Bell pepper, also known as sweet pepper, is one of the most commonly employed chili peppers in the Capsicum annuum family. Sweet peppers are fruit pods on the capsicum plant grown for their subtle hotness yet sweet, the delicate peppery flavor they extend to the recipes. Botanically, it is a small perennial shrub in the nightshade or Solanaceae family, of the genus, Capsicum.
Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Pepper seeds were imported to Spain in 1493, and from there, spread to Europe and Asia. The mild bell pepper cultivar was developed in 1920s, in Szeged, Hungary.
Preferred growing conditions for bell peppers include warm, moist soil in a temperate range of 21 to 29 °C (70 to 84 °F)
Unlike their fellow capsicum members, sweet peppers characteristically have a bell shape, and crunchy, thick fleshy textured pod. On comparison with fellow chili-pepper members, bell (sweet) peppers feature dramatically less pungency that ranges from zero to very minimal on the hotness scale. For the same reasons, they treated much like any other day-to-day vegetables instead of spices in the cuisine.
In structure, sweet pepper features blocky, cube-like outer flesh enveloping around many tiny, cream colored, round and flat seeds. The seeds are clinging on to the central core (placenta). For harvesting, peppers are handpicked at different stages of maturity depending on the preferences of local markets. All varieties of young, immature peppers feature green color pods, irrespective of their final destined color.
The hotness of peppers is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). On the Scoville scale, a sweet bell pepper scores 0, while a jalapeno pepper around 2,500-4,000, and a Mexican habanero- 200,000 to 500,000 units.
China is the world’s largest producer of bell and chile peppers, followed by Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, and the United States.
The most common colors of bell peppers are green, yellow, orange and red. More rarely, brown, white, lavender, and dark purple peppers can be seen, depending on the variety. Most typically, unripe fruits are green or, less commonly, pale yellow or purple. Red bell peppers are simply ripened green peppers, although the Permagreen variety maintains its green color even when fully ripe. As such, mixed colored peppers also exist during parts of the ripening process. Green peppers are less sweet and slightly more bitter than yellow or orange peppers, with red bell peppers being the sweetest. The taste of ripe peppers can also vary with growing conditions and post-harvest storage treatment; the sweetest fruits are allowed to ripen fully on the plant in full sunshine, while fruit harvested green and after-ripened in storage is less sweet.
- Bell pepper contains an impressive list of plant nutrients that found to have disease preventing and health promoting properties. Unlike in other fellow chili peppers, it has very fewer calories and fats. 100 grams provides just 31 calories.
- Sweet (bell) pepper contains small levels of health benefiting 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 a rich source of vitamin-C. This vitamin is particularly concentrated in red peppers at the highest levels. 100 g red pepper provides about 127.7 µg or about 213% of RDA of vitamin-C. Vitamin-C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant. Inside the human body, it is required for the collagen synthesis. 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 this vitamin helps the human body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
- It also contains healthy levels of vitamin-A. 100 g of sweet pepper has 3131 IU or 101% of vitamin A. Additionally, antioxidant flavonoids such as alpha and beta carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin also found in them. Together, these antioxidant substances in sweet peppers help protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress and disease conditions.
- Bell pepper has adequate levels of essential minerals. Some of the main minerals in it are iron, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and selenium. Manganese used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Selenium is an antioxidant trace element that acts as a co-factor for enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- Further, capsicum (sweet pepper) is also good in the 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.