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 HO)


I’m not sure why it smells like mothballs, but the thing that makes mothballs smell that way is naphthalene (though it’s not used to make them much anymore). It’s a pesticide and repellent, but I don’t imagine I’d want that residue hanging out on my food…


Could be naturally occurring. Maybe produced by some other chemical breaking down in storage.


Are you eating these peppers by themselves, with something else, or raw or cooked?


Raw, by themselves.


Weird smells are de rigeur for TJ’s produce. Remember it’s a wholesaler not a grocery store though most folks would be hard pressed to explain the difference. The business model does not support it being a place to buy consistent fresh produce. Caveat emptor.

I recall once a lunch a friend threw and someone remarked, “I really like the fish sauce in the tomato salad.” Response: “It doesn’t have fish sauce in it. I got them at Trader Joe’s.”


Why am I suddenly reminded of a joke ‘misfortune’ cookie I got once:

“What you just ate was not chicken.”


I understand, but

  1. It’s not just TJ’s peppers – I get peppers with that taste from many different sources (Sprouts, WF, etc). The most consistent factor seems to be age.
  2. Believe it or not, here in Las Vegas (a desert in many ways), TJ’s is actually one of the better options for fresh organic produce. I haven’t noticed any problems with other produce from them. However, I realize that if I were in L.A. or SF, there would be many better produce options.


Closely related compounds occur naturally in red bell peppers, so it seems likely to me that as they sit around the compounds break down and release naphthalene.

Have you tried this place?


Yes I have, but it’s a once-a-week farmers market that’s very expensive – as you might expect since she has to bring everything in from California. Harry’s Berries are great, but not at $8–9 for a half-pint.


I grow my own vegetables, including peppers, and notice there is a taste difference even between mine and the farmers market. I also get that feedback when I share my produce. I think some of this might be based on the amount of fertilizer they use - people want big giant peppers and veggies.

You could try growing your own?