#PepperGate2023: the pepper scandal rocking the gardening community

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Imagine nurturing your pepper plants for months, only to realize that the peppers that grew were nothing like what you expected. Unfortunately, that is the sad reality for thousands of gardeners in 2023.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the pepper scandal rocking the country and what you can do if you’re impacted by #Peppergate.

What is #PepperGate?

PepperGate, also known as jalapeñogate and the Great Pepper Mixup of 2023, has become a significant topic of discussion within the gardening community. With the proliferation of rumors on the internet, it has come to light that numerous pepper seeds have been mislabeled, leading to an unfortunate situation for many gardeners.

Enthusiasts who eagerly purchased specific pepper varieties have been left disheartened upon discovering that the peppers they have nurtured for months are not the ones they initially anticipated. This unexpected turn of events has caused immense disappointment among gardeners who had invested considerable time and effort into cultivating their pepper plants, only to realize that their expected variety will not come to fruition.

The repercussions of PepperGate are reverberating throughout the gardening community, leaving individuals longing for the accurate and promised pepper harvest they had eagerly anticipated.

How did this happen?

So how did this colossal mixup happen, and is it even real? It’s not uncommon to hear stories of someone receiving a seed type but having a different plant grow — but these tend to be outlier cases.

Doesn’t this happen all the time?

It is important to clarify that the occasional mixups, mislabeling, and cross-pollination of seeds, which can result in individual cases of pepper variety confusion over time, are not the causes of the widespread issue known as PepperGate. 

These factors have been observed as natural occurrences within the gardening community. Still, the occasional mixup does not fully explain the magnitude and impact of the current problem.

Large-scale supplier issues

The primary cause of PepperGate likely lies in supplier issues within the seed industry. The complexity of the problem becomes apparent when considering the industry’s structure. Surprisingly, approximately 60% of the seed market is controlled by just four companies, indicating a lack of diversity and concentration of power. These companies operate as wholesale suppliers to smaller seed companies, which then package and distribute the seeds under their own brand names. 

We assume the error happened at the top of the food chain (the large wholesale supplier), causing a trickle-down effect where dozens of seed companies sold mislabeled seeds. 

Large-scale mislabeling

#PepperGate likely stems from a significant mislabeling problem that has affected many seed batches. The exact details of how this mislabeling occurred are not yet fully understood. However, the issue probably originated from large-scale mislabeling at the supplier level, leading to mislabeled seeds being distributed to numerous seed brands and thousands of consumers. This widespread impact has amplified the scale of the problem and contributed to the disappointment experienced by gardeners who had anticipated specific pepper varieties.

By recognizing the distinction between occasional mixups like individual mislabeling and cross-pollination as individual occurrences and understanding the underlying supplier issues, we can better understand the causes behind PepperGate.

What types of peppers are affected?

PepperGate has affected many pepper varieties, causing confusion and unexpected outcomes among gardeners. Among the peppers impacted, jalapeños have been particularly affected, with reports indicating that a mix of different peppers grew instead of the expected jalapeño variety. Gardeners have discovered an assortment of peppers, including bell peppers, banana peppers, and long thin peppers (possibly cayenne), among others.

a facebook post claiming their jalapenos and bell peppers were not true to seed

In addition to jalapeños, poblanos, known for their mild heat and distinct flavor, have been subject to the mixup, leaving gardeners with unexpected results, and certain bell pepper varieties have also been affected.

a screenshot of a facebook post sharing that their poblanos grew as shishitos

This is not exhaustive: I see posts in Facebook gardening communities popping up daily, with little consistency between the brand and exact variety. It’s clearly a pervasive issue.

It is also worth noting that the reports of pepper mixups have originated from both seeds gardeners started themselves and nursery seedlings purchased pre-started. This phenomenon spans different stages of the gardening process, encompassing both home-grown plants and commercially sourced seedlings.

What companies sent out the wrong pepper seeds?

The companies responsible for distributing the wrong pepper seeds in the #PepperGate incident have not been definitively identified. However, based on online reports and negative customer reviews, several companies have emerged as potential contenders. It is important to note that these companies are mentioned based on speculation and user experiences. Still, the companies have yet to verify if they are aware of an issue with their seeds.

