Till a few years ago when one said capsicum, which is also known as bell pepper, one thought only of green capsicum. Because then capsicum in any other colour was not easily available in India. But now it is no longer so. When you go vegetable shopping, the vendor often asks if you would like to have lal-peeli, meaning red and yellow capsicum.
What is so special about bell peppers?
To understand what is special about bell peppers we have to know what bell peppers really are. They are a wonderful combination of tangy taste and crunchy texture, the colourful bell peppers can also be used to dress up the dining table. With their beautifully shaped glossy exterior the green, red, yellow, orange bell peppers do add a special beauty to the table.
Scientifically known as Capsicum annuum, they are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. Green peppers have a slightly bitter flavour, while red, orange and yellow ones are sweeter and almost fruity. Bell peppers are not 'spicy hot.' Peppers are generally available throughout the year.
The cultivation of bell peppers can be traced to more than 9000 years ago, with the earliest cultivation having taken place in South and Central America. While the name "pepper" was given to this food by European colonizers of North America who first came across it in the 1500-1600's. The original name for this food in Spanish was pimiento.
Because bell peppers can be grown in a variety of climates and are popularly used in cuisines throughout the world, they can frequently be found on small farms in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. China however produces the largest amount of bell peppers commercially.
How to select and store
While buying peppers, choose those that have deep vivid colours, 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 and firm.
What's beneficial about bell peppers
Bell pepper is an excellent source of carotenoids. A recent study said that vitamin C, vitamin E, and six carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin) were found in only two vegetables. One of them is tomato, and the other is bell pepper!
One should remember that if cooked at a high heat, the delicate phytonutrients could get damaged. Even grilling for long could cause damage to their nutrients. This means that bell peppers should be cooked at low heat for very short time.
Bell peppers are also valuable sources of health-supportive sulfur compounds. Several recent studies have taken a close look at the presence of some enzymes for their role in a sulfur-containing metabolic pathway called the thiomethyl shunt. These enzymes and this pathway may be involved in some of the anti-cancer benefits including a recent study on risk reduction for gastric cancer and esophageal cancer.