Peppers are split into two main categories, sweet peppers and hot peppers, also called chili peppers. Bell peppers fall under the sweet pepper category and are the only pepper to have zero capsaicin, the organic chemical that gives peppers their heat.
Bell peppers have a distinct shape, zero capsaicin (spiciness), and varieties include green, yellow, orange, red, purple, brown, and white colors. Estimating from looking at seed catalogs and online distributors there are something like 50 different types of bell peppers and something like 150 different types of sweet peppers.
Bell peppers are in the species Capsicum Annuum. The genus Capsicum has 20-27 species with 5 of those being domesticated: C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, and C. pubescens. The fruit of Capsicum plants are known by many names depending upon location and include chili pepper, sweet pepper, red pepper, green pepper, mangos, capsicum, and paprika. Paprika in the US is the spice made from a Capsicum pepper.
Different Varieties of Bell Peppers
The colors indicate the color or colors of the bell pepper variety and each variety is linked to a seed supplier.
Etiuda Pepper – Produces large orange bell peppers reminiscent of pumpkins with extremely thick walls. The peppers can reach half a pound in size. The flavor is sweet with a citrus profile in it. It’s a heavy yielder, disease resistant, and able to grow in many climates.
Chocolate Beauty Pepper – This beauty turns from green to a chocolaty brown color with orange/brown flesh. Matures in 70 days and produces 3-4 lobed peppers.
Purple Beauty – This is a beautiful heirloom variety with contrasting purple skin and green flesh. Purple Beauty, also called Purple Bell, is a good producer and fruits are a medium size.
California Wonder Pepper – Probably the most popular heirloom variety grown in gardens the California Wonder Pepper starts out green and ripens to red. Good to pick at either stage and are the classic green bell pepper.
Candy Apple – This is touted as one of the most flavorful and sweetest bell pepper varieties available. These peppers start out green and ripen to red but have sweetness even when picked green. It is a hybrid developed by Burpee.
Quadroto D’asti Giallo – This is a very large bell pepper that starts out green and turns yellow. The bell peppers have thick walls and some of the ripened fruit keep a little bit of their green. It is an Italian variety that has heavy yields.
Chocolate Bell – This variety turns from green to a dark chocolatey color on the outside with red flesh on the inside. They are a sweeter variety than most.
Cupid – These are snack size bell peppers that measure around 2×2 inches. These mature from green to red and are known for being quite sweet when fully ripened. This variety was created by the 100% employee owned johnnyseeds.
Gourmet – This is a bright orange variety of a medium size with medium thick walls. This variety grows in lots of conditions and is resistant to disease. This one is also from johnnyseeds.
Touchdown – This is an early maturing pepper reaching maturity in 72 days and produces large 4×5 inch bell peppers. Has thick walls and is a consistent disease resistant plant.
White Bell – Produces medium to large sized peppers that grow as a translucent white color and ripen into a pale yellow color.
King Arthur– King Arthur is a popular variety that is disease resistant and produces consistent good yields. The peppers turn green in 59 days and will ripen to red in 79 days.
Islander – The Islander is also known as The Chameleon because it changes colors from a purple lavender color, to yellowish/orange, and then fully ripened these peppers are red. The peppers can be picked at any stage so this one variety can give you a colorful plate. The taste is a mild/sweet flavor.
Sweet Sunrise – This pepper starts out dark green and turns into a yellow/orange color when fully ripened. The taste of these bell peppers is fruity and sweet.
Where Do Bell Peppers Come From?
Peppers got their start in Mesoamerica around 7,000 years ago. Mesoamerica included Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America. The name “chili” comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs who grew the peppers.
Around 1493 or the time of Columbus peppers were brought from the Americas to Europe. At the time black pepper was a highly prized commodity and commonly used as currency. A good guess is that this is because diets at the time were pretty bland and repetitive. Europeans found the spiciness of the newly introduced fruits similar to black table pepper and the name pepper stuck. Although they share the same name black or white table pepper is not in the same family and comes from ground seeds of the plant Piper nigrum.
Although peppers have a long history the modern day bell pepper is relatively new. Bell peppers were unpopular for a long time, possibly because people wanted the spiciness that bell peppers don’t have. Bell peppers before the 1900’s had thin hard walls and more parts leftover inside. The combination of the two made for a noisy plant when being blown in the wind and that’s how the peppers got the name bell pepper. In 1908 self-taught botanist Gregor Carillon bred the first silent bell pepper that we grow and enjoy today.
Which Bell Peppers Are Sweet?
Bell peppers continue to sweeten as they ripen. A green bell pepper is the least sweet as well as the least nutritious because it is picked while immature. Yellow, orange, and red bell peppers have all been allowed to fully ripen and are all similarly sweet with the sweetest of the bunch being the red bell pepper. A dark green bell pepper is more mature than a light green bell pepper.
Spicy Bell Pepper Plant
Spicy bell peppers do not exist. Bell peppers are the only pepper in the family of Capsicum to have zero capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers spicy. What you should look for instead is a sweet pepper with some spice in it. The following peppers are sweet peppers that also have some spice starting with the least spicy and going to the hottest: banana, pepperoncini, cherry, pimento, cubanelle, paprika, poblano.
The Mysterious Blue Bell Peppers
If you google blue bell peppers you’ll get a few images of what looks like blue bell peppers. Blue produce of any kind is rare and it looks like most of these pics are fakes.
One is a neon type blue that an author from mossandfog believes to be a fake. Another is a stack of perfectly blue bell peppers from a Canadian seller on Amazon selling seeds. Buyer reviews state that the plant is a pepper plant but not a bell pepper plant and one review says they are green. There is another image that is probably the only real one of the three and it’s a chocolate bell pepper that has a greenish blue tint.
There is a variety of bell pepper named Blue Jay but that goes from purple, to orange, to red. Another variety is called Filius Blue Pepper and this one is not a bell pepper and is purple but is a beautiful sweet pepper plant with peppers that look like Christmas ornaments hanging from the plant. Looks like if you want a blue bell pepper you’ll need to dedicate the rest of your life to intensive breeding of bell pepper varieties or break out the food coloring.