Ferry Morse: 

Ferry Morse is one company frequently mentioned online concerning #PepperGate. Customers have reported receiving pepper seeds that did not grow into the expected varieties. Several negative reviews within the past few months have specifically pointed out issues with their pepper seeds.

a screenshot of a review of Tam Jalepeños from the ferry morse website complaining that the peppers were not jalapeños
A verified review from the Ferry Morse website
a screenshot of a review of Jalepeños from the ferry morse website complaining that the peppers were not jalapeños
A review of a customer who purchased Ferry Morse jalapeño seeds from Lowe’s

Baker Creek: 

Baker Creek, known as North America’s largest heirloom seed company, is also potentially affected. While the company claims its products were not impacted by #PepperGate, numerous Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Gardeners Facebook group members have shared their experiences of growing peppers different from what they had ordered. These reports, coming from multiple individuals, suggest a broader issue beyond isolated incidents.

Ball Seed: 

Ball Seed has been rumored as a potential source of mixed-up pepper seeds, although no definitive verification has been obtained. As a significant wholesale seed company supplying numerous other seed providers, including Burpee, their involvement could have widespread implications.

Burpee: 

There is a likelihood that Burpee, a well-known seed company, was affected by #PepperGate. Recent customer reviews have surfaced, with individuals stating that the peppers they grew did not match the varieties they had ordered.

While reports and negative reviews point towards their involvement, a comprehensive investigation is necessary to determine the actual extent of their responsibility in the #PepperGate incident.

How can I tell if my seeds are genuinely what I ordered?

Determining the authenticity of pepper seeds can be challenging since most seeds have a similar appearance. Most pepper seeds look nearly identical, making it difficult to identify the specific pepper variety by visual inspection alone. As a result, it is usually impossible to determine the type of pepper you received by examining the seeds.

To truly ascertain the authenticity of the seeds, the most reliable method is to cultivate the plant and allow it to grow until it bears fruit. By patiently nurturing the plant and observing the characteristics of the fruit it produces, such as size, shape, color, and other relevant traits, you can make a more accurate assessment of the pepper variety you have grown.

In the case of pepper seeds affected by mislabeling or mixups, the only way to confirm the genuine pepper variety is by observing the fruit characteristics that develop from the plant. Through this process, you can obtain firsthand evidence and determine the type of pepper you have grown.

What to do if your pepper seeds got mixed up and what you ordered wasn’t what grew

Suppose you find yourself in a situation where the pepper seeds you received did not grow into the desired variety. In that case, there are several steps you can take to address the issue, considering the time constraints and available options:

Buy pre-started seedlings if it’s not too late

Since it’s too late in the season to start peppers from seed, consider visiting your local nursery or hardware store for already-started seedlings. Keep an eye out for any clearance sales or discounted prices that stores may offer at this stage of the growing season.

Contact the seed company for a refund

If you purchased the seeds online, it is generally easier to request a refund from the company you bought them from than if you purchased them from a nursery or hardware store. Even if you don’t have your order number, the seed company should have a record of your online purchase. Reach out to them, explain the situation, and request a refund for the mislabeled seeds. 

However, obtaining a refund may be more challenging if you bought the seeds from a physical store like Home Depot and didn’t save the receipt.

Remember to retain any documentation, such as receipts or order confirmation emails, as they may be helpful when requesting a refund. It is important to remain courteous and clearly explain the situation to increase the likelihood of a favorable resolution.

While it may be disappointing to not have the expected pepper variety from the seeds, exploring alternative options and seeking refunds can help mitigate the situation and provide an opportunity to obtain the desired peppers for your garden.

Have you been impacted by PepperGate? Share you’re experiences in the comments!

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51 Comments

  1. Because I moved earlier this year, I got a late start. I am just now observing that my pasilla bajio peppers look a lot like shisito peppers. I wouldn’t mind so much, and might even look at it as an opportunity to try something new, EXCEPT pasillas are one of my very favorite peppers and you can’t get them in the grocery store (especially not in small town Mississippi).

    1. Noooo what a bummer I have seen a lot of posts saying that they grew shishitos from mislabeled seeds. What seed brand were yours from?

