Bell peppers are extremely popular, but many different pepper varieties are catching the eyes (and palates) of consumers.
Photo courtesy of NatureFresh Farms

The variety of sweet bell and hot peppers that breeders are coming up with appears to reflect consumers’ increasing appreciation of peppers.

“People are starting to understand the versatility of bell peppers specifically, your orange, yellows and reds,” says Chris Veillon, marketing director at Leamington, Ontario-based NatureFresh Farms. He says consumers are also starting to realize the health benefits of peppers.

“When people start to understand that there is three times the amount of Vitamin C in a red pepper than an orange, they start scratching their heads and say ‘really?’ and our response as a grower is, ‘Yes, there really is three times the amount,’” Veillon says. “I think you’re seeing a demand for bell peppers increasing. Consumers are also getting a bit more savvy in understanding where they’re grown and who they’re grown by — that’s a factor. I think country of origin is a factor as well.”

Appearance is also driving the market for peppers, with many new and recent varieties appealing to the Millennial crowd who seem to dismiss the mundane.

“For years people saw the green bell pepper as simply green and bitter; it just wasn’t the best,” Veillon says. “It was made for cooking and that was it. With the emergence of red, yellow and orange greenhouse grown bell peppers and the sweetness and the various health benefits they have — it’s opening people’s paletes up. These bell peppers don’t have to necessarily be cooked, they can be eaten raw, with dips, great for kids lunches and so forth,” he adds. “The expansion of having more colors of peppers that are greenhouse grown is certainly increasing interest in the product.”

No doubt there is a cornucopia of sweet, hot, mild, large and small peppers available on the market that come in some eye-popping colors. With so many choices, how can you go wrong?

To ensure you stay on the road to profitability, let’s look at some of the more promising varieties, based on popularity and practicality; that is, varieties that taste good, have consistent yields and good tolerance to disease and pests. Note that the days to maturity listed below is from time of transplant to harvest. See the following page for a selection of pepper variety options for your line-up.

From left to right: Flaming Flare, Hot Sunset, Cayenetta
Photos courtesy of All-America Selections

Mild not wild

Flaming Flare: This mildly hot pepper matures to a bright red and is used for making chili sauces, stir-fries, sautéing, salsas, and for fresh use. Breeders say the heat of this variety will increase later in the season. In trials, Flaming Flare consistently outperformed similar Fresno varieties. Days to maturity: 75. For more: Seminis Vegetable Seeds

Hot Sunset: Growers should love this 2015 AAS banana pepper. The AAS judges said it ripens early and is prolific. At 650 Scoville units, it’s spicy without all the heat. Large, vigorous plants are noted for disease resistance and a long harvest period. Hot Sunset could become a culinary favorite due to taste and appearance. It can be prepared fresh, roasted, grilled or pickled. Days to maturity: 85. For more: Seminis Vegetable Seeds

Cayennetta: This 2012 AAS winner has something for everyone. It’s a mildly spicy chili pepper that is prolific and easy to grow for both commercial growers and home gardeners. This well-branched, upright plant requires no staking and produces a high yield of 3 to 4-inch, slender red chillies. Days to harvest: 69. For more: Floranova Ltd

From left to right: Matchbox, Czech Black, Hidalgo
Photos courtesy of respective breeders

Heat it up

Matchbox: This is a low-growing, extremely productive hot pepper that yields well in hot, dry, as well as cool, wet conditions according to Roberta Bailey, a plant breeder at Fedco Seeds in Waterville, Maine. She says Matchbox produces about 40 peppers per plant. The plants are compact and produce fruit that are 2 inches long and ? inch wide. At 30,000-50,000 Scovilles units, they’re truly a hot pepper! Days to maturity: 75. For more: Fedco Seeds

Czech Black: This hot pepper has about half the yield of Matchbox. Fruits are 2.5 inches long. They start out a purple-black color then change to an attractive garnet red. Czech is not quite as hot as a jalapeno. Besides spicing up a culinary dish, they can be used to make an attractive wreath or centerpiece. Days to maturity: 75.

Hidalgo: Here is another heater that is also very productive, yielding copious quantities of 2-inch, slender serranos on a 3-foot tall plant. Light green fruits ripen to bright scarlet red. Culinary uses: fresh salsas, pickling and homemade hot sauces. Days to maturity: 75.

From left to right: Escamillo, Mad Hatter, Peacework
Left and middle photos courtesy of All-America Selections; right photo courtesy of breeder

Sweet and sassy

Escamillo: Consumers may fall in love with the Escamillo pepper like the gypsy Carmen did with the bull-fighter Escamillo, the pepper’s namesake. Escamillo is a large (8 x 2.5 inches) cone-shaped golden yellow corno di toro type of Italian pepper. This 2016 All-America Selections (AAS) winner was noted for high yields and a compact habit. It is used in stuffing, roasted and eaten raw. Days to maturity: 60 days green; 80 days yellow ripe. For more: Johnny's Selected Seeds

Mad Hatter: This 2017 AAS winner should appeal to customers on looks alone. It has a flattened ,disc-shaped fruit with lobes or wings. However, it was chosen as an AAS winner because it is easy to grow, has excellent plant vigor, ripens early and produces high yields of large peppers. Mad Hatter is a member of the Capsicum baccatum pepper species out of South America where it is used in Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine. AAS judges say besides being sweet, it has a “refreshing, citrusy floral flavor.” It can be eaten raw in salads, pickled or stuffed with Spanish rice. Days to maturity: 65 to 70 mature green; 85 to 90 red. For more: PanAmerican Seed

Peacework: This large, blocky, early red bell pepper combines some of the traits of King of the North and Early Red Sweet. It has a thick-walled flesh and yields six to eight fruit per plant. A portion of the proceeds from Peacework goes to help support vegetable breeding at Cornell University. Days to maturity: 65. For more: Fedco Seeds

Neil is a horticulturist and freelance writer based in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.