Are Bell Peppers a Fruit? – From 6 Different Perspectives

Bell peppers are botanically classified as a fruit and the dictionary adds some weight to the fruit categorization also. Bell peppers are categorized as vegetables from the other four perspectives including legally. I think that for arguments sake bell peppers are vegetables.

Bell Peppers Are Botanically a Fruit

In botany, a fruit is the seed bearing structure of a plant that forms from the ovary of a flowering plant. In botany, vegetables are all other parts of the plant that are not involved in reproduction including the roots, stems, and leaves.

To go a step further, bell peppers are scientifically classified as berries. A berry is a fruit that has a fleshy exterior and is produced from the ovary of a single flower. Other berries include cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, and grapes. Things that we commonly refer to as “berries” like strawberries and raspberries do not fall into the botanical category of berries.

Bell peppers fall into the species Capsicum annuum along with jalapenos, cayenne peppers, and chiles. Capsanoid chemicals, mainly capsaicin, create the burning sensation and sometimes indigestion that goes along with hot peppers. Capsaicin is also the main ingredient in pepper spray. Bell peppers are the only Capsicum fruit that have zero capsaicin.

Bell Peppers Are Horticulturally a Vegetable

Horticulture is the practice of growing plants for human consumption, either as food or through non-food uses. Horticulture is similar to but differs from agriculture in the diversity of crops grown and the smaller scale of production.

In horticulture, a vegetable comes from a herbaceous annual plant and fruits come from woody perennials. The annual plants grow and die off every year and are herbaceous with pliable stems and branches. Woody perennials are hardy and come back year after year. Their stems and branches are more durable and sturdy.

So horticulturally, the products from a pepper plant that are annual herbaceous plants are vegetables and the products from a woody perennial like an apple tree is a fruit.

Bell Peppers In Culinary Use

In culinary use vegetables and fruits are categorized based on taste and texture as well as when they are served. A vegetable dish typically has a more mild and savory flavor with and is served as a main dish or side during the main meal. A fruit has a sweet or tart flavor with a softer texture and is served as a dessert, snack, or juice.

Bell peppers can be pureed and mixed into a cheesecake or made into an upside down cake but these are rare. I’ve never had a dessert dish with bell peppers and almost always had them with fajitas, or some other stir fry or as stuffed bell peppers. Bell peppers are simply not very sweet and are typically served with the main dish. With this in mind a bell pepper is culinarily a vegetable.

Are Bell Peppers Legally Considered a Fruit or Vegetable?

In 1893 a trial, Nix v. Hedden, made its way to the Supreme Court. In this case the plaintiff alleged that tomatoes were fruit and not vegetables and that as such he should not be required to pay the 10% import tariff on vegetables when importing tomatoes.

Under the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883 there was no charge on importing fruits while vegetables had a 10% import tax on them. “Vegetables in their natural state, or in salt or brine, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act, ten percentum ad valorem,” and fruits “Fruits, green, ripe, or dried, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act.” 

During the case, testimony was given by merchants that dealt in vegetables and fruits. The merchants were asked the common terms they used when talking about fruit and vegetable merchandise and bargaining with customers and other vendors.

After this the plaintiff and defendant both read definitions from the Webster’s Dictionary that supported their case. The defendant’s counsel read from Webster’s Dictionary the definitions of the words “pea,” “egg plant,” “cucumber,” “squash,” and “pepper.” The plaintiff then read from Webster’s and Worcester’s dictionaries the definitions of “potato,” “turnip,” “parsnip,” “cauliflower,” “cabbage,” “carrot,” and “bean.”

The court recognized that botanically tomatoes were a fruit. But, they ruled that tomatoes are a vegetable and stated the two main reasons for this is that tomatoes are commonly referred to as vegetables and that consumption in main dishes as opposed to desserts made it a vegetable. The court also referenced a case from 1889 in which the plaintiff tried to get out of paying a tariff on imported beans by calling them seeds.

Since tomatoes were legally ruled a vegetable because of their use culinarily and being commonly referenced to as a vegetable I think it’s safe to say the court would rule the same way if bell peppers were the subject. Therefore, legally, bell peppers are considered vegetables.

Fruit or Vegetable – Straight From the Dictionary

Turning to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary for a definition seems to make sense. According to Merriam-Webster a bell pepper is defined as “sweet pepper” and a sweet pepper is defined as “any of various large mild thick-walled capsicum fruits“. The dictionary looks to be calling bell peppers fruits. Let’s look a little deeper.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary a vegetable is “a usually herbaceous plant (such as the cabbage, bean, or potato) grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal”. Definition of fruit, “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant especially one having a sweet pulp associated with the seed”.

A bell pepper definitely fits the definition of a vegetable and fits half of the definition of a fruit. I would say that a bell pepper does not have “sweet pulp”. I think the answer here is mixed but if we have to lean one way or another it appears to me that the dictionary calls bell peppers a fruit.

Culturally

If I walked outside and asked 100 people whether a bell pepper was a fruit or vegetable I don’t think anybody would be shocked when there were more tallies on the vegetable side than fruit side.

At the grocery store bell peppers are placed next to other vegetables. There are lots of different fruit pies but I’ve never seen a bell pepper pie. I love fruit salads and have had many different variations of the dish but never one with bell peppers in it. Also never seen a fruit basket full of bell peppers.

I think it’s safe to say that as a culture we think of bell peppers as a vegetable.

10 Facts About Bell Peppers

  1. A red bell pepper has 300% more vitamin C than an orange. Maybe we should be drinking red bell pepper juice.
  2. Green bell peppers are the cheapest peppers because they are ready to pick before the ripened colored peppers.
  3. Vitamin C and carotenoid content continue to increase with ripeness.
  4. Green bell peppers are not ripe and will continue to ripen on the vine and turn a darker shade green and then yellow, orange, red, or purple based on the variety.
  5. Bell peppers also contain vitamin A, potassium, fiber, iron, and folate, molybdenum, vitamin E, dietary fiber, vitamin B2, pantothenic acid, niacin and potassium. They are also a good source of vitamin K, manganese, vitamin B1, phosphorus and magnesium..
  6. Bell peppers are also called sweet pepper, pepper, or capsicum.
  7. Bell peppers originated in Central and South America.
  8. Bell peppers can be dried or pickled.
  9. China is the worlds #1 producer of bell peppers followed by Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, and the United States.
  10. Bell peppers have a recessive gene that eliminates capsaicin. This is why they are not a hot pepper.

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