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Why do Peppers Change Colors? 12 Fascinating Facts

Peppers (capsicum annuum) come in a rainbow of colors, making them delightful to look at in addition to being delicious to eat. As peppers mature, they can change from one color to another, taking on a new flavor, texture, spice level, and nutritional value as they ripen and reach maturity.

Peppers change colors as they ripen because their chlorophyll content slowly decreases as they mature. When the chlorophyll decreases, seeds form, triggering the color transformation. This process allows peppers to change from green to warmer colors like yellow, purple, orange, and red.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most common pepper colors and which kinds of peppers turn green, yellow, orange, and red. We’ll also discuss what makes each color of pepper unique and teach you how to ripen your own peppers and get them to change colors. So, let’s get into the details.

Photo of yellow, orange, red, and green ornamental peppers growing
Photo by Zigzagmtart

Why do Peppers Change Colors?

Peppers belong to the nightshade family, which makes them related to tomatoes. Like tomatoes, peppers change color as they ripen, and certain varieties of peppers will turn different colors than others. Some types of peppers will change color multiple times. Still, no matter what type of pepper you have, it’ll change color at least once as it ripens.

When peppers ripen, they lose some of their chlorophyll as they get bigger. Since chlorophyll is the bright green pigment that makes all plants green, when peppers lose their green color, they’ve finally transformed from plant to fruit. As the chlorophyll content decreases, the pepper will develop seeds and sugar, triggering the fruit’s color transformation. This means that every green pepper is an immature pepper that would’ve turned another color if left to ripen.

No matter what color they turn as they ripen, all peppers contain a green pigment when they first sprout. Some peppers start as small yellow peppers with a green tint, and sometimes the tiny, immature peppers are dark purple. No matter what color the young pepper is, it’ll change color at least once as it ripens. However, some varieties can change colors up to five times before they’re fully mature.

How Many Different Colors of Peppers Are There?

Depending on the variety of pepper, it can take on up to five colors before reaching full maturity. Some of the most common pepper colors include green, yellow, orange, and red, but some peppers can be purple, white, brown, or black. Some peppers can even be multiple colors at one time. However, just because some peppers can develop various colors, that doesn’t mean that all peppers come in a rainbow of shades.

Some kinds of peppers, like Bell peppers, start green and then turn at least one other color before they fully ripen. Others undergo five changes before reaching full maturity.

Many of the most colorful peppers in the world are used as ornamental pepper plants in gardens and alongside property boundary lines.

So, if you want to add some color to your garden, ornamental pepper plants can add that unique, rainbow-style, color-changing touch. Some rarer ornamental pepper plants include the Black pearl, Bear black, red, and purple peppers, making them one of the most stunningly colored pepper plants. Other peppers like the Chinese five color pepper change from green to purple to yellow to orange to red.

Do All Peppers Start Green Before Changing Colors?

Most peppers start as green peppers before they ripen and change colors, but some peppers start as purple or yellow. For example, NuMex twilight peppers begin as small, yellow peppers with a green tint. Black pearl peppers begin with a blackish, dark purple color that turns bright purple then red as they continue to mature.

Still, an overwhelming majority of peppers will start as tiny, green buds and then change color one or more times as they grow. Generally, a pepper begins with a green color because it’s not yet a fruit. Once a pepper begins to develop seeds, its color will gradually change, either darkening or lightening, until it starts to establish streaks of another color.

No matter what, a green pepper will always change color if you leave it to ripen. All green peppers are immature peppers that could have changed colors if you had left them on the plant longer. Although they’re edible and often milder than fully developed peppers, green peppers still have a unique taste and crunchy texture that many people appreciate.

What Order of Colors Do Peppers Change While They Ripen?

Most peppers start with a green color. But as they mature, their colors often change in the rainbow’s order, progressing from green to yellow to orange to red. Some peppers don’t follow this order strictly, however. Some only change from green to another color with no progression in between. Other peppers will undergo several different color stages as they grow, often appearing purple, brown, white, or black.

