The familiar green, yellow, and red peppers that we eat as vegetables have no connection to the spice pepper. The plant that produces dried peppercorns is native to Asia and is entirely unrelated to the shrubby plant that gives us sweet bell peppers and their many relatives. Members of the genus Capsicum—which includes both sweet and hot (chili) peppers—are native to the western hemisphere and have been grown in the tropical regions of North and South America for several thousand years.
The vegetable was given its name by Spanish explorers who had set out with Columbus on his second voyage in search of the peppercorns of India. When they landed in the New World and encountered this odd vegetable, perhaps they thought the flavor resembled that of peppercorns, and so misnamed them. The explorers returned home with the capsicum peppers, which quickly became popular in Europe as a food, spice, and condiment. Over the next 200 years, peppers were introduced to many other parts of the world, where they were domesticated and bred for either their sweet qualities or for their fiery heat.
Sweet peppers: nutrition
All sweet peppers are packed with nutrients, such as vitamin B6 and vitamin C, as well as dietary fiber. Yellow and red peppers contain more than twice the amount of vitamin C found in green peppers. Yellow sweet peppers also supply slightly higher quantities of folate and iron. Red peppers are a significant source of the carotenoids beta carotene and beta cryptoxanthin, and orange peppers contain significant amounts of the carotenoid zeaxanthin.
For a full listing of nutrients, see the National Nutrient Database:
How to keep peppers at home
Store unwashed sweet peppers in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Green peppers will keep somewhat longer than red or other ripe peppers. Check them often, and immediately use any peppers that have developed soft spots.
How to freeze sweet peppers
Chopped sweet peppers freeze well without blanching. Upon thawing, the peppers still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in salads, pastas, and salsas.
How to pickle peppers
Sweet peppers pickle well, but it’s important to remember that pickled peppers are higher in calories (and salt) than fresh peppers.
- Blanch the peppers in boiling water for 2 minutes, then transfer to a bowl of ice water to quickly cool.
- Combine 3 cups cider vinegar and water, plus a tablespoon of salt and a little over 1 cup of sugar. Heat this mixture until blended.
- Stuff the cooled peppers in a mason jar, and fill with the brine.
- Refrigerate at least one day before serving.
How to prepare to use sweet peppers
Wash peppers just before you use them. If you are going to cut the peppers into strips or pieces, cut the pepper lengthwise into flat panels. Discard the stems, spongy cores, and seeds, which can have a bitter taste. If you are using the pepper whole, cut the stem end off and then discard the core and seeds. Or, for pepper halves, cut the pepper in half lengthwise (not crosswise).
Some people find pepper skin unpleasantly tough in cooked dishes. You can easily peel peppers by blanching or roasting them. For most recipes, the various colors of bell peppers are interchangeable. Keep in mind, however, that red, yellow, and orange peppers are sweeter than green peppers.
How to peel roasted sweet peppers
Slice the peppers in half or in four or five flat panels. Discard the stems, ribs, and seeds. Place on a broiler pan skin-side up, and cook about 4 inches from the heat until skin is blackened. Then put the peppers in a covered bowl or bag and let them “sweat” for about 15 minutes. This will loosen the skin. You can peel off the skin with your fingers or with a table knife.
You can also stick the peppers on a long fork and fire-roast them over the stove’s open flame until the skin blackens. Then sweat them and peel the peppers.
Published July 20, 2015