Bell Peppers are a tangy, crunchy, colorful, and healthy favorite that goes with a variety of recipes during a variety of seasons. It is hard to think that something so tasty and vibrant can come with such a pack of nutrients. The different colors you will see with bell peppers symbolizes that they each have their own unique DNA, but they are all similar in taste. In regards to their nutritional value, it has been said that the red bell pepper holds the most nutrients of the four primary colors found. There are yellow, green, orange, and red peppers to choose from, and they each are different in genetic makeup even though they come from the same genus called the Capsicum annuum. The bell pepper is a part of the nightshade family, and they can be found in purple and black colors too, but they are not as common. The purple bell pepper is quite the site if you have not yet seen one!
Bell Pepper Fun Facts
- “Bell peppers originate 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- “The pulpy white inner cavity of the bell pepper (usually cut off and discarded) is a rich source of flavonoids and can be eaten.
- Bell peppers are not seasonal fruits, meaning that their availability all around the year is guaranteed.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) used bell peppers as a natural treatment for certain medical conditions relating to digestive issues and blood circulation such as indigestion, loss of appetite, swelling, frostbite (injury or destruction of skin and underlying tissue), and stagnation.”
Bell Pepper History/Mythology
The bell pepper has been cultivated for over 9,000 years, and was first discovered in Central and South America.
According to NBC News,
“New fossil evidence shows prehistoric people from southern Peru up to the Bahamas were cultivating varieties of chilies millennia before Columbus’ arrival brought the spice to world cuisine. The earliest traces so far are from southwestern Ecuador, where families fired up meals with homegrown peppers about 6,100 years ago.”
The actual name pepper originates from the Greek word “pipari”, which means black spice.
According to capsicum history, there is quite the chatter that Christopher Columbus introduced this pepper to other parts of the world.
“As for spreading of capsicum around the world, one story says that Columbus himself is responsible for that and that he introducing chile to Europe from where it spread further to Africa and Asia. He was also responsible for the name “red pepper” because of the similar taste of the fruit to the black pepper.”
In many of these cultures, the spicy pepper was desirable due to the lack of flavor in the food, but the bell pepper added flavor without the spice. They were also wanted due to their cheaper price compared black peppercorns at the time.
These bell peppers, and other similar peppers, are popular additions to cuisine all over the world and can be used in a variety of ways. For example, in Spain they make chorizo, which is a type of pork sausage that can be used with either hot peppers or bell peppers. The less heat you add to the bell pepper the more vitamins and minerals you will get upon consumption, so many people like to simply eat them raw instead of adding them to a dish. When looking at more elaborate recipes like stuffed bell peppers, they originated well before the 1890’s and are made a variety of ways in different cultures.
According to the Cookful, there are many different cultures that prepare their peppers and stuff them in a variety of ways:
- India: Bharawn Shimla Mirch — Bell pepper stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes.
- Tunisia: Fil Fil Mashsi — Bell pepper stuffed with lamb, rice, and sprinkled with nutmeg, saffron, and cardamom.
- Mexico: Chile Rellenos — Poblano pepper stuffed with carnitas meat, kielbasa, and topped with cheddar cheese.
Because these fruits are versatile and grow in many different climates, they make a popular planting companion in gardens all over the world. They can grow in hot and humid climates, and they can also grow in very temperate climates. They have twice the amount of vitamin C of any other citrus fruit out there, which makes them vitally nutritious and immune system boosting. Whether the peppers are red, green, orange, or yellow, they are bursting with flavor and have a fresh taste. Do know that as the bell pepper ages they become more sweet and mild in flavor.
Bell Pepper Nutritional Facts
Bell pepper nutrition is definitely worth noting and highlighting as this vitamin C packed fruit packs a punch in many other departments as well. They serve a variety of purposes, and one of those purposes is to make paprika. Did you know that a bell pepper that is powdered and dried is called paprika, and it is a popular spice all around the world today? Fresh bell peppers are composed of 92% water, and the rest of their genetic makeup are carbohydrates, fats, and protein. There are 31 calories in a bell pepper, and a large majority of those calories are carbohydrates.
The different vitamins and minerals present in a bell pepper of any color are: vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K1, potassium, folate, vitamin E, and vitamin A. The bell pepper is one of the highest sources of vitamin C you can find in any fruit or vegetable, and the red bell pepper is extremely high in beta carotene, otherwise known as vitamin A. All of these essential vitamins and minerals are the building blocks to a healthy foundation, and it doesn’t stop there quite yet.
