Bell Pepper

Bell Pepper

General Information: The bell pepper has become a year-around vegetable commodity…one of those vegetables, like their nightshade cousins the onion and the potato, which are standard in every market. Unfortunately, out-of-season peppers are mostly mass produced in greenhouse environments, and are fed a constant and substantial diet of chemicals to encourage generic shapes and quick growth. These peppers are mostly pesticide cocktails! Fortunately, there are also many opportunities to enjoy the flavor and nutritional benefits of fresh vine-ripened peppers.

The capsicum pepper was first introduced in Europe during the early 1500s by Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The first peppers landing in Europe were quite spicy and nothing at all like the sweet bell pepper. After extended periods of manipulation, the pepper gradually evolved into a mild food. In fact, the sweet bell pepper has only achieved popularity status in central Europe after World War II.

Fun Facts:  Mexico and South Korea have the highest per capita consumption of peppers; the bell pepper is technically a berry; the tomato pepper has approximately 400mg. of vitamin C per 100gr.

Bell peppers range in color from pale to dark green, then from yellow to orange to red. Some peppers range from green to purple to brown to almost black. The flavors can vary from bland to sweet to bittersweet. Bright red or orange peppers are more mature fruits. They will have a sweeter flavor and higher nutrient content. Green and purple peppers are immature and have a more bitter taste.

There are several interesting opportunities to purchase different varieties of peppers during their season. In addition to the sweet bell pepper (various colors), look for the following varieties:

Tomato Pepper – This pepper looks very similar to a large tomato. It is mostly produced in Hungry, although there are some Swiss farmers successfully growing this variety. It is extremely sweet and has the highest content of vitamin C.

Charleston – This pepper is elongated and mostly yellow. It is commonly grown in Turkey and is widely available in many Turkish stores. It is mild to spicy in flavor, and there is no way to determine the spiciness of the pepper just by looking at it. It is a bit like playing pepper roulette!

Peperoncini – This spicy pepper comes mostly from Italy. It is available in green or red, and it is very hot…especially the seeds. These peppers can be easily dried by hanging them in a warm and dry location. Use the seeds as a spice and grind the flesh into a powder and enjoy your own cayenne pepper.

Red Chili Peppers – Toward the end of summer, these peppers are widely available. They are often sold in large bundles and look very appealing. These peppers are quite hot, and they can be dried and used in the same way as the peperoncini.

Season: Although bell peppers are available year-around, the best quality and freshest flavors occur from July through October. Many of the special varieties, including the tomato pepper and peperoncini are also best during this period. Early-season southern Italian peppers are often available from March through June.

Purchasing Tips: Look for firm peppers with richly colored, shiny skin. They should be heavy for their size. Avoid peppers if they are limp, shriveled, or have soft or bruised spots. Old peppers will begin to first degrade close to the stem and show signs of softening or blackening. Out of season peppers are usually cultivated in greenhouses in a soil-less environment. They are weak-flavored and nutrient poor. Keep in mind that green peppers are under ripe. They can be quite bitter and difficult to digest. Always try to purchase peppers grown in Switzerland, although there are some very good Italian peppers on the market.

Storage Tips: Sweet peppers are a warm weather fruit, and they do not react well to extended exposure to cold temperatures. You can keep a pepper fresh for about 5-7 days without significant loss in flavor and nutrients by storing them in a plastic bag and holding them in the crisper section of your refrigerator. If you are planning to consume a pepper within 1-2 days after purchase, then store in a cool and damp location (cellars work well).

Cooking Tips: Peppers can be cooked in a variety of ways: steamed, sautéed, grilled, roasted, stuffed & baked. They are also quite good raw in salads or with dips. Make sure to really clean the pepper if you are planning on using it raw. To clean a pepper, slice it in half lengthwise, then scoop out all of the seeds and discard the stem.

Nutritional Info: The sweet pepper is one of the most nutritious vegetables. They are an excellent source of vitamin C – up to 10 times more than lemons. They also contain significant quantities of vitamin A and Vitamin B, along with calcium, phosphorous, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.

Matching Flavors: Basil, Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary, Walnuts, Pomegranates


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