A Viral Thread Is Exposing The Truth About Peppers, And Minds Are Being Blown


Dr. Katie Spalding

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer


Mr BearZ/Shutterstock, @callmeamye

Let's talk about peppers.

Not the most controversial of plants, you might think. But a recent viral thread about one blogger's discovery regarding the Capsicum genus has set social media abuzz – as people learned there's far more to the stout little berry – yes, berry – than you might have realized.


It all started a few days ago, when Twitter user Amy, a style and lifestyle blogger, posted about her recent peppery revelation.


It turns out this is... sort of true. Certainly, if left unharvested, green peppers can turn yellow or red as they mature. They're not different types of pepper – just different stages of ripeness.

The changes in color are due to the decomposition of certain chemicals inside the plant as it matures. The pepper starts off green due to the presence of green chlorophyll pigments, which are crucial for photosynthesis. But as it ripens, these break down into various different pigments, which can turn the pepper anything from yellow, to a vibrant orange, to red, and even colors like white or purple.

Seriously. Michelet-???, Public Domain.

These chemical changes are also responsible for the different tastes and aromas of different colors of pepper. Green peppers contain a particular chemical compound with the catchy name of 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine – also known, appropriately, as "bell pepper pyrazine". This is one of the most odor-intense compounds on Earth, detectable by the human nose at a rate of parts per billion, and it's what gives green peppers their distinctive smell. As the pepper ripens, the concentrations of this and other compounds decrease, while levels of more fruity-smelling compounds rise to give a sweeter aroma.


But the popular idea of yellow peppers being a midway point between green peppers and red – the teenager of the capsicum family, if you will – is apparently just a myth, as botanist James Wong clarified in his own response-thread.


After the original post went viral, other people volunteered their own flora "facts".


This is definitely not true. As we learned from the bombshell at the start of the article, peppers are a berry – a fruit. They can't mate with each other – they exist to disseminate the seeds that have resulted from previous fertilization of the capsicum flowers.


But one Twitter user's revelation about olives showed the conspiracy runs deeper than you might have imagined.


Yes, olives, those salty, bitter hate-grapes, are plagued by just as much controversy as their peppery brethren. Technically a drupe – a stone fruit like a peach or cashew – olives are so disgusting in their natural form that even wild birds can't bear the taste. And, once again, though they do change color as they ripen, the truth isn't quite what Twitter would have us believe.

Although green olives do indeed get their color from being picked, and cured, before they have a chance to ripen, it's not necessarily true that those same olives will turn black if left on the tree – they can turn brown or even purple.

Meanwhile, some black olives – known as "California" olives – are actually just green olives. Cured in an alkaline solution, they become artificially aged with an iron compound treatment which turns them black.

So it turns out the produce section has been hiding some crazy secrets from us all these years. And that's not even touching on the fact that peppers are a type of nightshade, a genus of mostly poisonous plants which also includes the potato, of all things. And all those other things we call peppers – jalapenos, piri piri, habanero – they're capsicum fruits too.


But as for the pepper in your pepper mill – well that's a whole different thing entirely.


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