After months of growing bell pepper plants, finally you are seeing the fruits develop. It is exciting, of course, but also tempting to pick the peppers before they are truly ready.
In this article, I’ll share my advice on when to pick bell peppers for the best flavor and texture in your cooking. The answer will depend on your intended use, and whether you need to use them immediately.
In short, bell peppers can be harvested while they are still green, as long as they are fully grown in size. Fully ripened bell peppers change color and tend to have a sweeter flavor and a slightly softer texture.
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All Peppers Change Color (Even Green Bells)
Did you know that red bell peppers are simply green bell peppers that are fully ripe? There are many reasons that green peppers are used instead of red, both for flavor and for practicality.
First of all, green bell peppers taste different from red bells. They tend to be less sweet, with an earthy and vegetal flavor. After a green bell pepper ripens to red, it is much sweeter, but will often have a less crisp texture.
Another reason green bell peppers are sometimes favored over red is the time to harvest. For commercial purposes, it makes economical sense to harvest sooner rather than later. This is the likely reason that green bell peppers are less expensive to buy – they take less time to grow!
Finally, the change of color also comes with some health benefits. After ripening, red bell peppers reportedly have much more beta-carotene and vitamin C than unripe green peppers. For this reason, red, yellow and orange bell peppers are generally more nutritious than green bell peppers.
For the home gardener wondering when to pick bell peppers, it comes down to your specific needs. If you need them for tonight’s dinner and the peppers are still green, then by all means pick them!
If you’d rather enjoy the health benefits and a sweeter flavor, then you’ll just have to wait for it to happen! If you pick your peppers while they are still green, there is a chance that they will not ripen off of the plant (more on this later).
Never Pick Bell Peppers Before Fully Grown
Now that we’ve taken color into consideration, there are some other important things to think about before picking bell peppers. You should never pick bell peppers before they are fully grown.
Allowing your peppers to reach their full size is critical for several reasons. It can affect flavor, texture, and of course the amount of pepper that you get.
First off, the flavor of underdeveloped peppers is usually very bitter and unpleasant. Expecting a nice, sweet and juicy flavor? Think again – undergrown bell peppers taste more like a bitter, savory veggie than what you are used to.
In addition to flavor, the texture will be inferior to a fully grown fruit. The walls of the pepper will be thinner and weaker, leading to a soft and unsatisfying crunch level. Also, not the best for holding together in your stuffed peppers.
And if you needed one more reason to wait for your bell peppers to grow to their full size, here it is: smaller peppers means…less peppers! It is obvious, but picking small peppers means you’re getting a smaller harvest from your plants. Allow the plants to finish the job before you reap your gardening rewards.
One last note – if you plan to pick your bell peppers when they are green, allow them to stay on the plant for about a week more once they are done growing in size. This allows some time for the pods to develop better flavor and texture.
How Do I Know When Bell Peppers are Fully Grown?
With that point made, how can you be sure your peppers are full-sized before picking? The easiest way to know is to check your plants regularly. Once peppers begin developing, they grow fairly quickly.
Bell peppers typically take between 10-14 days to grow to a full size after the fruits begin to form. However, this duration will vary depending on weather conditions and nutrient availability. I like to check on my pepper plants daily and note the difference in pepper pod size.
It can also be helpful to snap a picture from the same angle every time you check on your peppers. The slow changes in growth become obvious when you have a timeline of pictures to reference!
Again, once the peppers are full-sized, I recommend leaving them on the plant for another week for the best flavor. Of course peppers are edible at any stage, so no need to worry if you pick them sooner.
Use Scissors to Avoid Damaging the Plant
Bell peppers have massive stems. They are some of the thickest peppers out there, so harvesting can be a bit of a chore.
If your bell peppers are stubborn while harvesting, I recommend using a sharp, clean pair of scissors or pruning shears. This will help prevent damage to your plants and will give the peppers a nice, clean look, too.
Pick Promptly to Encourage More Ripe Peppers
Another tip for harvesting bell peppers is to pick as soon as you are ready to use them. Never let fully ripened peppers sit on the plant for longer than they need to.
Harvesting bell peppers triggers the plant to continue producing more fruits for you. If you pick some green bell peppers in late July, you may end up with a whole new set of fruits before winter arrives!
If you don’t have an immediate need for your bell peppers, but they are fully red on the plant, I still recommend picking them and preserving them. There are several easy methods for storing bell peppers for later use.
Do Green Peppers Ripen After Picking?
You may wonder whether green bell peppers will continue to ripen off of the plant. You may be in a rush to pick the peppers or have already picked them but wish to wait for them to turn red for the better flavor and increased nutrition.
In short, green bell peppers can ripen off of the plant, but only if the peppers have already begun ripening while on the plant. If your peppers have a slight darkness to them, they have likely begun ripening and will continue through to a fully ripe color after being picked.
How long does it take for a bell pepper to ripen?
After the process begins, it can take anywhere from 3-7 days for a bell peppers to turn fully red (or yellow or orange or…). This rate of ripening shouldn’t differ much between peppers that have already been picked and those still on the plant.
Can I Save Bell Pepper Seeds?
If you intend to save the seeds within your bell peppers for planting later, you need to make sure that they are fully developed before harvesting.
Seeds become viable some time between the green and fully-ripened stage. However, to be on the safe side, I always recommend allowing the peppers to fully change color while still on the plant.
After the peppers have ripened, I let the pods sit another few days before picking, just to be sure the seeds are done developing. Then, you can pick the pepper and harvest the seeds for storage.
What to Do With Fresh Bell Peppers
Now that you have harvested your home-grown bell peppers, what are you going to do with them?! You probably already have a plan, but just in case, here are a few ideas for what to do with your fresh bells:
- Make stuffed peppers. Bell peppers are perfect for stuffing. Their huge size can fit a ton of food, perfect for an easy home cooked family meal.
- Throw them in a salad or stir fry. Peppers compliment so many types of cuisine. Whether you are making a homemade Chinese stir fry, a pasta dish, or a side salad, freshly chopped bell peppers can only improve the meal!
- Make pepper chips and dip. If you want to try a healthy alternative to deep-fried chips, replace them with your bell peppers. The thick, crunchy walls are perfect for holding loads of tasty dip. This is a scenario where I might recommend picking bell peppers while they are still green for increased crisp-ness.
- Roast them. Roasted peppers take on a different flavor profile. While this softens the peppers considerably, you can use them to complexify your cooking (in a good way). Roasting peppers is easy to do with an oven or even an outdoor grill.
- Slice and freeze them. If you just don’t have a use for your bell peppers right away, you can always freeze them for easy use later on. Frozen bell peppers retain all of their flavor and are still a great, nutritious ingredient for cooking.
I hope this article helps to demystify when to pick bell peppers. Harvesting bell peppers should be nothing but exciting, so cheers to a huge harvest!