Other notable names are capsanthin, which is primarily found in the red bell pepper and is responsible for giving it the bright color. This specific carotenoid has been studied to help prevent cancer in the body. I will touch more on that at a later time. Lutein is also another name worth mentioning, and it is found in green bell peppers primarily and is responsible for promoting eye health. Overall, when you look at the genetic breakdown of this amazing pepper, it is full of antioxidants that lead to a variety of health benefits I will highlight below.
Bell Pepper Health Benefits
Where do I even begin here? There are so many different health benefits that occur when you take a bite out of a fresh and crunchy bell pepper, no matter the color. With the many different antioxidants present, it leads to a variety of health benefits. Eye health is one of those benefits and it comes from the carotenoid, lutein. Because they are high in vitamin C, they are able to help the body fight anemia. The large amounts of vitamin C help the iron become more easily absorbed in the gut. These super foods also have the power to fight off cancer, due to the presence of capsanthin.
According to Taylor Francis,
“Capsanthin is found abundantly distributed at the polar surfaces of lipoproteins, and the clearance of capsanthin is much faster than those of lycopene in the human body. Capsanthin is regarded as a functional material by antioxidative activity and anti-tumor-promotion activity, even though it exhibits no provitamin A activity. In epidemiological studies, capsanthin appears to possibly exert a potent inhibitory effect on colon carcinogenesis.”
Because of the high level of antioxidants, there are a large number of free radicals that are being blocked, which reduces the amount of unhealthy inflammation in the body. When you have inflammation, you take on a host of problems from cancer to cardiovascular decline. Eating these sweet, crunchy, and fresh fruits will also give you a boost in fiber, which will not only leave you more healthy, but they will leave you feeling more satisfied too.
Bell Pepper Varieties
There are four main varieties of bell peppers to talk about, and they are all different colors with different flavors and maturation points. The main colors many people are familiar with today are green, red, yellow, and orange. However, as mentioned above, there are many other colors like black and purple that are out there, just not as common in the everyday grocery store.
Red Bell Pepper
This vibrant color of pepper is seen as the most “mature” pepper of the bunch, and it is fully ripened. Despite their color that would make them appear hot in taste, they actually have a sweet and mild taste to them. The red bell pepper contains lycopene, which is an antioxidant known to prevent cancers in the body. It is quoted, “Red bell peppers also have eleven times more beta-carotene, one and a half times more vitamin C, and ten times more vitamin A than green bell peppers.”
Green Bell Pepper
The green bell pepper is actually harvested before it has had the chance to fully mature. Similar to how tomatoes are green before they are ripe, the same goes for the bell pepper. Because they are slightly under ripe, they have a more bitter taste to them. Even though they are harvested early, they are loaded with important nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A, so you are not getting premature nutritional benefits with the green bell pepper.
Yellow/Orange Bell Pepper
These peppers fall right in the middle, and are harvested at the midpoint of the total maturation stage. They are not as bitter as the green pepper, but they are not as sweet as the red either. They have double the amount of vitamin C as a green pepper, but only one third of the vitamin A content. The genetic makeup of the yellow and orange bell pepper is similar to that of the red and green, but the nutritional qualities are separated differently.
Bell Pepper Uses
Whether you are making stuffed bell pepper soup, or simply learning how to cut bell peppers for a fancy appetizer, you can put these peppers to good use. There are a variety of recipes that you can make, whether they are raw, cooked, Mexican, or American. You can be a vegetarian and reap the benefits of consuming bell peppers or you can be a meat eater who enjoys stuffing their peppers with the latest venison kill of the season. These peppers are primarily used for food purposes only, but there is quite the variety to choose from. See the latest stuffed bell pepper recipe below for some extra motivation to incorporate bell peppers into your kitchen!
Stuffed Bell Peppers Recipe
By: Ree Drummond
- 6 bell peppers, any color
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 8 ounces lean ground beef
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 medium zucchini, finely diced
- 4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
- Red pepper flakes, as needed
- 1 cup cooked long-grain and wild rice
- 1 1/2 cups grated pepper Jack cheese
“Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut the tops off the peppers. Remove and discard the stems, then finely chop the tops; set aside. Scoop out the seeds and as much of the membrane as you can. Place the peppers cut-side up in a baking dish just large enough to hold them upright.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking up the lumps, until the meat is cooked through and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to get rid of the fat.
Wipe out the skillet and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and chopped peppers and cook until beginning to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and a pinch or 2 of red pepper flakes. Cook until everything is heated through, then stir in the beef and rice. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese.
Fill the peppers with the rice mixture and top each with a sprinkle of the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Pour a small amount of water into the bottom of the baking dish and drizzle the peppers with a little olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until the peppers are soft and the cheese is melted and lightly browned, another 15 to 20 minutes.”