Bell pepper, also known as sweet pepper, is one of the most commonly employed chili peppers in the Capsicum annum family. Sweet peppers are fruit pods on the capsicum plant grown for their subtle hotness yet sweet, the delicate peppery flavor they extend to the recipes. Botanically, it is a small perennial shrub in the nightshade or Solanaceae family, of the genus, Capsicum. Scientific name: Capsicum annum L.
Unlike their fellow capsicum members, sweet peppers characteristically have a bell shape, and crunchy, thick fleshy textured pod. On comparison with fellow chili-pepper members, bell (sweet) peppers feature dramatically less pungency that ranges from zero to very minimal on the hotness scale. For the same reasons, they treated much like any other day-to-day vegetables instead of spices in the cuisine.
|Beautiful bell peppers. Note for bright color, blocky peppers with smooth surface and healthy green stem. Photo courtesy: DING52||Peppers in capsicum annum plant.
Photo courtesy: OakleyOriginals
Peppers are native to Mexico and other Central American region, from where they spread to the rest of the world through the Spanish and Portuguese explorers during 16th and 17th centuries. Today, they are grown widely in many parts of the world as an important commercial crop. As in other chili pepper varieties, bell peppers also have several cultivar types. However, their plant type and fruit pod (with 3-5 lobes) are common hallmarks in almost all cultivars.
In structure, sweet pepper features blocky, cube-like outer flesh enveloping around many tiny, cream colored, round and flat seeds. The seeds are clinging on to the central core (placenta). For harvesting, peppers are handpicked at different stages of maturity depending on the preferences of local markets. All varieties of young, immature peppers feature green color pods, irrespective of their final destined color. As the fruit matures, it gradually acquires its true genetic color; orange, red, purple, yellow, and green.
The hotness of peppers is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). On the Scoville scale, a sweet bell pepper scores 0, while a jalapeno pepper around 2,500-4,000, and a Mexican habanero- 200,000 to 500,000 units.
Bell pepper contains an impressive list of plant nutrients that found to have disease preventing and health promoting properties. Unlike in other fellow chili peppers, it has very fewer calories and fats. 100 grams provides just 31 calories.
Sweet (bell) pepper contains small levels of health benefiting alkaloid compound, capsaicin. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. When used judiciously, it also found to reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.
Fresh bell peppers, red or green, are a rich source of vitamin-C. This vitamin is particularly concentrated in red peppers at the highest levels. 100 g red pepper provides about 127.7 µg or about 213% of RDA of vitamin-C. Vitamin-C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant. Inside the human body, it is required for the collagen synthesis. Collagen is the main structural protein in the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in this vitamin helps the human body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
It also contains healthy levels of vitamin-A. 100 g of sweet pepper has 3131 IU or 101% of vitamin A. Additionally, antioxidant flavonoids such as alpha and beta carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin also found in them. Together, these antioxidant substances in sweet peppers help protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress and disease conditions.
Bell pepper has adequate levels of essential minerals. Some of the main minerals in it are iron, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and selenium. Manganese used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Selenium is an antioxidant trace element that acts as a co-factor for enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Further, capsicum (sweet pepper) is also good in the B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin, and thiamin (vitamin B-1). These vitamins are essential in the sense that body requires them from external sources to replenish. B-complex vitamins facilitate cellular metabolism through various enzymatic functions.
Fresh bell peppers can be readily available in he markets year round. Buy fresh harvest featuring firm, bright fruits feeling heavy for their size.
Avoid excessively soft, lusterless, pale green color peppers. Furthermore, avoid those with surface cuts/punctures, bruise, spots and shriveled stems.
Once at home, they should be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag where they stay fresh for about 3-4 days. They may sustain chill injuries if stored for extended periods.
In general, fresh bell peppers are treated just like any other vegetables in the kitchen. Their firm, crunchy texture together with delicate sweet flavor makes them one of the most sought after vegetables for cooking.
|Chickpeas salad with beans, cucumber, bell pepper, tomatoes, scallions, pine nuts. Photo cortesy: sporst|
To prepare, wash bell peppers in cold running water. Cut the stem end and discard it. This way, you can see its inside structure. Remove central core with seeds. Now you have a hollow "cup shape" pepper. Chop it using a paring knife into cubes, rings or strips as in onions.
Although sweet peppers have the least capsaicin levels unlike other chili peppers, still they may inflict burning sensation to hands and may cause irritation to mouth/nasal passages, eyes and throat. Therefore, it may be advised in some sensitive individuals to use thin, hand gloves and face masks while handling them.
Here are some serving tips:
|Pizza with banana peppers, green bell pepper, black olives, grape tomatoes, and onion. Photo courtesy: Lorena|
Fresh raw bell peppers are being used as vegetables in cuisine. They can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in stir-fries.
In many parts of South Asia, they mixed with other vegetables like potato (aloo-simla mirch), carrots, aubergine, green beans, etc., along with tomato, garlic, onion, mustard seeds, cumin, and other spices in various mouth-watering stir-fries (sabzi).
They can also be stuffed with rice, meat, cheddar cheese, dried fruits, nuts, etc., and, then cooked/roasted.
They can also be grilled and served with sauce, cheese, and olive oil or with dips.
Finely chopped sweet peppers can be used in Chinese-style vegetable stir-fries and noodles.
Sweet peppers are one of the popular ingredients in Italian pizza and pasta.
The pungency level in bell peppers is almost zero ’ Scoville heat units (SHU)’. However, their seeds and central core may contain some amount of capsaicin, which when eaten may cause severe irritation and hot sensation to mouth, tongue, and throat.
Note some of these points while handling capsicum annum members in general:
Capsaicin in chilies, especially cayenne peppers, initially elicit inflammation when it comes in contact with the mucosa of oral cavity, throat, and stomach, and soon produces a severe burning sensation that is perceived as hot through free nerve endings in the mucosa. Eating cold yogurt may help reduce this burning pain by diluting capsaicin concentration, and preventing its contact with the stomach mucosa
Avoid touching eyes with pepper contaminated fingers. If done so, rinse eyes thoroughly with cold water to reduce irritation.
They may aggravate underlying gastroesophageal reflux (GER) condition. (Medical disclaimer).
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