Bell pepper, also known as sweet pepper, is one of the most commonly employed chili peppers in the Capsicum annuum family. Sweet peppers are fruit pods on the capsicum plant grown for their subtle hotness yet sweet, delicate peppery flavor they extend to the recipes. Botanically, it is a small perennial shrub in the nightshade or Solanaceae family, in the genus, capsicum. Scientific name: Capsicum annuum L.
Unlike their fellow capsicum members, sweet peppers have characteristic bell shape with crunchy, thick fleshy texture. On comparison with fellow chili-pepper members, bell (sweet) peppers feature characteristically less pungency that ranges from zero to very minimal hotness. For the same reasons, they generally treated like any other common vegetables instead of spice 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
Photo courtesy: OakleyOriginals
Peppers are native to Mexico and other Central American region from where they spread to the rest of the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during 16th and 17th centuries. Today, they grown widely in many parts of the world as an important commercial crop. As in other chili pepper varieties, bell peppers too have several cultivar types. However, the plant type and fruit pod (with 3-5 lobes) are a common features in almost all cultivars.
In structure, sweet pepper features blocky, cube like outer flesh enclosing numerous tiny, white, or cream colored, circular and flat seeds. The seeds are actually clinging on to the central core (placenta). To harvest, peppers are handpicked at different stages of maturity depending upon the preferences of local populations . All varieties of unripe 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, etc.
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 habaneros 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 less calories and fats. 100 g 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 rich source of vitamin-C. This vitamin is especially concentrated in red peppers at the highest levels. 100 g red pepper provides about 127.7 Âµg 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 good levels of vitamin-A. 100 g of sweet pepper has 3131 IU or 101% of vitamin A. In addition, it contains anti-oxidant flavonoids such as a and beta-carotenes, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin. Together, these antioxidant substances in sweet peppers help to 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 is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Selenium is an anti-oxidant micro-mineral that acts as a co-factor for enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Further, capsicum (sweet pepper) is also good in 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 all around the season. Buy fresh harvest featuring firm, bright fruit pods 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 stored inside the refrigerator in a plastic bag where they stay fresh for about about 3-4 days. Again, if stored for extended periods, they may sustain chill injuries.
In general, fresh bell peppers are treated just like any other vegetables in the kitchen. Their firm, crunchy consistency together with delicate sweet flavor makes them one of the most sought after vegetable items in 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 cuisines. 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 pungent 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 mucus membranes of oral cavity, throat and stomach, and soon produces severe burning sensation that is perceived as hot through free nerve endings in the mucosa. Eating cold yogurt helps reduce this burning pain by diluting capsaicin concentration, and preventing its contact with stomach walls.
Avoid touching eyes with pepper contaminated fingers. If done so, rinse eyes thoroughly in cold water to reduce irritation.
They may aggravate underlying gastro-esophageal reflux (GER) condition. (Medical disclaimer).
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