Picking Peppers

Sweet bell peppers are a beautiful, glossy fruit that come in a wide variety of colors ranging from green, yellow, orange, red, purple and brown to black. They are known scientifically as Capsicum annuum. This species includes not only bell peppers, but also to wax peppers, cayenne peppers, chili peppers, and jalapeño peppers. They are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which also includes tomatoesgoji berries, tomatilloseggplantpotatoes, tobacco and petunias. Bell peppers have either three or four lobes. Green bell peppers may actually be immature, non-ripe versions of these other color varieties. Not all bell peppers start off green, however, nor do green bell peppers always mature into other basic colors.

Peppers existed in prehistoric Peru, and they have been cultivated in Central and South America for more than 9,000 years.  Christopher Columbus brought dried peppers to Europe from the West Indies in 1493. The Spanish called the food pimiento. Until that time, Europeans had only known the black and white spice that we shake onto our food, and the name “pepper” was applied to this new food as well.

Bell peppers are an outstanding source of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, including the flavonoids luteolin, quercetin, and hesperidin and hydroxycinnamic acids, especially ferulic and cinnamic acids. Hesperidin, found in green and yellow peppers, works together with vitamin C to maintain healthy collagen, which prevents sagging and wrinkling of the skin. But the largest phytonutrient group in bell peppers are the carotenoids, with more than 30 different kinds, including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Just one cup of sweet green bell pepper slices provides you with 314 micrograms (combined) of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These two carotenoids are found in high concentrations in the maculas of your eyes (the centermost part of your retinas), and they protect your maculas from oxygen-related damage. In age-related macular degeneration (AMD), maculas can become damaged, causing vision loss. (In the U.S., AMD is the leading case of blindness in adults over the age of 60.) Red peppers are also a good source of the carotenoid called lycopene, which helps prevent cancer in the prostate, bladder, cervix, and pancreas. Beta-cryptoxanthin, another carotenoid in red peppers, may help prevent lung cancer.  Rutin, found in the core of green peppers, helps your body use vitamin C and maintain collagen. The heat in hot peppers comes from a fat-soluble molecule called capsaicin, which acts on pain receptors in your mouth. Capsaicin is especially high in the white membranes and in the seeds. Capsaicin decreases cholesterol and triglycerides, boosts immunity, and helps kill bacteria that can lead to stomach ulcers. Your brain is loaded with receptors for capsaicin, and you respond to it by releasing endorphins, natural compounds that have a calming effect. Capsaicin reduces cancer cells, is an antioxidant and a natural aphrodisiac. Both hot and sweet peppers increase your body’s heat production and oxygen consumption, which burns extra calories, for about 20 minutes after you eat them.

Bell peppers are an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A and C as well as nerve-supportive vitamin B6. (A cup of bell pepper has more than twice the amount of vitamin C found in a typical orange.)  Bell peppers are a very good source of heart-healthy fiber, vitamin E, folate, potassium, and vitamin K as well as the enzyme-supportive molybdenum. (All peppers are rich in vitamins AC, and K, but yellow, orange, and red peppers have the highest amounts.) They are a good source of bone-building manganese and magnesium, and energy-producing B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. There is far less than 1 gram of total fat in one cup of sliced bell pepper; however, this very small amount of fat is enough to carry bell pepper’s fat-soluble nutrients.

