The bell pepper is a cultivar group of the species Capsicum annuum (chili pepper). They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant.
Bell peppers are botanically a fruit, but for culinary purposes are considered vegetables. Although the bell pepper is a member of the Capsicum family, it is the only member that does not actually produce capsaicin, which is the chemical that creates “the heat” in chili peppers. The lack of capsaicin in bell peppers is actually due to a recessive gene that eliminates the production of this chemical.
Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. Archeological excavations have uncovered evidence of wild bell peppers dating back to 5,000 B.C. Pepper seeds were carried to Spain by Columbus as early as 1493 and from there spread through Spanish and Portuguese explorers to other European, African and Asian countries.
Bell peppers can be grown in tropical and temperate climates and are a very versatile food so their adoption and cultivation spread quickly throughout the world. In central Europe they are dried for paprika; bell pepper is a critical component for Louisiana Creole dishes; and an integral ingredient in both Mexican and Portuguese cuisines.
Currently, the main producers of Bell peppers which are also sometimes known as sweet peppers are China, Turkey, Spain, Romania, Nigeria and Mexico.
Bell peppers are plump, slightly bell-shaped vegetables with either three or four lobes. They range in size from 2 to 5 inches in diameter, and 2 to 6 inches in length. Inside the thick flesh is an inner cavity with edible bitter seeds and a white spongy core.
Bell peppers come in a full range of colors ranging from green, red, yellow, orange, purple, brown to black. Although peppers are available throughout the year, they are most abundant and tasty during the months of August and September.
Green peppers are unripened and are less sweet than red, yellow or orange peppers. The taste of ripe peppers can also vary with growing conditions and how they are stored and handled after harvest. The sweetest bell peppers are allowed to ripen fully on the plant, while peppers harvested green and after-ripened in storage are less sweet.
One cup of raw, chopped red, orange or yellow peppers provides over 100% of the DV for vitamin C and vitamin A. Peppers are a very good source of fiber, folate, and vitamin K as well as the minerals molybdenum and manganese. In addition to beta-carotene, red peppers contain the beneficial phytonutrients lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
How to Select and Store
Choose peppers that have deep bright colors, tight skin and free of soft spots or blemishes. Peppers should be heavy for their size and firm. Peppers are available throughout the year but are usually in greater abundance during the summer months.
Unwashed sweet peppers can be stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep for up to one week. Sweet peppers can be frozen without first being blanched. Freeze peppers whole to minimize exposure to air which can degrade both their nutrient content and flavor.
Ways to Prepare
Bell peppers can be eaten raw in salads or as part of a crudites. They can be sauteed, baked, roasted or grilled. They can be used as an addition to a recipe or as the star of the show.
For summer grilling season here are a couple of wonderful recipes:
Grilled Vegetable Salad
Honey Mustard Grilled Onions and Peppers
Garlic Roasted Bell Peppers