Sunday, January 29, 2012

Eating Peppers Temporarily Mothballed




Two weeks ago I was shopping at Fairway. I needed red peppers for a recipe I was making that night, but Fairway didn't have any. Hmm, well I was off to Court Street to pick up something else, so I stopped into the Italian grocery and they had this incredible deal on just the kind of pepper I was looking for. If you can believe it, I bought the last two pound bag of long red peppers for $3.99! Almost too good of a deal for me to trust, but then I needed the peppers.

When I began to prepare the meal I tasted the fresh peppers and I thought there was an odd flavor to them, definitely not pepper, although they were highly sweet as the label said they would be. I kept coming up with manure, but the wrong kind of manure. Yet that never satisfied me, what was that flavor?

Two weeks later I decided to use the rest of these peppers. Boy, they sure held up well in the fridge. I chopped one and tasted the bottom tip. Bang! Mothballs! That is the flavor, however much milder than the mothball-flavored candy my grandmother used to have around the house. But truly, mothball-flavored peppers. OK, not going to use those, but I did google just that. I came up with very little, except a vegan blog post from 2007 where the author mentions the very same phenomenon. A modest number of commenters who googled the same found that site and posted their experience.

There appears to be a Canada connection. Ok, out-of-season red peppers, mothballs, Canada. It's funny enough to mention that I took the above photo to post about what a great deal I got on these peppers in Brooklyn and what it ends up doing is illustrating how these incredibly cheap peppers from Nicaragua via Canada taste a hell of a lot like mothballs - naphthalene or 1,4-dichlorobenzene (guys, you know this one -urinal biscuits).

I contacted Sunset and I will let you know what, if anything, they have to say about it.


19 comments:

  1. Ewww mothballs? Sounds gross!

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  2. Love this post.

    I miss New York.

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  3. Thanks! Contact made, new peppers being sent.

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  4. I also live in Canada and I bought red peppers from Loblaws, the taste of mothballs is so strong I can't even eat them :( Boo

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  5. I live in California and am sitting in front of two big beautiful Organic red peppers that reek of mothballs!! I really wanted to eat them with some homemade hummus but can't get over the smell! I just want to know if this is natural occurrence or have my peppers been sabotaged? The PLU# is 94688

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    1. I've been cutting and preparing bell peppers for several decades and tonight was a mothball first for me. Probably not a natural occurrence or I've been a lucky boy for all these years. After cutting the pepper my kitchen now reeks of mothballs. And maybe I am a lucky boy because there is a backup big juicy green pepper.

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    2. I can't really say. If they're grown in factory conditions, maybe that is the source?

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  6. I know the original post is a bit dated, but have you found out what makes the peppers smell like mothballs? I have been trying to figure this out for quite a while without success.

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    1. Never found out, never figured it out. The mothball chemical, which I cannot recall now, is either from the application of a chemical or because something in the process synthesizes a chemical that mimics it. If you ever find out, let me know.

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  7. Wow, I just phoned Sunset as I have moth ball tasting peppers that I purchased. The person on the phone told me that it is when the peppers are older and they are in the plastic wrap and it is the odour that the produce. She assured me that they are not using mothballs on them. I asked about fungicides and she said they use them only as a last resort if a plant is dying. Needless to say, I will not be eating mothballs smelling and tasting peppers and think that I may be purchasing organic.

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  8. Wow, I just phoned Sunset due to the peppers tha tI purchased smell and taste like mothballs. She assured me that they do not use mothballs in the greenhouses and fungicides are used only if a plant is dying. Mmmm, she said that there have been complaints in the past about a moth ball smell from the peppers and that they produce that when they are on the older end of being packaged. I think that I may be going organic for peppers.

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  9. This is such an old post, but I was Googling what could possibly be making my red peppers smell as I prepare a chili today. At first I thought the smell was very floral, but reading your post and then re-smelling my peppers, mothballs it is! This is just craziness! Although I am glad to know that it is not all in my mind.
    The biggest question, are they safe to eat? I suppose I could just forgo the red peppers in my chilli!

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    1. I would forgo the peppers. It’s never recurred in subsequent years, but red sweet peppers is the commonality among those who experience it. My guess is compounds that mimic the odor but I’m not terribly certain of it.

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    2. Thanks! I thought the same thing---I tried a little piece and it had a strong (non-pepper) taste to it. Probably a mistake to try but I am still alive. :) Wrapped the rest up and returning to the store tomorrow. I purchased from a "higher end" store that prides itself on locally sourced produce, so I want to show them what they are selling! Yuck! So glad I found y our blog---doesn't seem to be much more online about this. Thanks for your help! :)

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  10. Even organic red bell peppers pick up on the moth ball flavor/odor. I bought a bag of mixed colored bell peppers. The red one was foul but the orange one taste fine.

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    1. Interesting distinction orange or red. Something in the red pepper...

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  11. I purchased a bag of Organic mixed colored bell peppers. orange one was fine red one was moth balled. Organic growers are not permitted to use synthetic chemicals so you can rule out the N. It must be a chemical produced in the rotting process which mimics N. Hmmm... perhaps N. was developed using the rotting process of red bell peppers?

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    1. It is where my curiosity is headed. I work with horticultural experts so I may slide this phenomenon across their desk.

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