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Male vs Female Pepper – Real or Fake?

If you enjoy peppers, chances are you’ve heard that they can be divided into male and female varieties, each with its own unique look and distinct flavor profile. According to the internet memes, all you need to do to determine the gender of pepper plants is to look at the number of lobes they have and test out how sweet they taste. You may wonder, however, is it just a myth or is there really something to the gender of a pepper?

The idea that peppers can be divided into male and female based on their flavor and number of lobes is a myth. A pepper’s reproductive process takes place in the flowers, not the fruit. The differences found among peppers result from a variety of factors such as ripeness, genetics, and soil.

If you would like to know more about the myths surrounding the gender of peppers, we’ve got you covered. In the following sections we will discuss whether the pepper plants themselves contain genders, the mythology surrounding peppers and gender, and whether any other fruits or vegetables can be divided by gender.

Green , yellow and red bell pepper background

Do pepper plants have genders?

So, we know that peppers themselves are not actually divided by gender. This may lead to the natural follow up question; “if peppers aren’t multiple genders, what about the plants themselves?” Surely gender must enter the equation somewhere if the plants are to reproduce. 

The flowers of pepper plants contain all the reproductive parts necessary to procreate. These flowers are generally referred to as “perfect flowers” because of this self-contained process of reproduction.In a sense, the flowers are the only part of the plant that can really be gendered.

The peppers themselves are merely the result of the self-fertilization that happens on the flowers. Therefore, we could say that the plants are hermaphroditic, and the peppers are just vessels to spread the seeds that they create.

How do people try to identify male vs female peppers?

There are several factors that people use to determine the gender of their peppers. While none of these actually do what they are supposed to do, it is nonetheless interesting to look at what they are and how they work.

Below is a quick guide to how people supposedly determine the gender of their peppers,

followed by a more accurate description of why these differences exist.  

  • Number of lobes: The story goes that if a bell pepper hasthree lobes it is likely to be male, whereas four or more lobes means that it is likely female. The truth, however, is that the number of lobes has more to do with the nutrients in the soil and genetics. This is often connected with the myth about seeds, in that people think more lobes equals more seeds. This is not necessarily the case, as we will see when we break down why seeds have nothing to do with gender.
  • Number of seeds: Male bell peppers are supposed to have fewer seeds than female peppers. The fact of the matter is that peppers produce seeds in several interior chambers. The number of seed producing chambers in a pepper is largely a consequence of genetics. You may have a whopping large pepper with five lobes but next to no seeds or a small pepper with only a few lobes and lots of seeds. These things do not necessarily correlate.
  • Flavor profile: According to the myth, male bell peppers tend to have a bitter taste while female bell peppers are almost always sweeter. In reality, the flavor of your pepper is actually determined by a number of factors like how ripe they were when you picked them, their basic genetics, and the soil you grew them in. 

How did the idea of male and female peppers get started?

No one truly knows where this myth originated and it is considered to be an “old cook’s tale.” That being said, the resurgence of the myth in recent times is mostly attributed to social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook, where people share memes with factoids that are not always accurate.

Are male or female peppers better for cooking?

Since there are no genders when it comes to peppers, one is not better than the other for cooking. However, it is still interesting to see what cooking tips proponents of this myth swear by when using their peppers. Below we have laid out the general tips you will find across social media for picking the best “gendered” peppers to cook with.

  • Female peppers: According to the myth, peppers with four or more lobes are best eaten raw because of their sweeter flavor. 
  • Male peppers: Peppers with three or fewer lobes are said to be best for grilling because they lack that sweetness. It is said that cooking them brings out more flavor. 

In truth if you want to get the best results when cooking with peppers, you’ll have to do it on an individual basis, as there are several factors that go into what flavor profile you’ll get out of any given pepper. We’ve included some of the questions you might want to ask yourself in a brief list below.

  • How ripe is the pepper you’re thinking of cooking? You can check the ripeness of bell peppers by looking at their color. If they are green, they are unripe and will have more of a bitter taste, if they’re red they are fully ripe and sweeter. Lastly, if they are yellow or orange they will be more balanced as they aren’t fully ripe but they also aren’t unripe. 
  • What kind of soil and fertilizer was it grown in? When you’re looking for the right fertilizer to use with your peppers, you want to pay attention to the three-number code that is generally printed on the back of the bag. Look for a fertilizer that lists 5-10-10. This means that there this fertilizer contains half as much nitrogen as it does phosphate and potassium. This is the generally the recommended combination to encourage your plant to grow, while helping to produce healthy fruits. (For more details about picking the right fertilizer for your pepper plant, check out this post). 
  • Was it grown from seeds that have borne quality peppers in the past? A lot of the differences between peppers come down to genetics. Cheaper seeds are likely to yield peppers of lower quality. Fortunately, when you find good seeds you can just harvest new ones from the peppers you’ve already grown.

Do any fruits or vegetables have genders?

Peppers are not the only fruits or vegetables that people claim have multiple genders. Eggplants, for example, are also falsely claimed to be divided into male and female. Is that actually true? Do any fruits or vegetables have genders?  

Whether it’s peppers, eggplants, or any other fruit or vegetable, talk of multiple genders is simply mythology. The flowers that spawn these delicious foods do have gendered parts, however the fruits and vegetables they bear do not. They are simply the result of the reproduction process. They don’t play a part in the reproductive process. 

So, are there really male and female peppers?

While pepper plants themselves contain gendered parts, there is no such thing as gendered peppers. The ways that people distinguish pepper genders–flavor, number of seeds, and number of lobes–are really just the results of normal biological variation, when they were picked relative to their maturation, and what kind of soil they were grown in.

In fact, no fruits or vegetables have genders. The plants they come from have gendered parts but gender–in the context of plant life–is based on the ability to reproduce. Fruits are the products of reproduction but not actually reproductive by themselves. So, the next time a friend tells you that they prefer male or female peppers, you can drop some knowledge on them.