Nutrients in 1 Cup Raw Bell Peppers (92.00 grams) 28.52 calories

Nutrient

Amount

DV

vitamin C

117.48 mg

195.8%

vitamin A

2880.52 IU

57.6%

vitamin B6

0.27 mg

13.5%

folate

42.32 mcg

10.6%

fiber

1.85 g

7.4%

vitamin E

1.45 mg

7.2%

molybdenum

4.60 mcg

6.1%

vitamin K

4.51 mcg

5.6%

potassium

194.12 mg

5.5%

manganese

0.10 mg

5.0%

riboflavin

0.08 mg

4.7%

niacin

0.90 mg

4.5%

thiamine

0.05 mg

3.3%

tryptophan

0.01 g

3.1%

pantothenic acid

0.29 mg

2.9%

magnesium

11.04 mg

2.8%

Calories

28.52

1.4%

Although peppers are available throughout the year, they are most abundant and tasty during the summer and early fall months. Bell peppers can be eaten at any stage of development. However, the vitamin C and carotenoid content of bell peppers tends to increase while the pepper is reaching its optimal ripeness. Bell peppers are also typically more flavorful when optimally ripe. If bell peppers are optimally ripe at the time of purchase, they can lose up to 15% of their vitamin C content over the course of 10-day storage in the refrigerator and up to 25% of their vitamin C over 20-days of refrigerator storage time. However, if not optimally ripe at the time of purchase, the vitamin C and carotenoids in bell peppers will actually increase with refrigerator storage over the next 10 days. You cannot use basic color as your primary guideline. Most – but not all – green bell peppers will turn red in color over time, but they may be optimally ripe before shifting over from green to red. (There are also some varieties of bell peppers that never start out green.) A good rule of thumb is to judge not by the color itself but by the color quality and overall texture and feel.

Whether green, red, yellow, or orange, choose peppers that have deep, vivid colors, taut skin, and that are free of soft spots, blemishes, and darkened areas. Their stems should be green and fresh-looking. Peppers should be heavy for their size (reflecting their thick, well-formed and well-hydrated walls) and firm enough so that they will only yield slightly to a small amount of pressure. Avoid those that have signs of decay including injuries to the skin or water-soaked areas. The shape of the pepper does not generally affect the quality, although it may result in excessive waste or not be suitable to certain preparations. Green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and almost fruity. Paprika can be prepared from red bell peppers (as well as from chili peppers). The primary substance that controls “hotness” in peppers is called capsaicin, and it’s found in very small amounts in bell peppers.

According to the Environmental Working Group, bell peppers are among the “dirty dozen” on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found, so buy organically grown bell peppers. Unwashed sweet peppers stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep for approximately 7-10 days. Because bell peppers need to still well hydrated and are very sensitive to moisture loss, include a damp cloth or paper towel in the vegetable compartment to help the peppers retain their moisture. Do not cut out the bell pepper stem prior to storage in the refrigerator. Bell peppers are especially sensitive to moisture loss through this stem (calyx) portion and are more susceptible to chilling injury if the stem is removed. Sweet peppers can be frozen without first being blanched. It is better to freeze them whole since there will be less exposure to air which can degrade both their nutrient content and flavor.

If you are going to consume your bell peppers within a day or two and suspect that they are not fully ripe, you may want to consider storing them without refrigeration. Room temperature storage of 20°C (68°F) can improve the availability of fat-soluble carotenoids in bell peppers that are not yet optimally ripe.

Wash bell peppers under cold running water. If the pepper has been waxed, you should also scrub it gently but thoroughly with a vegetable brush. Use gloves if you’re preparing a hot pepper. Use a paring knife to cut around the stem and then gently remove it. Peppers can be cut into various shapes and sizes. To easily chop, dice, or cut the peppers into strips, first cut the pepper in half lengthwise, clean out the core and seeds, and then, after placing the skin side down on the cutting surface, cut into the desired size and shape. Peppers can also be cut horizontally into rings or left whole for stuffed peppers. The pulpy white inner cavity of the bell pepper is rich in flavonoids and can be eaten, although it can be extremely hot in hot peppers.

Use peppers in salads, stir-fries, beans, and wild rice. Add finely chopped bell peppers to creamy chickpea salad. After sautéeing chopped peppers, celery, and onions, combine with red kidney beans to make a simple Louisiana Creole dish. Purée roasted and peeled peppers with sautéed onions and zucchini to make a deliciously refreshing soup that can be served hot or cold. Bell peppers are one of the best vegetables to serve in a crudité platter since not only do they add a brilliant splash of color, but their texture is also the perfect crunchy complement for dips.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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