Mothball taste in red bell peppers?

I don’t know how else to describe it: Sometimes I get bell peppers that taste the way mothballs smell, and I can’t seem to narrow down the cause. I only buy organic, and often it’s the older ones that smell that way, but sometimes the fresher ones do too. I thought it might be the plastic wrap (I often buy them at TJ’s), but I’ve bought them out of bins at other stores, and sometimes they’re like that as well. Gases used to ripen them, maybe? My taste buds playing tricks on me?

I’ve tried to search this online, and it appears I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, but I don’t see any definitive answers. Anyone? (also posted in FTC)

I’ve only noticed it in store bought peppers, never in any from my garden so it’s either the variety or their age.

I bought two red bell peppers at Safeway a couple of days ago. When I was washing them I thought they smelled like mothballs. I cut them and cleaned them and smelled the insides, which smelled like bell pepper. But the skin smelled like mothballs!
I’ve read other posts to this effect and wonder if it’s not a characteristic of these peppers. Could possibly be the herbicides used on them. I doubt two in an eight quart batch of curry will hurt us. But I may not buy them again, either. . .

This study might shed some light on it:

Here is a more summative article:

You know the hard part with smelling moth balls is getting your nose between their legs…


I had that mothball smell happen in Red Bell peppers from several sources and experimented until learning what the deal is. The mothball smell develops mostly in red sweet peppers which have been refrigerated or kept cold (in bags) for too long; it’s not pesticides. I took red bells that smelled terribly of mothballs and put them on a table, in a perforated bag (to air). After 4-5 days, the smell was gone. When these peppers were bought, they did not smell bad, but after a week or so in the cold, they changed. In cold transport, they may pick up the off taste. I bought the exact variety from the same source a week later, kept them warm and no problem. Keep peppers in a paper bag; put that in a plastic bag (so they don’t dry up) and make a couple quarter sized holes in the plastic bag, so they don’t sweat too much. The idea is to keep them warm, a bit humid, with some air.

It’s possible that truck shipments in cold areas could start the funky smell process. Also, some varieties may get that smell while others do not; peppers have a lot of different flavor components.


OMG, I’m so glad i finally googled this after 5 years since first on set. That said, none of the answers is terribly satisfying. I’m a vegetarian so it was annoying when after my first kid was born, I started noticing this with peppers. At first, I thought it was a bad batch of peppers and told my husband we should stop buying peppers from those ‘discount grocers’. You know, those local veg shops that buy seconds from big box stores but the produce is still fresh. I thought it was a sign they were going off. But then I tried organic, non-organic from lots of sources and I could taste it in all of them. I’ve grown to accept that this is how peppers will taste for me know for whatever reason, after I had my kid. I had a similar issue with Malbec wine… not the musty taste but just a change in flavour. I have a hyper sensitivity to tastes so I’m guessing that something happened after childbirth that heightened the alkali taste receptor. I will try that, letting them sit out thing though.


Welcome @coldpoutine! So glad that your search bumped up this answer, which I had never seen despite being a regular here. I run into the mothball smell problem with commercially grown red bell peppers too. I have never run into mothball-ness with locally grown and harvested bell peppers.

I’ll keep this tip in mind. @bogman knows useful stuff about peppers. :grinning:



Welcome! Thanks for resurrecting this post.

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I’m intrigued! I grow a lot of peppers, but buy some on occasion, but haven’t had this experience. Now I want to know where mothballs get their smell!

I find some red bell peppers have a petroleum smell when I cut them. Have not experienced a mothball scent.

The bizarre, chemical aromas that develop are variable, from none to quite strong. Many factors play in: fridge temperature, the variety of pepper, how long was it stored. Again, I’ve only experienced this with red bell peppers. But, since new varieties are being developed all the time, it’s best not to store them in the fridge.

Seems the best way for storage is to wrap bell peppers in newspaper . I Mark them with a letter, so the color is known. Then, they’re put in a cardboard box which has just a small opening. The peppers breathe slowly and tend to shrivel, rather than rot over time.

