Peppers That Aren’t Hot: Growing Different Types Of Sweet Peppers
The popularity of spicy, hot peppers can be demonstrated clearly just by looking down the hot sauce aisle of the market. It’s no wonder with their varied colors, shapes, and heat indexes. But let’s not forget about the various types of sweet peppers varieties, each of which makes a delicious contribution to a variety of cuisines. For those folks who prefer peppers that aren’t hot, read on to find out about the different kinds of sweet peppers.
Sweet Bell Pepper Varieties
The pepper that gets used most often is undoubtedly the green bell pepper. It is a common fixture in many dishes and can be found at every supermarket. Mounded near the green bell peppers are the sunrise hued red, yellow, and orange bell peppers. And, if you are really lucky, sometimes you will see purple, adding to the cacophony of color in the produce aisle.
So is there a difference between these colored beauties? Not really. All of them are sweet bell types of peppers. You may notice that the green bell peppers are usually less expensive than their multi-hued neighbors. This is simply because green bell peppers are picked when they are full sized but not as ripe. As the fruit ripens, it begins to transform from drab green to a kaleidoscope of sunny hues – like red peppers.
The green, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers all keep their color when cooked; however, the purple variety is better used fresh, as its color darkens and becomes somewhat muddy looking when cooked.
Other Kinds of Sweet Peppers
The sweet bell pepper types are one way to go for people that like peppers that aren’t hot but are by no means the only option. For those who are a little more adventurous and don’t mind a hint of heat, there are plenty of other options.
Sweet cherry peppers, for instance, while they may have a slight bite, are for the most part true to their name. They look like miniature sweet bell peppers and are delicious raw and eaten as a snack, tossed into salads, or pickled.
Cubanelle peppers are long, thin peppers that start out a pale green, but when allowed to ripen, darken to a rich red. Italian frying peppers are, as their name suggests, best when they are sliced lengthwise and lightly fried in olive oil. They can be eaten this way or combined with Italian cured meats to make a sandwich.
Pimentos are classic red peppers that are most commonly roasted to bring out their sweet flavor. Banana peppers of yellow wax peppers are long, thin yellow peppers that are commonly pickled. Carmen Italian sweet peppers are sweet and fruity and are delicious roasted on the grill.
Anaheim chilies can be used when green or red and are the most common chili pepper used in the United States. Ancho chili peppers are dried poblano peppers that, when combined with Mulato and Pasilla peppers, form the holy trinity of peppers used to make mole sauces.
There are tons of other less easy to find, slightly more exotic options for sweet peppers as well. The Aja Panca chili pepper has a sweet, berry-like, slightly smoky flavor and is the second most common pepper in use in Peru. The Dolmalik chili from Turkey has a rich smoky, sweet flavor that is often used powdered as a dry rub for meat.
This is just a taste of what a world traveler might come upon in the search for the best sweet pepper. They might also find these interesting pepper varieties:
- Dous des Landes of France
- Elephant’s ear or Slonovo Uvo from Croatia
- Giant Szegedi of Hungary
- Liebesapfel of Germany
Different Kinds Of Sweet Peppers - Learn About Various Sweet Pepper Varieties - garden
There are lots of sweet pepper varieties available to the backyard vegetable gardener. When most people think of sweet peppers, they think about bell peppers. But there are lots of other varieties of sweet peppers that are great for grilling or stuffing or frying. The possibilities are endless. Here is a partial list of some common varieties of sweet peppers, including fruit information and uses. Please note - the days to maturity are counted after the seedling is transplanted.
