My mother and I purchased some pepper plants from Costco. The info card they came with (which identifies them as Capsicum annuum bell peppers) depicts vibrant red bell peppers. However, they've started to sprout their fruit, and we're noticing they're distinctly green.

Mom hears tale that peppers turn red if you don't pick them from the plant. Is this fact, will the pepper change color when left on the plant past its full growth? Is this only for particular breeds of pepper? If it does change color, is there a specific length of time I should wait, or perhaps some way to tell when the color change is complete?

The card doesn't clarify much past that. Just says "pepper" matures in "60-100 days", and talks about both mild peppers and hot peppers.

3 Answers 3


When the peppers come to fruit, they're going to start out green. Doesn't matter really what type you've bought, that's their first stage.

How long you leave them to ripen will determine what colour, and subsequently the flavour packed into it, when you pick them off. The ones you time to hang on the branch for longer will give you more bang for your tastebuds.

All baby peppers start out some shade of green and change color as they mature. Some peppers stay green until they mature to yellow or red; others may turn white, lilac or purple before maturing to red or yellow. You can eat peppers at whatever stage you prefer, but the color change in ripening peppers is caused by the breakdown of chlorophyll, which coincides with the maturation of the seeds. Sugars and other flavor compounds also accumulate during the final stages of ripening, and vitamin C content often doubles. So, fully ripe peppers taste better and are more nutritious.

Do All Peppers Start Out Green?

The "days to maturity" on the packet is a guide to the best time to pick your harvest. But if you like the look of what's already there and can't wait, pluck, wash and serve to your needs.

Keep in mind for next time as you continue your pepper harvest what stage of colours from the crop taste best to you.


Green peppers are "unripe" (even though we often eat them that way). They get their final color -- red, orange, etc. -- as they ripen.

So your mother is right: if you leave them on the plant to ripen, they will turn the red color shown on the card. It sounds like the card was generic for all capsicum annuum, 60-100 days is a pretty wide range... if you knew the named variety of pepper, you could get a better idea of when to expect it to fully ripen.

And as they ripen, they develop their full flavor. (I.e. red sweet peppers are sweeter than green, and red hot peppers are hotter.) If you keep picking the green peppers, the plant will produce more fruit. If you allow the fruits to ripen to red, the plant thinks it has fulfilled its mission in life by creating seeds for another generation, and stops setting more fruit.

  • 1
    Hah, I see. So a green pepper is, in a sense, kinda like a green banana - it's not simply at an early stage of ripening, but it's actually before being ripe? (At least, if I understand bananas correctly)
    – Grace Note
    Aug 9, 2011 at 21:27
  • 5
    @GraceNote Green bananas do ripen outside the plant, whereas peppers usually begin to shrivel (some turn red as they do) outside the plant. Aug 9, 2011 at 21:35

The above answers are correct, and ripening on-the-stem is always preferable, but it is possible to ripen them after picking. As @yoda points out, they do tend to shrivel and dry, but this might be desirable (eg. In a dry environment, you could do this as a precursor to making chili powder). However, the ripening process can be speeded up by putting the picked peppers with some ripening bananas. Both use an ethane ripening mechanism. So a ripening banana will give off ethane which promotes ripening in the peppers. It is the same mechanism that causes multiple bananas to ripen quickly when they are in a plastic bag. I haven't tried putting peppers and bananas in a plastic bag together but that would be the next logical experiment.

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