds, chiles develop from the ovaries, and; ultimately, the pepper plant produces a botanical fruit.
- (DeWitt, Dave and Paul W. Bosland, The Complete Chile Pepper Book, Timber Press, 2009, p. 104)
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Peppers, According To Culinary Classification
The culinary use of peppers leads to us classifying them as vegetables. Cuisines like Mexican, Asian and Caribbean regularly use peppers in their savory dishes.
Most likely you’ve used Bell peppers and other chilies as veggies in condiments and dishes like salsas, moles, and stir-fries.
And pepper lovers? We use chiles to add flavor and heat to everything (like the following recipes).
Does It Matter?
Is it really that important whether you classify a pepper as a fruit or a vegetable?
As for using peppers in recipes, they are as delicious and nutritious either way. Thinking about this question might get those creative juices flowing, and the outcomes could be amazing!
Other Vegetables That Are Fruits
There are plenty of foods grown as vegetable crops, but botanically, they’re fruits [source]. Besides peppers, here are some more plants that fall into the “Yep, it’s a fruit!” category.
- Avocados are giant, single-seeded berries.
- Corn cobs are classified as a fruit, according to botanists.
- Cucumbers and gherkins (belonging to the same species) contain seeds and grow from the flowers of plants.
- Eggplants and okra – look for the seeds inside all these foods.
- Olives have a hard seed case inside their flesh, and if you crack it open, you will find a seed.
- Pumpkins and squash, such as zucchini and butternuts, are fruits and are sometimes used for desserts because of their sweetness.
- Peas and string beans are fruit, with their juicy green seeds encased in a pod that developed from the ovary.
- Tomatoes are fruit, but in 1893, the US Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are legally vegetables, and in 2005 they became the state vegetable of New Jersey.
What About Watermelons?
Watermelons are interesting because you’d probably think of them as fruits by any definition. They’re actually the state vegetable of Oklahoma and are grown using techniques typically used for veggies!
Are peppers actually good for you?
Peppers are low in calories, so they’ll help fill you up without making you put on weight. They also provide plenty of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate (vitamin B9), potassium, and fiber and protect against diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and aging [source].
Do green peppers have vitamin K?
Green peppers provide plenty of vitamin K, with 150 grams of raw Green Bell pepper providing 9 percent of your daily value [source].
Do peppers have more vitamin C than oranges?
The US Department of Agriculture says that a medium-sized navel orange contains 59.1 milligrams of vitamin C. In contrast, bell peppers show values ranging from 158 milligrams per 100 grams for orange ones to 99.5 milligrams for green ones. One green chili has 109 milligrams, and one red one has 65 milligrams [source].
So the next time someone asks, “Are pepper fruits or veggies?” you can tell them botanically, they’re fruits, but we generally consider them a vegetable in the culinary world. Happy cooking and growing my friend!