What Are Heirloom Peppers?

| Last Updated: January 24, 2020 |

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Experts differ in how they define heirloom varieties. In most cases, heirloom vegetables (like heirloom peppers) come from varieties that are at least 50 years old. This means that a variety has to be around for at least 50 years before it can get the heirloom title.

Heirloom seeds are handed down over generations in a particular location. Breeders select them for a particular trait. They are all wind- or insect-pollinated and have stable characteristics that remain from year to year.

Most heirloom peppers are created in nature, not in a laboratory. Though some may have been created in universities or back when commercial breeding was still new.

Are heirloom peppers and heirloom seeds more expensive?

Heirloom peppers and seeds do tend to be more expensive for a number of reasons. The first reason is that fewer of them are produced when compared to commercial hybrid seeds. Because there are fewer of these seeds, you can expect to pay more for them. Keep in mind that these seeds contain decades of careful selection within them.

How do heirloom peppers differ from hybrids?

Hybrid plants typically bear fruit that all looks the same. Along with having a uniform appearance, they all come in at about the same time. In other words, they are predictable. Hybrid pepper plants also tend to provide larger yields than heirloom plants.

Heirloom plants vary in size and color. In addition, your harvests from heirloom plants may be unpredictable. Because heirlooms are usually local, they tend to be the best variety for the region in which they were bred. They have built up resistance to local pests and diseases.

Heirloom seeds have another advantage over hybrids in that they are true to type, which means that heirloom plants are identical to their parent plants. Being true to type means that breeders are able to select the best-performing plants each season.

Are heirloom peppers more nutritious than other peppers?

Nutrient-density is not one of the criteria used to select hybrid pepper plants. As a result, hybrid peppers tend to fall short when it comes to important compounds.

Studies have shown that vegetables produced via conventional breeding contained a much lower concentration of nutrients when compared to heirloom vegetables. The higher the yield of a plant, the lower the mineral density. Hybrid plants are often selected for their yield. The inverse relationship between a plant’s yield and its nutrient density is called the genetic dilution effect.

Do heirloom peppers taste better?

Characteristics like flavor are not high priorities for commercial breeders. Instead, they focus on factors like shelf life and how well a pepper variety travels. Commercial peppers are selected for characteristics like disease resistance and high yield rather than for how good they taste. Flavor is often not a primary factor.

In comparison, many heirloom pepper varieties are bred specifically for their flavor. A farmer would simply plant the seeds from last season’s best-tasting peppers and over time develop a highly flavorful pepper. If you’re looking for the tastiest possible pepper, go with an heirloom.

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