- Orange Blaze - All-America Winner, good disease resistance, features 4"x1.5" peppers that turn from green to bright orange, ready in 70 days
- Carmen - ready in 75 days, horn-shaped Italian sweet pepper, green to red, 3"-4" long, very prolific and tolerant of varied temperatures
- Maxibelle - large and blocky bell pepper, thick walls, green to red, sweet and crunchy, ready in 75 days, good raw or cooked, freezes well
- Block Party - 4"x4" blocky bell peppers, thick walls, green to red, ready in 80 days, very consistent shape, good for stuffing, plants average 2 feet tall, sweet and tangy flavor
- California Wonder - classic heirloom bell pepper variety, introduced in 1928, 3"x4" peppers have 4 lobes each, consistent production, sweet and crispy, freezes well, ready in 75 days, green to red
- Gold Standard - very large sweet pepper variety, 5"x5" blocky bell peppers, 73 days to green and 88 days to bright gold, good for grilling or stuffing, thick walls and consistent production
- The Godfather - classic Italian sweet pepper variety, green in 64 days and red in 78 days, 7" peppers are tapered and meaty, good for frying or grilling or stuffing, available exclusively from the Burpee Seed Company
- Costa Rican Sweet - very tasty and slightly wrinkled, good grilled or roasted or raw, very fruity and sweet, peppers are 4"-5" long and tapered, green to orange to red, ready in 70 days
- Marconi - traditional Italian pepper, good for grilling or frying or stuffing or just raw, 7"-10" long and slightly tapered, green to yellow or red, ready in 85 days, very sweet with thick walls
- Chocolate Belle - very sweet, blocky bell peppers with 2-4 lobes, good disease resistance, purple to chocolate colored, ready in 70 days, best when eaten raw or lightly sauteed
- Cubanelle - green to yellow to orange and red, ready in 75 days, good for roasting or stuffing or frying, less water content than other sweet pepper varieties, fruit feature 3 lobes and average 3"-4" long, thin walls
- Chinese Giant - bell pepper variety that can reach 6" long and 5" across, heirloom variety introduced to the USA in 1900, red to green, ready in 80 days, thick walls, sweet and crisp
- Sweet Banana - this heirloom sweet pepper variety is a pickling favorite, 6"-7" long and tapered, thin skin, pale yellow to light orange to deep red, ready in 72 days
- Double Delight - a large 9" pepper in the shape of a bullhorn, thick walls and very sweet, good for grilling or stuffing or raw, green to yellow/orange to dark red, high yields, ready in 65 days
- Lipstick - 4" oblong peppers, green to red, pimento-type pepper great for roasting or sauces or raw, very sweet, look hot but they're not, ready in 70 days
- Sweetheart - ready in 75 days, 3" heart-shaped pepper, thick walls, good for stuffing or eating raw, good disease resistance, very sweet, green to red
Growing Peppers From Seed
The University of Minnesota Extension recommends starting pepper seeds about eight weeks before transplanting them outside. It can be challenging to choose pepper varieties when browsing seed catalogs in the winter, with so many to pick from. When you buy pepper seeds or transplants, consider what you want to use the peppers for, how many your family can use, and choose varieties adapted to your region.
Start seeds in a warm, bright environment, using a heating mat if you have one. Peppers need a soil temperature of about 70 degrees to germinate, so keep your heating mat set at 80 to 90 degrees. Sow seeds to a depth of about 1/4 inch deep in a soilless potting mix.
Though all peppers and tomatoes are members of the family Solanaceae, peppers generally start and grow slower than tomatoes. Planting tomatoes and peppers in raised beds together or in close proximity in a garden can be a problem, as they are both affected by the same insects and diseases.
All About Green and Red Sweet Peppers
Peppers have been associated with civilization for thousands of years, making them some of the oldest seed food crops domesticated in the New World. After Columbus found them growing in the West Indies, they rapidly circulated the globe and influenced many cuisines. The peppers I am discussing are sweet red peppers that we most commonly see today as the big blocky high-shouldered hybrids. Many people who have not gardened are surprised to learn that red peppers are simply ripe green peppers, which perhaps says more about our disconnection from food than anything else. I was never a big fan of green peppers I find their taste just a bit too unripe and, well, green. They are a bit better cooked, but there’s no comparison with letting peppers reach their full lush ripeness and enjoying their rich sweet taste.
While sweet peppers are invariably called bell peppers, they come in a variety of shapes which are rarely seen in retail markets in the United States. They are the same species (Capsicum annuum) as hot peppers, and when grown in close proximity may transfer the “heat” gene to the next generation. An innocuous-looking bell pepper offspring may turn out to be a very large hot pepper.
Capsicum annuum most likely originated in east-central Mexico around 6,500 years ago from wild chili pepper, or bird pepper (C. annuum var. glabriusculum), a perennial shrub native to the northern half of Mexico that produces small pealike fruits. Seeds are spread by birds and can now be found from northern South America to the southwestern United States. Plants average 3 feet in height but in the right conditions can reach 9 feet. Fruits have a reputation of being fiery hot but all the dried samples I have consumed have been rather pleasant. C. annuum is one of four other domesticated peppers including C. chinense, C. frutescens, C. pubescens and C. baccatum. These species originate in South America, thus forming two separate areas of pepper domestication.
Most early descriptions of peppers in Mexico and the West Indies appear to refer to the hot types, and this could be for a variety of reasons. The only two species of Old World plants that brought any “heat” to food was the West African grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) that became supplanted by the far superior black pepper (Piper nigrum), whose trade and price was tightly controlled by the Dutch. Then hot peppers were “discovered,” which added a new important dimension to the palate, and could be grown in just about any moderate climate.