Many nightshade plants get off flavors in cold storage. Potatoes, kept for awhile in a fridge or cold temperatures, will taste strange and get sweet. Put back at room temperature, they’ll revert back to normal-tasting. Refrigerated tomatoes change flavor over time, too.

shrinkrap, mothballs are normally naphthalene and pdb (para-dichlorobenzene). I doubt these chemicals form in red bell peppers, stored cold! It’s probable that our human receptors interpret these off smells differently and our brains make associations with things we are familiar with. The sense of smell is quite variable in humans.

When I worked at Monticello, managing the Center for Historic Plants’ horticultural operations, giving tours was routine. When given Parma Violets to smell, many people couldn’t smell a thing. To me and others, there was a very sweet floral smell, which is one reason they were grown.

During my time as Horticulturist at Barboursville Vineyards, I noticed an awful, sewage-like smell coming from a Narcissus bed. It turned out to be the cultivar of flower! I couldn’t imagine a breeder keeping such a thing, so did a little experiment: I cut a vase full of the flowers and brought them around to a lot of people. Many did not notice the sewage odor and liked the smell. Others said the odor was awful. Having bad odors outside a tasting room for wine is not cool. When I asked my boss if I could remove them, he said yes “…they smell like someone who doesn’t know how to bathe correctly”.

So, it’s worth keeping in mind how we all interpret smells and tastes differently when we discuss these senses.


Thank you for this knowledge drop! Nightshades are among my favorite veg to eat. I vastly prefer those I can bring home from my local farm in season.

Seems it’s not only the freshness, but also the absence of any kind of refrigerated storage that results in truer flavor and aroma. Mind blown. :grinning:

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It’s worth mentioning that I have no idea if cold storage affects the taste of eggplant. An unrelated vegetable, Si Gwa (Luffa acutangula) can get very unpleasant off flavors if kept chilled for some days. I learned this the hard way! Ginger root can go off and get strange bluish colors in cold storage.

One would expect certain peppers, from high elevations in Peru or Bolivia, to store well at colder temperatures. Peppers like Rocoto (Capsicum pubescens) grow in very chilly conditions, unlike most peppers. When I visited farms and cooperatives near Cuzco, it was necessary to wear a sweater, even during mid day during the growing season!


I’m unsure about eggplant. We eat lots of local eggplant from nearby farms in the summer and fall, which hasn’t been refrigerated at all until I bring it home. Only in the home fridge for a few days at most. I never even think of salting and draining the local stuff to remove bitterness before cooking. No need.

The eggplant I buy from the store I think is always a tad bitter, which may a function of age vs. storage?

Always something new to learn.

Smells ( or “aromas”) are powerful things! I think aromatherapy has tremendous potential.

I had an aunt from Nevis in the Carribean, who stayed with us when I was pretty young; maybe the sixties. She had an “aroma” that I did not know at the time, but I’ve always associated with her. It was much later that I realized she wore garlic, and it was not fresh.

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There seem to be disagreements about eggplant, and the different varieties probably aren’t all the same bitterness level to begin with, but it looks to me as if the people with the evidence are saying that the main difference is maturity (eggplant picked young is less bitter; mature ones, especially with more & bigger seeds, are more bitter), plus some difference for freshness (how long it’s been stored).

It would make sense IMO for commercial growers to try to get the maximum maturity (bigger average size = more money) without making them too bitter, while the big attraction of the local growers is being better than supermarket ones so they might pick them earlier. (Plus they’re obviously fresher)

Hi DavidPF! I’d say that folks have different experiences with eggplant.

Trouble is that I can’t do a direct comparison of types because our local farms grow eggplant varieties for best flavor and variety. And grocery chains get the varieties that transport and store the best.

As a superfan of eggplant, I’d say the primary difference between bitter/not bitter is whether the vegetable ships via a commercial supply chain (supermarket) vs. me buying it in season directly from a local farm. That’s the single biggest difference I notice due to veggie age. And possibly cold storage? Even the freshest eggplant gets spongy and may develop some bitterness if I store it too long in the fridge. Happens even with the in-season eggplant I get from local farms.

Perhaps in addition there may be a bitterness difference between varieties, which I suspect plays a lesser role. In winter, I favor small “Indian” eggplants that I find at the grocery store. (That’s how they’re sold. Not sure of the specific variety.) These small, roundish eggplants seem to me to be closer to in-season eggplant that hasn’t been transported commercially.

It would take more effort than I can handle to investigate the multiple variables definitively. So I simply stick with what works for me. :grinning: