I have never seen a baby pepper growing inside another pepper before. So I was intrigued when my daughter texted that something strange was in her bell pepper.
It’s a condition called Internal Proliferation or Carpelloid Formation and the small fruit is usually sterile. But the good news is that it is totally edible! The baby pepper inside can vary in shape and size. They can be anything from an almost identical but smaller fruit to a very irregular looking fruit. Whatever the shape, the exact reason for it is still uncertain, although it is likely to be genetics. It occurs in seed lines through natural selection and does not seem to be affected by external conditions like pests or the weather. Other reasons are thought to include rapid changes in heat or humidity or possibly the use of ethylene gas which is used to speed up ripening of peppers.
Finding a baby pepper inside pepper
I had a peculiar text conversation with my daughter and here’s what we said.
D. What is that?! Can I still eat the edges?!
M. Is it a baby pepper growing inside?
D. Oh maybe
M. I wouldn’t eat any of it unless it looks like veg too. I think it would put me off eating the whole thing.
M. Have you tried cutting in to it?
M. It looks even yuckier now!
D. I’m scared lol
M. Oh that’s grim
D. Yes haha
D. Lol it’s freaking me out
M. Cut it in half and photo
D. That means touching it
M. Knife and fork?
M. Well I’ll be.
D. The pepper looked totally normal from the outside.
Certainly I was wrong in my assumption that a pepper growing inside a pepper was inedible, it turns out that it can be eaten without a problem. My lucky daughter got two for the price of one!
Internal proliferation, like the baby pepper inside pepper shown above, can occur in a variety of seeded fruits including egg plants (aubergine), tomatoes and citrus fruits. It seems to occur more in fruit that has been picked when not fully ripe and then treated with ethylene gas to artificially ripen it for market.
Seeds develop from fertilized ovules. Normally, a fruit forms to protect the ovules if they have been fertilized and developing into young seeds. We usually discard the seeds from a pepper before we eat the outer fleshy part of the fruit. However, there are times when a fruit forms when there are no seeds present, this is called parthenocarpy. It can occur naturally or be artificially induced. Parthenocarpy gives us seedless oranges and bananas without large seeds in them.
Further reading, viewing and information
We don’t grow peppers as I have an allergy to them, but Shaun at Chillichump has lots of really useful advise about growing chillies and peppers.
You can find a list of all the vegetables, fruit and herbs that we grow at Byther Farm on the resources page What We Grow. I’ve included links to suppliers of seeds and plants wherever possible.
Originally published 10th January 2016 and edited 11th December 2020