Why Do Your Bell Peppers Taste Like Dirt?

Something is off if you’ve bitten into your bell pepper and taste dirt. Bell peppers are a bright, citrusy, crisp vegetable, and they definitely shouldn’t taste like licking soil. So what went wrong?

Your bell peppers may taste like dirt if you haven’t washed them or stored them correctly. If you didn’t grow them in direct sunlight, harvest them at the right time, or water them enough, they may taste off. Check for illness or diseases, and ensure that your bell peppers aren’t spoiled. 

No one answer points to your bell peppers tasting like dirt. Below, I’ll go into each possibility and let you know how to avoid a bad-tasting bell pepper harvest. Additionally, I’ll give you some product recommendations and my list of investigative methods. 

Things That Cause Your Bell Peppers To Taste Bad

You’ve worked so hard on your bell peppers. There’s nothing more disappointing than taking a big bite just to find they don’t taste like the ones you usually buy at the store. Luckily, we can make sure you don’t grow another bitter patch with a little further investigation. 

I’ll talk about how to investigate your vegetable patch below, but for now, I’ll talk about some of the more common reasons why your bell peppers might taste muddy.

Further investigation will probably lead you to one of the following:

  • You didn’t wash your bell peppers well enough.
  • You watered them too much or not enough.
  • You grew them in the shade or without full sunlight.
  • You picked them when they were too ripe or not ripe enough.
  • Your bell peppers have an illness or disease. 
  • You didn’t store your bell peppers correctly after harvest.

Hopefully, a few of these things should be easy enough to rule out immediately. For example, if you took your first bite of the bell pepper right off of the plant, it’s probably not your storage techniques that are off. However, this probably means your bell peppers taste like dirt because you haven’t washed them. 

I’ll talk about each of these possibilities below to help you figure out where your peppers went wrong. 

Not Washing Your Bell Peppers

Not washing your bell peppers would be a pretty straightforward explanation of why they taste like dirt. Whether they come from your garden or the store, you should always thoroughly wash your produce. Dunking them in an ice bath after swabbing with some food-grade peroxide or veggie wash will help them taste as fresh as you intended. 

Make sure to wash with cool water, not hot. Hot water can cause bacteria to go deeper into your vegetables, causing an icky taste and the possibility of illness. 

Over or Under Watering

Bell peppers and many other vegetables will taste bitter if you watered them too much, too little, or inconsistently. Your bell peppers like to be soaked with 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62 cm) of water a week. 

Think about it this way: when your plants need water, and they’re not getting any, they become stressed. Then, they become stressed if they get too much water and feel like they’re drowning. 

It can’t always be perfect, but you should aim to water your bell peppers the same amount every day. Bell peppers love water, so try to do two to three inches (5.08-7.62 cm) a week.

If you aren’t sure whether or not watering is your problem, you can do the toothpick test or invest in a moisture meter. The toothpick test just requires something wooden such as a toothpick, bamboo stick, or pencil. You’ll just stick the object into your soil and pull it out. Typically, mud means you’re watering too much. In addition, you’re watering too much if the toothpick comes out clean but wet. 

If no dirt comes out onto the wooden stick and the stick is bone-dry, you need to be watering more. Ideally, the soil will loosely cover the stick. 

I always recommend moisture meters for doing any type of investigation on your garden. Moisture meters will give you a more exact reading of your soil’s moisture. Some moisture meters will even provide information on the pH and the sunlight, which would come in handy for many possibilities below.

Bell Peppers Grew in the Shade

Bell peppers love full, direct sunlight. Being in the sun for 12-14 hours is ideal for them. Without this sunlight, they won’t grow or ripen as they’re supposed to. 

This sun also needs to be direct. Many spots in our garden may get full sunlight, but don’t give it directly for the entire day. Direct sunlight means light that isn’t obstructed by shadows or shade. 

So, if a tree hangs above your “direct sunlight” spot, it’s not direct sunlight. Again, moisture meters and sunlight calculators are great for determining whether or not your bell peppers are getting the right amount of shade. 

Bell Peppers Not Ripe Enough or Over-Ripe

If you leave the bell pepper on the plant too long, it might taste bitter or be impossible to even bite into. Harvesting too early can also lead to a bitter taste and some stoniness or messiness, depending on other conditions. 

Ideally, you’ll pick your bell pepper when it’s grown to full size and has become the color you want. If it isn’t changing colors or ripening, it might be because it’s not getting enough sun. You can harvest the peppers from the plant and leave them out in the sun for a bit to help them move through their ripening process.

Bell Pepper Illnesses

Bell peppers are susceptible to a few illnesses, which might make them taste dirty or bitter if you bite into them. 

Bell peppers are still okay to eat for the other possibilities on this list. They may not taste good, but they won’t make you sick. However, if your bell pepper has an illness or a disease, you definitely shouldn’t eat it. Don’t toss it in the compost bin, as it may spread infection. 

Some illnesses to look out for in bell peppers are:

  • Blossom end rot. Plants may have a calcium deficiency. Other symptoms are soft spots and tan lesions. 
  • Sunscald. Other symptoms include sunken lesions on the bell pepper, which happens if bell peppers get too much sun.
  • Fungal disease. Other symptoms include visible fungus or mold, lesions, and mushiness.
  • Mildew. If plants don’t dry out between waterings, spider web-like mold may grow over them. 
  • Southern blight. Look for yellow leaves, brown stems, and fungus.

As long as your bell peppers look, smell, and feel right, they should be okay to eat. However, if they have any of the above symptoms, don’t eat them. You’re better off waiting to see if they are ill than making yourself sick.

Bell Peppers Have Spoiled

Spoiled bell peppers may taste bitter, mushy, or like dirt. If you left your peppers on the plant too long, they could have spoiled on their outside. 

If you’ve been storing your bell pepper for an extended period, it’s also a possibility that they have gone bad in storage. Check for texture and discoloration signs that the food has gone bad.

Bell Peppers Not Stored Correctly

You should store bell peppers in a protective bag in your crisper drawer. 

Some people also cut their bell peppers up before putting them in an air-tight container lined with a paper towel or a reusable towel. If you left your bell peppers on the counter or put them in a place where they may absorb moisture, they might taste off. 

Assessing Bell Pepper That Tastes Like Dirt

If you’re still racking your brain trying to figure out what went wrong, there are quite a few things you can do to investigate. 

I’ve mentioned some above, but I’ll go further into what those look like. I’d highly suggest keeping all of the following information in your toolkit, as you never know when you’ll have to investigate! 

Whenever something goes wrong, just check all of the factors off your list. My system is as follows:

  • Assess the ideal growing conditions. Check the soil moisture and sunlight conditions where you grow your bell peppers. Be sure to observe the sunlight conditions throughout the day and ensure that nothing is blocking the peppers from sunlight.
  • Do a pH test or nutrient test. Check the soil’s pH and nutrient balance using a soil test kit or a pH meter. 
  • Assess soil temperature. The soil’s temperature will affect how quickly your peppers ripen, and it could also affect the soil moisture. If the soil is too hot, give it a bit of shade and water your peppers more. 

I also observe for symptoms of disease and pests before moving forward. 

Final Thoughts 

If your bell peppers taste like dirt, there’s something amiss in your garden routine. We all get lousy seed packets here and there, but if they’ve already grown to maturity, that’s not likely the problem. Do a thorough investigation of your gardening habits and compare them against how your bell peppers grow best.  

Don’t forget to check out your post-harvest rituals, too. Sometimes inadequate storage or rough harvesting can affect the way your produce tastes! 

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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