All About Bell Pepper
Few could imagine eating samba, chutney or brinjal curry without the strong kick of chili powder. And yet, this essential spice didn’t exist in Indian cuisine until the 15th century; sweet bell peppers arrived even later. Though Central American countries claim members of the Capsicum family as their own, capsicum’s ubiquity in Indian cuisine makes it fit just as beautifully in India.
Bell peppers share their binomial name with spicy, oblong chili peppers. There are four other domesticated species in the Capsicum genus:
Capsicum baccatum, Capsicum chinense, Capsicum frutescens, and Capsicum pubescens.
Civilizations in the Western hemisphere first grew plants in the Capsicum genus around 7,500 BC. The earliest recorded Capsicum crops were the spicy variants, grown by the Native Americans between 5,200 and 400BC. Though bell peppers likely existed for centuries prior, one of their first written appearances came from an English pirate named Wafer, who saw them growing in Panama in 1699. Red and yellow bell peppers stemmed from green bell pepper cultivars.
Around the 15th century, Christopher Columbus introduced a variety of New World peppers to Europe. Once the peppers became established in the Old World, European traders brought them to India. According to the book, “Indian Cooking,” the Portuguese traders introduced bell peppers—along with tomatoes, pineapple, papaya and cashew nuts—to India around the time they captured Goa in 1510. In exchange for these spicy condiments, Indians traded valuable spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Availability of Bell Peppers in India:
India’s primary capsicum growing regions are Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and the Deccan Plateau extending throughout the South and Central part of India. Some areas cultivate the fruits year-round in greenhouses, including Pune, Bangalore and Karnataka. Capsicums grow on a limited scale in the states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Begnal, Gujarat, and Goa.
Bell peppers grow throughout India in regions with ideal temperatures between 21 and 25C. In the balmy south, growing season lasts from November through February; the cooler hill regions in the north and south harvest peppers from March through July.
Exact production figures aren’t known, but India’s capsicums generate strong domestic and international demand. Many of India’s important commercial varieties have unusual names: “world beater,” “yolo wonder,” and “bullnose” are but a few examples. The sweeter red and yellow peppers fetch higher prices than green peppers, mostly due to bulk orders from hotels and high-end restaurants.
Where to Find Bell Peppers in India:
Bell peppers are easy to procure, no matter the season. Though red and yellow peppers may be cost-prohibitive for most of India’s working class, green types remain affordable. Spicy chili peppers are even cheaper, and are staples in most pantries alongside white rice, dal, and tomatoes.
Checking for Ripeness in Capsicum:
Check capsicum’s skin to determine ripeness: It should be waxy, firm, and free of wrinkles. An overripe capsicum is withered, shrunken and has the appearance of aged leather. While wrinkled bell peppers are edible, they will not be as sweet or robust as their firm-skinned counterparts.
Avoid moldy, water-shrunken peppers emitting a fermented smell. An overripe capsicum’s skin also loses its thin, papery layer, and may show signs of bruised discoloration.
Do not worry if the skin changes color—as green capsicums grow sweeter, they sometimes develop dark red streaks. Yellow peppers often become orange for the same reason. Gauge the health of the capsicum by its texture: ideal capsicums have a juicy, crunchy flesh. Overripe peppers, on the other hand, become limp and soft. If the skin is taut but the seeds in the inside are black, the pepper is still edible.
Taste of Capsicum:
Raw bell peppers are crisp, watery, crunchy, and slightly bitter tempered by sweetness and hints of saltiness. The texture resembles celery, but less fibrous and not quite as crunchy as the latter. The flavor of capsicum also resembles cucumber and the whitest part of a watermelon rind.
The flavor of capsicum also varies by color: Green types taste the mellowest and least sweet; followed by orange, then yellow. Red is the sweetest capsicum variety. All capsicums rank the lowest of any pepper on the Scoville scale, the litmus test of a pepper’s spiciness and heat.
Nutritional Value of Capsicum:
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of green bell pepper contains the following values:
1.7g Fiber (7% RDI)
.2g Fat (neg)
.9g Protein (2% RDI)
370IU Vitamin A (7% RDI)
80.4mg Vitamin C (134% RDI)
.4mg Vitamin E (2% RDI)
7.4mcg Vitamin K (9% RDI)
.1mg Thiamin (4% RDI)
Riboflavin (2% RDI)
.5mg Niacin (2% RDI)
.2mg Vitamin B6 (11% RDI)
10mcg Folate (2% RDI)
.3mg Iron (2% RDI)
10mg Magnesium (2% RDI)
20mg Phosphorous (2% RDI)
175mg Potassium (5% RDI)
.1mg Copper (3% RDI)
.1mg Manganese (6% RDI)
Put in perspective, one large capsicum weighs approximately 80g.
*Note: The nutritional values of red and green bell peppers differ considerably: red capsicum has 63% RDI of Vitamin A; 213% RDI of Vitamin C; 15% RDI Vitamin B6; and 11% RDI Folate.
|Red capsicum is especially nutritious|
Health Benefits of Capsicum:
The American Cancer Society mentions capsicum’s traditional role in treating a variety of ailments, including upset stomach, menstrual cramps, headaches, shingles, diarrhea, loss of appetite, poor digestion, motion sickness and alcoholism.