  2. If you bought burpee carnival bell like me, you’re only going to grow diamond bell peppers. The purple beauty are hungarian hot wax and everything else is a sweet cherry pepper. Not surprised with seeds sourced from China during continued covid lockdowns and labor shortages. Just goes to show you how quickly our food systems can fail. Are commercial growers having this issue? Will bell peppers be scarce in markets? Save your own seeds folks.

    1. It will definitely be interesting to see the downline effects. If major suppliers like Ball Seed are in fact impacted I’m sure at least some commercial farmers are having issues too.

  3. Oh it is a thing for sure. I ordered white super hots, bhut ghost variety, and they are the possibly cayennes. But even beyond that, thyme I ordered this year wound up being pansies. What is going on?? I’ve been gardening for years and have never seen anything like this.

    1. Definitely more widespread this year than ever. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about other seeds being mislabeled too just not nearly as often as peppers

  4. I ordered habanero seeds from burpee. I’m not sure what kind of peppers I actually got (they may turn out to be cayenne) but they’re definitely not habanero.

  5. I planted 3 purple cayenne in one of my beds (started from seed). One started producing peppers before the other 2. They were purple from the start and this was my first time growing cayenne so I didn’t really think much about the look of them. Until the other two started producing. The 2 late producers are definitely cayenne. The early one looks like purple jalapeño except it starts out purple and from what I have found online they should start out green. So I have no idea what this third plant is, but I have fallen in love with these violet “jalapeño’s” and now fear I shall never grow another.

    1. Save the seeds!!! If you cover the flower bud with a little mesh bag and hand-pollinate you may be able to grow the same thing again. I got a purple cayenne that is acting slightly suspicious too the pepper is purple, but it’s thicker than cayenne and growing UP not down.

      1. wait… purple cayenne don’t grow UP??? I’m growing some too. They’re all purple, thin, small peppers… and growing up. I’ve never grown them so I assumed it was normal!

        1. Maybe they do then This is my first time growing them. All of my regular “red” cayennes are much thinner/bumpier and growing downward. My purple cayenne is smooth, fatter, and growing up. Maybe it’s normal

          1. What was supposed to be purple bells are hot banana looking peppers. Seed was from Totally Tomatoes.

  6. Bought what I thought were jalapeño pepper plants in a Home Depot in California and got what I think are sweet banana peppers. So much for making salsa.

  7. I had my own little mixup starting my pepper seeds and forgot to label my seed trays as I went along. I joked that eventually when they grew I would know which were which. After all, I at least know what varieties I started with, right? (ha!) I also started a second batch of seeds, all correctly labeled.

    Fast forward to last week as I’m eyeing one group of mystery peppers that I couldn’t identify. I finally decided they looked like banana peppers, which was weird since I hadn’t grown any of those. I notice the same peppers in another part of the garden… clearly labeled “purple bell.” I contacted Eden Brothers and they said there apparently was a mixup with that batch. As things continue to grow, I’m finding that the majority of my peppers are a mystery. I have some that I still don’t know what they are!

    p.s. – what the heck do you do with banana peppers?!?!

    1. I also have one labeled “mystery pepper” from mislabeling at home

      Banana peppers are awesome!! I think the most common uses are slicing them up raw (on salads, sandwiches), or pickling them.

  8. I bought Ferry Morse mixed sweet Bell pepper seeds from either Home Depot or Manards. I think I grew Hungarian Hot wax peppers. I sent an email to Ferry-Morse. They tell me they will send me new seeds.

  9. I overwintered my jalapeño plants but I can’t save the seeds this year because they’re sitting next to other types of peppers and likely cross-pollinated. If I would have known about the issue, I’d have planned better!

    1. Bummer! Is it still budding? I know some people use little mesh bags like these on buds that have not yet flowered, and then hand-pollinate to ensure that it doesn’t cross with anything: https://amzn.to/3KxrURc You can also overwinter again — some people report being able to keep pepper plants alive for up to 10 years!

  10. I bought echinacea from Burpee that turned out to be amaranth. Thought they looked weird. ‍♀️

  11. My supposed poblanos are shishitos, my jalepenos are really banana peppers, and my bell peppers are some kind of weird mix of something. If these seed are coming from other countries, are they safe?

    1. The USDA requirements for importing seeds are pretty stringent, so if a major seller was selling seeds from another country I would assume they would have been subject to USDA’s import permit requirements and phytosanitary certificate. I wouldn’t worry about it in terms of food safety.