However, most peppers will start with cool-toned skin colors and finish with a warm-toned color. Because the chlorophyll in their skin breaks down as they grow, mature peppers are usually warmer colors such as red, orange, and yellow. Other peppers, usually with dark leaves and dark skin, could be done ripening when they’re brown or purple.

Photo of Fresno chili peppers in a white bowl ranging in color from green, yellow, orange, and red
Photo by Swan555

Which Color of Pepper Is Healthiest?

As peppers mature, they also accumulate and develop more nutrients such as vitamins C and A. When a pepper ripens, its nutritional benefits multiply. Often, when a pepper matures, it gains eight times more vitamin A and two times more vitamin C, making it much healthier. Vitamin A and C are beneficial for building up immune health, encouraging good vision, and developing a healthy circulatory system. So, mature peppers are significantly better for your general health.

Mature red, orange, and yellow peppers also contain a large amount of a nutrient called beta carotene. Beta carotene is an antioxidant that supports lung health, slows cognitive decline, and boosts your immune system. So, when it comes down to it, the riper the pepper is, the more nutritional benefits it offers.

Mature peppers also contain plenty of calories, while greener and younger peppers don’t have many calories at all. So, if you want a crunchy snack with no calories, greener peppers might be the best choice for you, but if you want a sweeter flavor from your peppers, you may want to go with a more mature pepper.

Will All Green Peppers Turn Red?

Some green peppers will never turn red. For example, yellow bell peppers, hot lemon peppers, and lemon drop peppers are all peppers that only turn from green to yellow. They’ll stay yellow no matter how long you leave them to ripen. However, many unripe green peppers turn red as they mature, especially since red is the most common fully ripe pepper color. Green chilis will turn red, as do jalapenos, cayenne peppers, and poblanos.

Some green peppers will turn yellow or orange before turning red, while others immediately turn from green to red. It all depends on the type of pepper. No matter what, all green peppers will turn another color if you leave them to ripen since green peppers are always the most immature form of the pepper.

Do All Yellow Peppers Turn Red?

Most yellow peppers will turn either red or orange if they’re left to mature, but not all yellow peppers change colors. For example, yellow bell peppers, lemon drop peppers, and hot lemon peppers finish ripening as soon as their skin transforms from green to yellow. Other peppers will turn from yellow to orange to red, such as habanero peppers, ghost peppers, NuMex peppers, and many more.

Some peppers, like banana peppers and pepperoncini, turn red when left to ripen. Still, they’re most often picked when they’re yellow. Yellow banana peppers and pepperoncini are sweeter and less spicy when they’re yellow. Usually, yellow peppers are more sugary than their red counterparts, even though they may turn bright red if left to ripen on the plant long enough.

Do All Orange Peppers Turn Red?

Only some orange peppers will turn red. Some peppers are fully ripe when they’re orange, such as the orange habanero, orange bell peppers, orange sweet peppers, and bullhorn peppers. Other peppers change to an orange color before they fully ripen to red, but most orange peppers won’t turn red.

Some peppers that turn orange before they fully ripen are banana peppers, serrano peppers, Carolina reaper peppers, red chilis, and many more. Because chlorophyll’s gradual disintegration causes a color change in peppers, yellow fruits will generally turn orange or brown before they turn red. That means that most peppers that’ll turn red when they’re fully ripe will turn orange first, but not all peppers do this.

How To Get Peppers To Change Colors

Generally, heat, water, and regular harvesting are the best tools to get your plant to ripen its peppers faster. If you want your peppers to change colors, ensure that your peppers can change colors first.

Some peppers — like bell peppers — only turn from green to their final color, and they won’t change colors again. Some other peppers — such as red chilis, banana peppers, Hungarian wax peppers, and many ornamental peppers — have a long, colorful transformation.

If you want to encourage your peppers to ripen, you may want to pick some of the peppers on your plant. When a pepper plant has too many peppers on it, it can have difficulty ripening all of the peppers at once. Usually, picking one or two of the peppers off of the plant, preferably any that have shown some sort of color change, will encourage your pepper plant to focus on ripening the rest of the peppers.

