In spite of the way they may look, there is no botanical difference between bell peppers and other types of sweet peppers, and the terms are often used interchangeably. A bell pepper is simply a type of sweet pepper — as opposed to a hot pepper — and both are scientifically classified as Capsicum annuum because they are the same species.
Nonetheless, there are some differences among peppers worth noting. Color differences in bell peppers, for example, can affect the way you use them. Knowing the color and flavor characteristics of different types of sweet peppers can help you choose the ideal one for your dish.
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There is no botanical difference between bell peppers and sweet peppers, but depending on the cultivar or variety of a pepper and how long it is left on the plant, there may be differences in color, taste and shape.
Color Differences in Peppers
The differences in the color of many peppers actually depend on when it is picked. Different-colored fruits of the same cultivar are simply removed from the pepper plant at different stages of the ripening process.
Sweet peppers begin their life as green fruits. As they ripen, many types get warmer in tone, some first turning yellow, then orange and eventually red. There are other options for color too, including white and purple.
Flavor Differences in Peppers
As sweet peppers ripen, they tend to become less bitter and more sweet. The longer some peppers stay on the plant, the more sugar content they develop. Thus, a green bell pepper is the least sweet and the most bitter. Green peppers may be eaten raw but can also be a useful ingredient in cooking. Yellow and orange peppers are of a similar flavor. They are quite mild and a bit sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Red peppers are the sweetest of the sweet peppers. They're often eaten raw as crudités and in salads and are also a common type used for stuffed or roasted peppers, thanks to their mildly sweet taste. Red peppers also contain the most nutrients.
Purple and white peppers tend to be more comparable to the green end of the sweet pepper spectrum, with a fresher, crisper bite. White and purple peppers, such as the 'White Cloud' and 'Purple Beauty' cultivars, respectively, are also less common than other colors and can be used to add visual interest to a dish.
Differences Among Pepper Cultivars
The main differences aside from flavor among different types of sweet peppers are cosmetic. Sweet pepper selections can come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, including a long, carrotlike shape, such as 'Cornito Gaillo'; small and rounded, such as 'Cherry Pick'; or large and blocky, such as 'King Arthur.' Sheepnose pimento peppers are shaped like their descriptive namesake.
While some peppers are filled with bitter seeds that must be removed before you eat the fruit, others, such as 'Yellow Sweetie' and 'Yum Yum Mix,' have far fewer seeds, if any. Different sweet pepper cultivars can be even sweeter than red bell peppers, but they follow the same basic color-to-flavor correlation, with green being the most bitter and red the sweetest.
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Pepper
- Old Farmer's Almanac: Growing Bell Peppers
- BBC: Are Green, Red, Yellow and Orange Peppers Different?
- UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa: Pepper Collections for 2021
- Mississipi State University Extension: Bellpeppers & Differences Between Color Varieties
- Portland Nursery: 2020 Sweet Peppers