Bell pepper or sweet pepper is the most popular of the chili peppers in the Capsicum annum family. It is a fruit pod of small perennial shrub in the nightshade or solanaceae family, of the genus, capsicum. Scientific name: Capsicum annum.
Unlike their fellow members, sweet peppers have characteristic bell shape with crunchy, thick fleshy skin. On comparison to other capsicum members, bell (sweet) peppers have very mild or zero hotness. The other important difference is that they are used worldwide as vegetables instead of spices.
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 and now 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 common features in almost all cultivars.
In structure, sweet pepper features blocky, cube like cover with numerous tiny, white, or cream colored, circular and flat seeds. The seeds are actually clinging to central placed white core (placenta). Usually, peppers are picked up by hand during different stages of maturity. Unripe sweet pepper can be picked up while it is green. As the fruit mature, it acquires its genetic color such as 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 jalapeño pepper around 2,500-4,000 and a Mexican habañeros 200,000 to 500,000 units.
Health benefits of bell pepper
- Bell pepper contains impressive list of plant nutrients that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties. Unlike other chili peppers, it is very low in calories and fats. 100 g provide just 31 calories.
- Sweet (bell) pepper contains small levels of health benefiting an 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 in highest levels. 100 g fresh red pepper provide about 127.7 mcg or about 213% of RDA. Vitamin-C is a potent water soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. 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 vitamin C helps body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
- It also contain 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 α and ß carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. Together, these antioxidant substances in capsicum helps to protect body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress and diseases conditions.
- Bell pepper has adequate levels of essential minerals. Some of 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 anti-oxidant micro-mineral that acts as co-factor for enzyme superoxide dismutase.
- Capsicum 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.
Selection and storage
Fresh sweet peppers are readily available year around in the markets. Unlike other chili peppers, you may find them amidst vegetables in the stores. Buy fresh, firm, uniform sized, bright peppers with firm green calyx attached. They should feature smooth surface with 3-5 lobes, compact, wholesome and feel heavy in hand.
Avoid excessively soft, lusterless, pale green color peppers. Also avoid those with surface cuts/punctures, bruise, spots and shriveled stems.
Once at home, should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag where they will stay fresh for about a 4days. If stored for prolonged periods they may sustain chill injury.
Preparation and serving methods
In general, fresh bell peppers are treated like any other vegetables in the kitchcen. Their firm, crunchy consistency together with delicate sweet flavor makes them one of the most sought after vegetable item in cooking.
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 like” pepper. Chop it using paring knife into rings or strips as in onions.
Although sweet peppers have least capsaicin 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.
Here are some serving tips:
- Fresh raw bell peppers are being used as vegetables in cuisines. They can be eaten as salads or cooked in stir-fries.
- In many parts of the 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.
- They can also be stuffed with rice, meat, cheddar cheese, dried fruits, nuts etc and then cooked.
- They can also be grilled and served with sauce, cheese, and olive oil or with dips.
- Finely chopped sweet peppers 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). Sometimes the seeds and central core may contain some capsaicin, which when eaten causes 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 come 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 the burning pain by diluting capsaicin concentration and preventing its contact with stomach walls.
- Avoid touching eyes with pepper contaminated fingers. Rinse eyes thoroughly in cold water to reduce irritation.
- They may aggravate existing gastro-esophageal reflux (GER) condition.
Here are some of my healthy recipes that feature bell pepper:
- Couscous-Stuffed Peppers
- Creamy Polenta with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis
- Fennel and Spinach Soup with Roasted Pepper Yogurt
- Roasted Corn, Pepper, and Tomato Chowder
Source : www.nutrition-and-you.com