Botanically speaking, the Capsicum genus of flowering plants is a very diverse group, encompassing all the varieties of peppers; from the extremely fiery habaneros to the milder jalapeňos and chilies. However, the most common and widely cultivated species is Capsicum anuum, or the bell pepper.
You can find bell peppers in almost all kitchens today. They are inexpensive, available all throughout the year, and very versatile. Bell peppers are good in salads, pizzas, soups, sautés, casseroles, sandwiches, or eaten fresh as a snack. They can be grilled, stuffed, canned or pickled. With the color, flavor and texture that it lends to dishes, the bell pepper has become a common feature in cuisines around the world. According to statistics, consumption of bell peppers has risen in recent years.
Here are a few other interesting facts about the increasingly popular bell pepper.
- Bell peppers originated from Mexico, and Central and South America. The Spanish and Portuguese explorers were instrumental in spreading cultivation when they introduced the bell pepper to different parts of the world during their voyages in the 16th and 17th centuries.
- Since bell peppers have seeds and come from flowering plants, they are actually fruits, not vegetables.
- Despite the similarity in name, the bell pepper is not related to the plant that produces the popular kitchen condiment, black pepper.
- Unlike other members of the Capsicum family, bell peppers do not contain capsaicin, the compound that provides the pungency and kick to the spicier varieties of peppers.
- Aside from the more common green color, bell peppers also come in red, orange, yellow, white and purple. There are even black and brown bell peppers, although these might be difficult to find. Red, orange and yellow bell peppers are the riper versions of the green bell pepper.
- As bell peppers mature, their sugar and nutritional content also increase. Although green peppers might be crunchier, you can make your dishes sweeter and healthier with the brighter-colored red bell pepper. In addition to providing more Vitamins A and C, it contains the antioxidant lycopene, a nutrient not found in the green bell pepper.
- The bell pepper tops the list of foods with the highest levels of Vitamin C. A large red pepper provides more than 300% of your daily requirement of the nutrient; and has three times more Vitamin C than an orange.
- Since high heat destroys some of the more delicate nutrients found in bell peppers, it is best to eat them raw for maximum health benefit. If you have to cook them, do so with low heat for a very short time.