According to the “Condensed Encyclopedia of Healing Foods,” bell peppers offer many health and medicinal benefits:
--Its beta carotenoids and high amount of vitamin C protect the eyes from cataracts.
--Bell peppers are recommended for those with high cholesterol levels.
--Red bell peppers, high in lycopene, are full of cancer-fighting antioxidants.
--Lycopene also fights skin aging, osteoporosis, diabetes, and even improves fertility.
--High in B6, bell peppers help manufacture serotonin (the brain’s mood-boosting chemical), and regulate hormones.
--PMS sufferers might find relief from bell peppers due to B6’s ability to regulate estrogen levels.
--Bell peppers can be a natural diuretic.
They also contain a high amount of phytonutrients, including flavonoids, 30 different types of carotenoids, zeaxanthin, and hydroxycinnamic acid. Though sweet bell peppers contain lower levels of capsain than their spicier relatives, they are still present in this fruit. As exemplified below, capsaicin is a well-studied compound with anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetic properties:
--A 1996 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that capsicum extracts showed inhibition against several strains of bacteria and yeast.
--According to a 2010 study published in Future Oncology, capsaicin slowed the growth of prostate cancer cells, and a 2011 study published in Human and Experimental Toxicology found similar results on breast cancer cells.
--As per a 2011 study published in Stroke: A Journal of Cerebral Circulation, capsacain prevents blood clot formation and reduces the risk of getting strokes and heart attacks.
--A 2013 study published in Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology found that low-dose capsaicin has potential in controlling glycaemia and pain in patients with late-phase type I diabetes.
How to Open/Cut Capsicum:
Cut out the bell pepper’s core by carving around the green protruding stem. Once removed, cut the flesh in half and remove the capsicum’s white, seeded pith. Some capsicums house a “baby” bell pepper growing inside of it: this smaller pepper is not only edible, but delightfully sweet.
Place bell peppers in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for ten days. To extend their shelf life, freeze capsicum by dicing or cutting into long strips and transferring to a freezer bag. Frozen slices may be used in hot dishes such as stir fries and curries, but expect the capsicum’s texture to lose its crispness.
When possible, buy organic capsicum. Bell peppers rank amongst the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest use of pesticides. Thus, wash the fruit thoroughly and ideally, disinfect with food-grade peroxide, apple cider vinegar, and baking soda. Do not wash capsicum until ready for use, as this will prevent mold from developing near the stem.
Capsicum Recipe Ideas:
Bell peppers are exceptionally versatile. While the fruit does not feature in dessert recipes, they may be steamed, baked, stir-fried or eaten raw.
--Make stuffed bell peppers by preparing a filling made of nuts, bulgur wheat, amaranth, or even chopped cauliflower or nuts. Sautee or stew this filling with tomato sauce, adding other chopped vegetables like mushroom, corn, carrots, peas, or squash. Stuff the well-cooked mixture into each pepper, and proceed to bake for 30 minutes in the oven.
--Add chopped bell peppers to salads: include them in Thai salads with papaya, mint, peanuts, coconut oil and soy vinaigrette; Italian or Greek salad with cucumbers, olives, tomatoes and Italian spices; or even an Indian salad with chickpeas, ground coconut, mustard seed, tomato, turmeric, sugar, salt and pepper.
--Use wide strips of bell peppers to dip into sauces, condiments and other mixtures like hummus, baba ghanoush or guacamole.
--Sautee bell peppers and add to Asian stir fries or Mexican fajita dishes.
--Add slices of bell peppers to barbeque skewers
--Chop and blend roasted red capsicum into hummus dips
--Make bell pepper soup: sautee carrots, bell pepper, onion, celery, garlic, and ginger. Add potatoes if desiring a thicker, creamier soup. Once lightly sautéed, add vegetable broth and cover the mix for 20 minutes. Then, blend the concoction until smooth. This recipe allows for a number of different spices depending on preference—include Italian herbs like oregano, rosemary, basil and thyme; or, use Indian spices like cumin, turmeric, chili powder, or ground coriander.
--Add capsicum as a pizza topping, or stir into pasta sauces. Include finely diced pieces in bruschetta mixes calling for tomato, Italian seasoning, chopped garlic and olive oil.
--Add roasted bell pepper slices to Panini sandwiches: additional toppings complementing capsicum are sun-dried tomatoes and black olives.
Avocado, banana flower, bilimbi, breadfruit, cactus pear, carambola, cashew apple, coconut, java apple, lemon, lime, Malay apple, rose apple, papaya (raw included), mango (raw included), pomegranate, pomelo, rambutan, roselle, sour orange, strawberry
Vegetables: Cucumber, tomato, carrot, celery, peas, onion, beans, potato, chayote, wax gourd, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, corn, drumstick, eggplant, lettuce, zucchini
Herbs, spices, and oil: peanut, almond, olive oil, garlic, onion, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, coriander, mint, chili powder, mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, ginger, soy, white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white wine, lemon juice, lime juice, lemongrass
One article in the “Indian Express” cites the rise of bell pepper demand to pizza chains requesting them as ingredients.
Bell peppers share their binomial name with spicy, oblong chili peppers as well.
Shimla mirch (Hindi)