What Are Sweet Peppers?

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Sweet peppers are classified as “sweet” to differentiate them from hot peppers. Generally speaking, any pepper that isn’t hot could be considered sweet. In other words, the term “sweet pepper” encompasses a wide range of varieties that come in many different shapes and sizes. Let’s break down what are sweet peppers to better understand their range of flavor.

How do sweet peppers differ from chilies?

Sweet peppers typically have little to no capsaicin, which is the compound that makes chilies hot. Much of the difference between the two boils down to capsaicin concentration. There is also the actual sweetness, which comes from the relatively high sugar content.

So the sweet category encompasses both bell types with zero capsaicin and multiple varieties of chili peppers with very little heat. That’s not to say that hotter chilies can’t be sweeter in taste (many are). It’s the combo of mild to no heat and sweetness that marks these. Other characteristics shared by them include a larger overall size and thicker walls.

Can sweet peppers become hot?

All peppers can cross-pollinate. The potential for cross-pollination is why commercial growers tend to separate varieties. Distances of up to a mile are sometimes recommended to preserve the genetic purity of pepper varieties. While preserving the characteristics of species is essential for large-scale farmers, it’s not as big a deal for home gardeners. In most cases, covering the pepper plants or separating them a few feet will be sufficient.

Cross-pollination is only a problem for gardeners who plan to take seeds from their peppers to plant again the following year. The first generation of plants will maintain their characteristics even when planted alongside other pepper varieties. If there is cross-pollination, the next year you may see some of their original qualities change. They may become hotter than they were before, for example.

Which peppers are considered sweet peppers?

There are many, but below are six of the most popular:

Bell peppers (0 Scoville heat units, SHU)

Bell peppers are the best-known sweet pepper with red bell peppers being the sweetest of all. All bell peppers are great for salads or stuffing. Red bell peppers have gone all the way through the ripening process and have a high sugar content when compared to less ripe bell peppers.

Mini sweet peppers (0 SHU)

These miniature bells and have a higher sugar content than bell peppers. They still have thick, crunchy walls similar to those of the bell.

Cubanelles (100 to 1,000 SHU)

Cubanelles have relatively thin walls similar to many spicier chilies, but they are sweet and have a flavor similar to that of bells.

Banana peppers (0 to 500 SHU)

The banana pepper gets its name because it ripens yellow like a banana. While banana peppers look like hot Hungarian wax peppers, they are sweeter in flavor and relatively mild. You can use them in salads or pickle them.

Pimientos (100 to 500 SHU)

Pimientos are commonly used as stuffing for green olives and are also mild and sweet.

Shishitos(50 to 200 SHU)

Shishitos are from Japan and have a distinctive elongated shape and thin, wrinkly walls. They are commonly tempura battered and deep-fried. While shishito peppers are usually mild, a small percentage are hot. You can expect a hot one every in every 10 or so peppers.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 26, 2020 to include new content.
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