There were repeated introductions of various pepper varieties to the Old World from the New. It is clear that the Spaniards, being the conquerors of pepper growing regions of the New World, were the first to introduce them. They were further introduced to Europe via the Balkan Peninsula where they had been obtained by Ottoman Turks from their conquest of Portuguese colonies in Persia in 1513 and Indian islands in 1538. Thus German Botanist Leonhart Fuchs illustrated them as Indian or Calicut peppers in 1543. Many sources began calling them Indian peppers, maintaining the common belief they were of “Eastern” origin. The Portuguese probably introduced them to Africa and India and soon after peppers reached East Asia. They were thus called Guinea peppers, with the idea being they originated in the Guinea region of Africa. By the end of the 16th century, capsicums had already gone around the world. Peppers diffused across a wide array of cultures and geographies and were selected and/or hybridized for various characteristics, like for paprika in Hungary and Spain.
Pimento peppers were probably one of the earliest sweet peppers brought to Spain, a heart-shaped type with a distinctive flavor and thick flesh. It is likely they or a related type were being grown in northern Europe by the end of the 16th century. In Spanish, “pimento” simply means pepper, but this type became associated with Spain, generally referring to a sweet pepper. For years canned pimentos were imported to the United States from Spain, until the invention of an American pepper-roasting machine started our own pimento industry in Georgia around 1914.
By 1804 Philadelphia seedsman Bernard McMahon listed eight peppers in three colors including the Large Heart Capsicum and Red or Guinea Pepper. By 1812 Thomas Jefferson was growing Bull Nose pepper as well as Major, perhaps a pimento type. Seedsman Grant Thorburn in 1826 listed Tomato-Shaped and Bell. The California Wonder Bell was known as early as 1828, although not formally named or introduced until 100 years later as an improved variety. For much of the 20th century this was the standard blocky red bell pepper, although rather late-bearing in northern latitudes. Fearing Burr Jr. in his Field and Garden Vegetables of America mentions a variety of sweet peppers including, Bell, Quince, Sweet Spanish, and Sweet Mountain.
There are quite a number of heirloom pepper varieties available, mostly through the smaller open-pollinated and heirloom specialist catalogs. While the selections are not quite as plentiful as heirloom tomatoes, there is plenty to choose from.
One of the oldest named varieties in commerce is the Bull Nose Pepper, which appears in the mid 18th century, as a blocky, somewhat squat irregularly lobed pepper, with a strongly creased blossom end. The original may have been of smaller stature than the contemporary Bull Nose pepper, a medium-size bell, and at least in some types it was hot. What is available today probably was selection appearing later in the 19th century. Whether Bull Nose always referred to one exact type is unclear, but soon more named bell types were to appear.
While Maule’s Seed catalog of 1902 brags that Ruby King yields 12 to 18 fruits per plant, I have found it to be a bit more modest in output, but then it depends on your conditions and climate. It is an excellent sweet bell pepper introduced in the 1880s with good red color and excellent taste. It is fairly early bearing.
Chinese Giant is a big red pepper, true to its name, introduced by Burpee in 1900. It can be 6 inches long and 4 to 5 inches wide, three to four lobed, borne on relatively small but strong bushy plants. It is a fairly long-season pepper requiring almost three months to mature to a medium to deep red.
Napoleon doesn’t have the breadth of Chinese Giant and is a classic four-lobed blocky bell pepper, somewhat variable, fairly long at 6, sometimes 8, inches. The yield is good, taste is excellent, and it is an all-around great heirloom to grow.
It is hard to find a pimento pepper that is definitely heirloom, but the longer types available are certainly close. Very thick walls are their main characteristic. The classic pimento is what McMahon probably listed in 1804 as heart-shaped. The contemporary pimentos can be vaguely heart-shaped with some-to-no lobing, and taper from a wide top to a narrower blossom end. Other types of peppers have been used for pimento production including bell and tomato types and may be referred to as pimento.
Similarly shaped peppers with thinner walls may be used for paprika. One example is Feher Ozon, a Hungarian pepper which is yellow when unripe turning to an orange-red when ripe, with a semi spicy taste. Other types of Hungarian paprika peppers are more long-tapering, turning a classic red when ripe. Some can be fairly flavorful with aromatic or spice taste but not hot. There are hot paprika types too. One very attractive Bulgarian heirloom is the Chervena Chushka, deep red and tasty with thicker walls than a typical paprika type and used for fresh eating or frying.
Tomato peppers are another group of heirloom peppers. These are amongst the oldest types. They are relatively flattened and ribbed (or ruffled) and round like an early-19th century tomato. Some are relatively smooth and barely indented. They can have thick walls, or somewhat thinner. The thick-walled types make excellent pimento and are delicious smoked. Alma Paprika, Red Ruffled and Red Cheese are thick-walled pimento types. Be aware that many peppers labeled “tomato” on the market are hot varieties.
All of these peppers can be used for an array of purposes, some are just better suited than others. Let them ripen to their various shades of red, and in late summer you will be amply rewarded.
Ethnobotanist and former director of the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy, Lawrence Davis-Hollander gardens, cooks, and – at a nearby preserve – watches bald eagles and seasonal wildflowers.