Increasing your plant’s exposure to the sun can also help since the sun will break down the chlorophyll in your peppers, forcing them to change color. Still, it’s essential to ensure that your pepper plant still has enough water. So, you water your pepper plant every day if you’re exposing it to an abundance of sunlight.

Keeping your pepper plant extra moist can also help it ripen its peppers since it takes so much water to grow fruits. Watering your plant a little extra or misting the fruits in the morning can help the plant channel water to the fruits, encouraging them to ripen and change color. You may also want to put some mulch or grass clippings beneath your plant to ensure that the soil stays moist all day long.

Photo of red and green Rocoto Manzano peppers on a burlap bag that are native to Peru
Photo by Dany Kurniawan

How Do You Get Green Peppers To Turn Red?

It can take a while for a pepper fruit to fully mature from green to red. Usually, it takes between 65 and 75 days for peppers to ripen from green to red entirely. Yet, this time frame can vary depending on the type of pepper and the conditions that you grow it in. If you find that your peppers are not maturing as quickly as you want them to, you may just need to make a few changes to your pepper care schedule.

So, if you want your peppers to ripen, follow some of these pro tips:

  • Pick some of your peppers. If your pepper plant has an abundance of peppers on it, it may not be able to focus much energy on ripening them. If you take some of your green peppers off the plant, it’ll likely ripen the peppers you leave on it much more quickly.
  • Keep the plant’s humidity high. If your pepper plant isn’t ripening its fruits, turn up the moisture by putting mulch or grass clippings underneath the plant. You may want to mist your plant in the mornings to add enough water for the plant to ripen the peppers.
  • Ripen your peppers indoors. If your peppers have just started to get a reddish color or red streaking, you may be able to ripen your peppers off the plant. To speed up the ripening process, pick some of your peppers. Then, place them on a warm, bright windowsill, or put them in a brown paper bag with a banana or apple until they’re red.

Which Costs More: Green or Red Peppers?

Green peppers usually cost somewhat less than red peppers because they’re not fully ripe. Since green peppers don’t need to reach full maturity, it takes a lot less effort to grow them. It usually takes around two months of watering and care for a green pepper to turn red. Since it takes much less energy and effort to produce green peppers, they’re usually marginally less expensive than red peppers at farmer’s markets and grocery stores.

However, under the proper conditions, you may be able to ripen your green pepper off of the stem by placing it in a brown paper bag with a banana and an apple for several days. You may also be able to encourage a green pepper to ripen if you leave it by a bright windowsill for several days. Some pre-picked green peppers won’t ripen off the stem, though, so keep an eye on your peppers to keep them from rotting if you try to ripen them at home.

Do Green Peppers Taste Different Than Red Peppers?

Green and red peppers taste different since red peppers have had plenty of time to build up sweet sugars, juice, spice, and vitamins such as vitamin A and C. Green peppers are usually far milder than red peppers, and they have a very different taste as well. Because green peppers contain more chlorophyll than red peppers, and since they’re more immature than the average red peppers, they usually have a fresher, greener, and grassier flavor.

As the chlorophyll breaks down, peppers will gain a spicier, sweeter, juicier flavor and a new color. Since red peppers have had more time to ripen and achieve a higher water content, they’re usually less crunchy than green peppers. Red peppers have had plenty of time to develop sugar and the vitamins that make peppers so nutritious as well, often making them sweeter and healthier than green peppers.

Red peppers are also much spicier than green peppers since they have had more time to develop capsaicin. Capsaicin is the chemical compound that gives peppers their signature heat, and it can take a while for peppers to form the molecule inside their skins. As peppers ripen, they’re more fruit-like, and they gain the qualities that give peppers their unique, spicy taste.

Closing Thoughts

Peppers come in a wide variety of hues, and they can add a lot of color and spice to your life. All peppers change color as they ripen, but every pepper has its own unique growth and color pattern. The specific variety of the pepper and its ripeness determines the colors that it’ll show. Still, you can eat peppers at any level of ripeness, so don’t be afraid to give each color a try to see what you like best.