A plant world sex scandal…
Do bell peppers have a gender? Some say they do. The idea has been around for a while but only recently has it caught traction. According to the theory, there are distinct male and female peppers and the gender indicates whether a bell pepper has more seeds or whether it is better for cooking or eating raw. Interesting theory, but is it fact or fiction?
Is the “male and female peppers” claim fact or fiction?
Total fiction. There’s no such thing as bell pepper sexes. But let’s break the urban legend down to make things clear.
The bell pepper gender theory
The theory states that the lobes or bumps on the bottom of the fruit are the indicators of the bell pepper’s sex so that you can tell the fruit’s gender by counting them. Male bell peppers, according to the theory, have only three lobes while female bell peppers have four. These genders point to their best use case: Male bell peppers, the theory states, are better for cooking while female bell peppers are sweeter, contain more seeds, and better eaten raw.
The lobe fallacy – What does the number of lobes actually indicate in a bell pepper?
Absolutely nothing in terms of sex. Bell peppers can have anywhere between two and five lobes, not just the three or four listed in this urban legend.
The number of lobes that a bell pepper has is related to the variety of bell pepper. There are different varieties that produce different numbers of lobes. Some produce two, while others may produce between three and five lobes. The most popular variety of bell pepper in the U.S. produces four lobes so many plants have been bred for this characteristic.
Do four-lobe bell peppers have more seeds?
They may, but only because they have more lobes, meaning more cavity space in which seeds can be grown. But even this is not 100% true all the time. Peppers can have a single chamber or multiple chambers containing the white pithy tissue with the seeds. Exactly how many chambers does not always indicate the number of seeds of the bell pepper, but more lobes is a better guess if you are hunting for bell pepper seeds.
Are these “female peppers” sweeter?
Sweetness has nothing to do with the number of lobes on your pepper. It has everything to do with your cultivated variety, the soil you’ve grown your peppers in, the weather, and, especially, how long you’ve left the fruits on the vine. Bell peppers that have aged from green to their mature red will be sweeter, no matter if they have three lobes or four.
So is there anything interesting about gender in relation to bell peppers?
There is: the pepper plant creates “perfect flowers” also called hermaphroditic or unisex flowers. All plants of the nightshade family follow suit (tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers, chili peppers, etc); their flowers contain both stamens and carpels – they have reproductive systems that are both male and female.
Some other types of plants have male flowers as well as female flowers. Sometimes these flowers are on the same plant and sometimes they grow on separate plants.
So the real truth here is that not only are bell peppers genderless, the flowers of the bell pepper plant themselves are – in a simplistic way – all genders. This is a pepper that breaks down all barriers.