    2. My bell peppers are a mix of something else too. I got a few green bell peppers, some type of really hot long yellow peppers and a small round green pepper that has a little point at the end. I bought them at Walmart – Ferry Morse

  12. I make my own hotsauce. I was counting on my burpee seed, bought at Home Depot. Bought a pack of long, red hot chillies and 2 different packs of jalapeno. What I am getting are these yellow, orange and green peppers that, are not hot.
    I don’t care about the $9 I spent for the seeds. I started the seeds in February so it’s time . And now I have no hot peppers to make sauce. I hope I can buy some.

    1. Ughhh Hopefully you can find some sort of specialty grower at the farmers market. Or Asian grocers sometimes have different types of peppers than everyday supermarkets.

    2. I am a commercial grower. I ordered Rainbow Bell peppers and they appear to be Tabasco peppers which are very hot and look nothing like a bell pepper. These were purchased as plug plants from a commercial greenhouse so it definitely has affected more than just home gardeners. It is especially annoying when it is your livelihood.

  13. I purchased Jalapeno Early seed from Pinetree and grew out 8 plants. All of the plants are producing 5″ long, pointed tip, light green peppers that are somewhere between sweet and slightly heated. They are not Jalapenos, but also they are not Banana or Anaheim. They’re likely some type of hybrid snack pepper. I contacted Pinetree and while they did refund my purchase, they did not advise what the pepper seed is.

  14. I ordered Sweet Californian sweet peppers and transplanted 30 seedlings only to find they are a chili pepper not yet identified. All i know is they are hot hot hot…. Haven’t complained as they are doing well and my customers love them. Only down side is i have no sweet peppers in the glass houses this year.

  15. I bought jalapeño seedlings expecting green peppers. They are actually yellow jalapeño peppers so I can still use them. First year growing peppers

  16. We bought a bell pepper mix from Livingston seeds that were supposed to be a mix of green, yellow and red bells. We have some green and yellow bells, but about 35% are banana peppers and another 20% are small, round cherry peppers.

  17. I purchased my seeds from Burpee directly. I had ordered red and yellow nibbler seedless peppers . Well as they are growing now I have a few of the nibbler shaped pepper all still green. But most are green bell peppers.

  18. i had posted earlier that i got jalapeno seeds from seeds and such but i realized i got ferry morris seeds from lowes

  19. The USDA should get to the bottom of this… this is the kind of thing that could put farmers out of business. Imagine having a contract to deliver tons of Jalapenos and you end up with tons of banana peppers! It’s almost funny for us home growers but this could cost people their livlihoods and homes.

  20. I planted California green peppers. My first time successfully growing green peppers from seed. 4 of the plants are growing nice green peppers. The fifth plant grew poblano looking light green/yellowish peppers. I thought it was just a misshapen green pepper but when I cut it open, it was overpowering like a hot spicy pepper. The taste was mild though. I didn’t mind as long as it was edible! My first successful garden and I love the surprises

  21. Yea, I planted some I started and some I bought. Probably 35-40 plants and they were supposed to be green bells, rainbow bells and sweet banana peppers but I got what looks like chilies, habanero’s, some bells but two varieties. Both varieties are green but one is like the same girth but alot longer. Also every single one of my sweet banana peppers are so hot it aint funny. The bells I can live with and the chillies will make a good powder but the banana’s are a big disappointment.

  22. I ordered a tray of Hungarian Sweet Pepper seedlings from a wholesale company in western North Carolina. I’ve gotten a mix of long yellowish, yellowish jalapeno shaped and even a longer type green bell pepper!

  23. I bought the burpee italian pepperoncini seeds and ended up with Poblano’s. At first I was like welll maybe the first two that grew just came out a little thick and dark green but nope they are all chunky dark green guys and definitely not the skinny light green friends I was expecting.

  24. Not peppers but I had mislabeled Northrup King tomato seed which was supposed to be Big Rainbow but turned out to be just some yellow tomato; also Burpee pole beans which were supposed to be Kentucky Wonder but were a flat Italian type variety with strings.

  25. So i geuss im the lucky one, 6 varities of peppers are all correct.

    My flamme tomato is not corect though. Best geuss is its a pinnaple variety.

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