Why Are My Peppers Bitter – How To Sweeten Peppers In The Garden

bitter pepper
bitter pepper
(Image credit: rootstocks)

Whether you like them fresh, sautéed, or stuffed, bell peppers are classic dinnertime vegetables with lots of versatility. The slightly sweet flavor enhances spicy, herby, and savory dishes while the variety of colors enlivens any recipe. There are few things more jarring than a bitter bell pepper in a favorite dish. What causes bitter peppers? The reasons may be cultural, varietal, or simply the result of an impatient gardener.

What Causes Bitter Peppers?

Your pepper harvest is in and the first sacrificial lamb has made its way into your best recipe; but, alas, why are my peppers bitter? This is common in the under ripe bell pepper family. Green bell peppers boast a sweet/bitter balance when mature, but if you leave them on the plant to ripen further, they develop gorgeous colors and a much sweeter flavor. If you are growing bell peppers and want sweet fruit, you often just need to wait. If your "sweet" peppers are bitter, the cause may be the variety. The bells are the most popular, but there are many other sweet varieties with elongated forms.

  • Italian horn shaped peppers are a rich red and have a succulent sweet taste.
  • Sweet cherry peppers are bite sized spicy-candy that zest up recipes or pack a bit of punch as crunch raw treats.
  • Roasting pimentos become even sweeter when cooked. Their elongated form and rich red color add pizzazz to recipes.

There are many more varieties from across the globe with rich, sweet flavor and unique shapes. Amongst the bell varieties, the red bell pepper is the sweetest while the less ripe green has a small bit of natural bitterness along with the sweet notes.

Fixing a Bitter Bell Pepper

Since pepper plants like hot, dry sites overall, it is common to consider them drought tolerant. This is incorrect. In fact, bell varieties need lots of water, especially while they are producing fruit. In average summer temperatures the plants need 2 inches (5 cm.) of water twice per week while they are growing. This amount can double during extreme heat events. Once you have flowers and there are the beginnings of fruit, keep soil wet 18 inches (46 cm.) down towards roots. If you overhead water, the frequency will be more than if you use a soaker hose or drip system, which directs moisture into the soil and roots. How to sweeten peppers in the garden? The short answer is to be patient. The length of time your fruits take to achieve their sweetest state, red, will depend upon your climate and cultural care. Most take 65 to 75 days to reach full maturity, but many factors can alter that timeline. For the most part, bell peppers don't ripen off the plant. If the pepper is almost red and your season is coming to an end, leave it on the counter in a sunny location for a few days. Often, it will ripen a bit more. In refrigeration, however, the process is stopped. You may also try removing some leaves around fruit on the plant to allow more sunlight in. If you have some peppers that are racing to red, remove any green ones so the plant can focus on finishing those fruits.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.