Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner who believes in the power of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to prevent and fight illness.
If you've ever asked "why do bell peppers change color," you're not alone. Despite being a staple in many vegetable crispers for their sweet taste and crunchy texture, bell peppers are fruits.
Bell peppers—also known as sweet peppers—share the same species as chili peppers and originate from the same part of the world, central America. They are members of the Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes.
Bell Peppers Change Color as They Mature
Have you ever admired the vibrant color of red bell pepper and noticed that bell peppers change colors as they ripen? All bell peppers start as green and change shades as they mature.
An immature green bell pepper, depending upon the type, becomes a yellow, orange, or red pepper as it ripens and becomes more mature.
Bell peppers also become sweeter as they ripen. Red bell peppers will have a milder, sweeter flavor than a less mature green bell pepper while the green bell pepper will be crunchier.
The green shade of a bell pepper comes from chlorophyll, a pigment that gives plants the ability to make their food through photosynthesis. The red color in the fruit comes from an anthocyanin called lycopene (also found in tomatoes).
Red Bell Peppers Contain Lycopene
What is the scientific basis for bell peppers changing colors? As the fruit ripens, chlorophyll breaks down. This process is called senescence or aging and produces anthocyanin pigments (the compound responsible for giving fruits their vibrant colors).
Over time these pigments accumulate at different rates throughout the plant resulting in different colored vegetables when fully ripened. Red bell peppers have higher quantities of anthocyanins and lycopene, whereas green bell peppers have more chlorophyll.
Lycopene is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It’s the same compound that gives tomatoes their red color. Some studies suggest lycopene has health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory activity.
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Low in Calories, High in Nutrients
Here’s another thing you should know about bell peppers. They're low in calories—about 30 calories per cup. This makes them one of the least calorically dense fruits around. But that doesn’t mean they’re short on nutrients.
Vitamins A and C and Fiber
The amount of vitamin C in bell peppers varies with their color. Yellow bell peppers contain the most vitamin C, supplying around 169% of the daily recommended intake of this antioxidant vitamin.
Red bell peppers contain less than half that amount and green bell peppers have the least. Still, all shades of bell pepper contain more vitamin C than an orange, the poster child for vitamin C-rich foods.
Potassium and Antioxidants
Red bell peppers deliver potassium too. One cup of chopped red bell peppers contains more than 200 milligrams (mg). Potassium is important for heart health and blood pressure control.
Plus, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers supply other antioxidants and carotenoid compounds with anti-inflammatory activity, some of which are important for eye health.
Pick Your Bell Pepper
There are many different colors of bell pepper to choose from, each with its own flavor and texture. The most common colors available in supermarkets are green, yellow, orange, and red. Green bell peppers have a grassy taste and are crunchy, while yellow peppers are sweeter.
Orange bell peppers are sweeter still, but they can still be a bit fruity or tart depending on their ripeness level at the time they were picked off the vine. Red peppers offer the sweetest flavor and softest texture.
Be prepared to pay a little more for red and orange bell peppers. Red peppers stay on the vine longer and that means they require care and maintenance longer, thereby elevating their price. Still, red and orange bell peppers contain more lycopene, which may be beneficial for your health.
Now You Know!
Why do bell peppers change color? Now you know it’s part of their ripening process and it occurs naturally as a bell pepper matures.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.