What you see: Water spilling out of your pepper when you slice it open
What it is: It’s hard to say for certain, but if the pepper otherwise looks fine, it could be water from washing after harvest
Eat or toss: If the pepper otherwise looks fine—no visible mold or rot—go ahead and eat.
When Elizabeth A. of Chapel Hill, N.C. bought this pepper at her local grocery store, it felt a bit heavy. She didn’t think much of it.
But back home, when she sliced it open, she got quite the splashy surprise.
“I guess its 'water broke'?!” she emailed. “Water spewed out everywhere and left a huge puddle on my cutting board.”
Elizabeth further noticed that inside the pepper, it looked like a mini pepper was growing. Was that also connected to the puddle? And, most importantly: could she still enjoy this pepper as a snack with some ranch dip?
First off, the mini pepper. That’s something known as a carpelloid structure. More in this earlier post, but essentially instead of producing a seed, the pepper’s systems went a little haywire and grew pepper tissue instead.
Now, on to the puddle. Chris Gunter, vegetable production specialist at North Caroline State University, said this is very rare. He’s seen instances where maybe a tablespoon or two of water poured out of a pepper, but not as much as Elizabeth described.
So, what happened? He zeroed in on the part of the pepper fruit known as the calyx, the green, leathery bit between the stem and the rest of the pepper.
Maybe some stowaway bath water?
Gunter offered this theory:
“So, if you could shrink down and walk on top of that pepper fruit, you would be able to push your way under that calyx and get into the fruit. It's a little bit porous and soft, where the calyx and fruit walls meet.
“If I had to guess, I would say that during the post harvest handling and grading/sizing, that fruit was immersed into a tank of water for washing. Most fruit bob along in that tank and don't have enough time in there to uptake a bunch of water. However, if conditions are right, like a warm pepper coming from the field dunked into cold wash water in the tank and allowed to sit there for a few extra minutes, water could be penetrating that fruit at the calyx.”
He points out that this is “just a theory.” Still, it makes a lot of sense and is a great reminder of all that happens between the field and the store.
Safe to eat?
So, should Elizabeth worry about eating the pepper?
The pepper looks to be in good shape, with no mold or injuries or rotting areas, so Gunter concluded it wouldn’t be any riskier than eating a pepper that wasn’t carrying a little extra water weight. As usual, you'll want to wash it off, but as on all raw fruits and vegetables, including those packing water stashes, washing won't necessarily rinse off everything problematic.
What about the baby pepper inside it? Just a coincidence, Gunter said. The carpelloid structure doesn’t have anything to do with the pepper’s safety or with the extra water.