School House About Robbins Farm Arlington Agriculture Veggie Lifecycles Growing Patterns Vegetable Familes Garden Bugs Basic Garden Tools Photo Synthesis Robbins Farm Garden Blog

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are the plump, block-like, big-as-a-softball members of the chili pepper family that we often don't think of as chili peppers. They got the name "bell" because they look a bit like bells for ringing, the kind you would find in a small tower atop a church or a school back in your great-great-grandparents' day. They look a bit, in fact, like the bell atop the Veggie School!

We describe bell peppers here, in a separate profile from the other members of the chili pepper family (the Capiscums) for two reasons. The first is because bell peppers are quiet different from the rest of the family — their biggest difference being that they lack any of the hotness that distinguishes chili peppers from most other vegetables. In fact, on an overall scale of hotness, from a little hot to a lot hot, where some Capiscums can send you through the roof, bell peppers score a big fat ZERO. No hotness. So their basis of appeal as a vegetable is quite different from all their other cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Pepper, peppers & peppers

Our second reason for making this a seperate section is to clear up some confusion around terminology — that is, around the 3 different kinds of vegetables to which we all tend to refer as pepper or peppers. This confusion goes all the way back to Christopher Columbus. That's because he was the one who started it.

It's the confusion that tries to lump together pepper from peppercorns, bell peppers, and all the many other members of the Capiscum family, aka, the chili peppers.

Columbus got this screwed up because, as most all of you already know, when he discovered the Americas. he thought he had sailed to India. And when the people he met showed him hot red chili peppers, he simply assumed that, given the plants' hotness, they were just red-colored versions of the black pepper he had set out to bring back from India (where, remember, he thought he was but wasn't).

A big mistake, but easy to understand how Columbus could make it. He named these hot red Capiscums "peppers." The name has stuck even since. But you might think about calling them Capiscums. They're a very interesting family. It's a name worth learning.

In any case, bell peppers — remember, the ones sort of shaped like bells — were not discovered for another 200 years, and obviously not by Columbus. They were first found in Panama. They had no hotness. But their flesh was similar to that of some of the other hot peppers. So people ended up calling them peppers, too.