Lunchbox peppers, also known as snack or mini peppers, are sweet peppers. They are smaller than bell peppers yet they have a sweeter and fruitier taste. They’re rated with zero Scoville units, which means that they do not provide any heat at all. Instead, they’re noted for their small size that makes a quick and healthy snack portable. Hence, where the name “lunchbox” and “snack” peppers came from.
Such peppers aren’t really pepper varieties. Rather, the name refers to a mix of three different types of pepper that are addressed through their colors – yellow, orange, and red. Unlike the other peppers, they only change their colors once. All of them start as green. But eventually, they’ll change to either yellow, orange, or red. So, they’re three separate varieties that grow from different plants. Still, all of them grow between 1 and 2 inches long and they provide a relatively same flavor profile.
Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Genus: Capsicum (Pepper)
Species: Capsicum Annuum
Binomial Name: Capsicum Annuum ‘Lunchbox Pepper’
Lunchbox Pepper Trivia
- Lunchbox peppers are good sources of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C and potassium.
- Lunchbox peppers have three varieties that can be classified through their color: red, orange, and yellow.
- Children are the number one fan of these peppers.
Lunchbox Pepper Buying Guide
- All lunchbox peppers start as green on the plant. They change to either yellow, orange, or red as they mature. Thus, green lunchbox peppers are more bitter compared to the colored ones. Plus, it’s also unlikely that you will find the green ones in stores.
- Check the size of the peppers and choose the ones that are 1-2 inches long.
- Check out the lunchbox pepper’s skin. Choose the ones that are thick-walled, firm, and glossy. Avoid the ones that have soft spots or shriveled.
- If possible, buy lunchbox peppers during its season. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, lunchbox peppers from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you might be able to taste them before you buy them.
Lunchbox Pepper Production & Farming in Texas
The size of the lunchbox pepper plants makes them an excellent choice to grow in any setting. Their flexible, smaller, and compact nature is perfect for planting in containers, hanging baskets, or pots that are placed in patios, balconies, windowsills, or garden. The plants grow between 18 to 24 inches high. Yet, they provide plenty of juicy peppers. Furthermore, the plant yields high and they perform best with a little support from a small trellis or stake. They also thrive in a well-drained and fertile soil, with a pH level between 5.0 to 6.0. Calcium and phosphorus may also be fed for the best results. In Texas, the seeds are usually sowed in late March or early April. But, if you have grow lights and a heated propagator, you can start as early as December or January. During the traditional growing season, the plants are transplanted outdoors after 8 weeks, when the soil temperature can be maintained between 80 and 90ºF. These plants may be grown in cooler temperatures but it’ll retard the germination. Still, the ideal temperature for these plants is between 60-70ºF. Plus, they need full sun. It’ll take around 55 to 63 days for a green pepper and an additional 20 days for the colored ones. They are usually harvested when they’re completely turned either red, orange, or yellow, which will fall around the months of July, August, September, and October.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA. However, this list doesn’t rank peppers. But, since they tested positive on pesticides that are known to be toxic to the brain, they’ve created their Dirty Dozen Plus™ list instead and included these peppers.
Between the years 2010 and 2012, the USDA found oxamyl, acephate, and chlorpyrifos in peppers. These toxic pesticides are banned from use on some crops. However, they’re still permitted to be used on chile peppers. Thus, it is better to buy organic peppers to reduce your pesticide consumption. If they’re unavailable or too expensive, we suggest you cook the conventional ones instead before eating them as heating these peppers can reduce the levels of pesticides. Or better yet, consider growing your own peppers organically.
Lunchbox peppers thrive best in areas under USDA zones 11 and 12. Generally speaking, China remains to be the world’s largest producer of sweet peppers, accounting for more than 70% of the world production. Mexico and Indonesia rank next. Other major producers include Spain, Turkey, and the United States. California, Florida, and Georgia are the three largest producers of sweet peppers in the U.S.
Fresh lunchbox peppers are commonly sold and priced by weight, either by the pound or kilogram. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these peppers in bushels, cartons, and even crates.
Enjoying Lunchbox Peppers
Lunchbox peppers are traditionally eaten raw. It is the best way to consume these lovely peppers! You can eat them straight off the plant or freshly chopped in salads. And, don’t forget the reason why they’re named as such – because they’re perfect for snacks and lunchboxes!
All fresh peppers are best kept unwashed, in a sealable and airtight container lined with paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Properly stored, they will retain their freshness for 1-2 weeks. You may also marinate peppers in olive oil to extend its shelf life for up to 1 month. It’s also good to consider that peppers with thick skins last longer than the thin ones. And, whole peppers are more shelf-stable than the sliced ones. Meanwhile, you can also freeze fresh peppers. Spread them evenly, on a single layer in a sheet tray, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the peppers onto freezer-safe bags. Here, it’ll last for up to 6 months but take note that frozen peppers can only be used in cooking. It’s not meant to be eaten raw as it requires further heat to kill the bacteria. But, to further retain its crispness, you can half-cook the peppers in oil prior to freezing. Fully cooked lunchbox peppers usually last 3-5 days while pickled ones can last for 1 year.
While the best way to enjoy these peppers is to eat them raw, you can also cook them lightly. They’re best when sauteéd or stir-fried. Or, add it to your breakfast omelets. Plus, they’re also good for stuffing as their small yet strong shape can hold the filling nicely. Then, you can grill or roast them for that additional smoky flavor. Meanwhile, you can also preserve lunchbox peppers through pickling.
Raw lunchbox pepper is composed of 92% water, 6.4% carbohydrates, >1% protein, and >1% fat.
- Carbohydrates: Lunchbox pepper is naturally low in calories, which are primarily composed of water and carbohydrates. However, these carbohydrates are mostly sugars, such as fructose and glucose, since they’re the ones that give these peppers their sweet taste.
- Fiber: Lunchbox pepper contains small amounts of fiber, accounting for 2% by weight. Still, it makes a decent source of fiber.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Lunchbox pepper is an excellent source of vitamins C, B6, K1, E, and A. As a matter of fact, one small serving gives 158% of RDI for vitamin C, making this fruit one of the richest dietary sources of this nutrient. It’s also a good plant-based source of potassium and folate.
- Antioxidants: Lunchbox pepper is also loaded with antioxidants. These include the following: Capsanthin, violaxanthin, lutein, quercetin, and luteolin.
- Lunchbox pepper promotes weight loss because of its high water content.
- The high levels of vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant. It helps in boosting immunity and repairing cells, which retards the human aging process. It can also reduce the development of gout significantly.
- The high levels of vitamin B6 reduces the development of rheumatoid arthritis. But if you already have one, lunchbox peppers can help control the pain.
- The high levels of vitamin K1, which is also known as phylloquinone, contributes to bone health while reducing the formation of blood clotting.
- The high levels of vitamin E also acts as a powerful antioxidant. It plays a vital role in keeping healthy muscles and nerves.
- The high levels of vitamin A and lutein promotes healthy vision. It helps in preventing cancer too.
- Potassium and quercetin improves heart health while folate improves our body’s function. Folate is especially important to consume during pregnancy.
When Are Lunchbox Peppers in Season in Texas?
To find out when Lunchbox Peppers are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.