Are Chilies Fruits or Vegetables?
Defined by its pungency, coming in many shapes and varieties, the chili pepper holds its secrets close to its heart. For example, how to categorize it? Are chilies fruits or vegetables?
It is not on the food pyramid, but looking at what is, it seems, at first, clear where the chili pepper lies. It definitely is nothing like a sweet, pulpy banana, or a juicy, tart orange, nor as easy to eat as a plump pear.
For one thing, chili peppers aren’t sweet! Sure, sometime a bell pepper can have a tiny bit of sweetness, but that’s the exception, not the rule. The other well-known chilies – jalapenos, serranos, poblanos – are known for another characteristic.
Vegetable seems a better fit. Spinach and broccoli are (mostly) the same color, while garlic and onions also add flavor to food. At least in appearance, chili peppers = vegetable. But something doesn’t seem quite right.
In fact, its quite easy to determine the truth. Chilies, with their internal, edible seeds, are most definitely a fruit. Along with tomatoes, zucchini, okra, and eggplant, they are the most common fruits-eaten-like vegetables. Other veggie-like fruits include, basically, anything not sweet, with seeds, that needs to be consumed to be propagated. Vegetables, on the other hand, are the edible parts of plants, often (but not always) lacking seeds.
Chilies straddle the border, a fruit technically, a vegetable in our salads and curries. Perhaps some of the confusion comes from the fact that, well, chili peppers don’t want to be eaten by us. That’s why they produce capaicum, the chemical substance that is felt by our tongues as pungent spiciness. Their intended targets are birds, who cannot taste capaicum and thus transported chili peppers seeds far and wide in South America (but not as far and wide as us)
All mammals, in fact, stay away from chilies, with once important exception.
Another definite fruit characteristic is that, despite the presence of capaicum, chilies are in fact incredibly healthy. They have more Vitamin C than oranges, more Vitamin A than tomatoes, and are significant sources of Magnesium, Iron, and Thiamine.
There’s only one problem. We rarely consume enough chili pepper, especially the healthier, spicier varieties to get much benefit, though I am sure there are some of you there who could contest that fact.
So pile on that chili powder, hot sauce, or gochujang. While it may not be as sweet as the other fruits we’ve come to love, that doesn’t mean the chili pepper is any less delicious.