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The bell pepper (Capsicum annum) is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family of vegetables, which includes potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes. Bell peppers are native to Central and South America. They are available in several colors: green and purple peppers have a slightly better flavor, wild red, orange, and yellow peppers are sweeter and almost fruity. Red bell peppers are actually green peppers that have been allowed to ripen on the vine; hence they are much sweeter. The spices pimento and paprika are both prepared from red bell peppers.
Like many other nightshade vegetables, bell peppers originated in South America at least 7000 years ago. Like many of the other foods native to the Americas, bell peppers were spread to Europe and throughout the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Because bell peppers adapt very well to different climates, they grow in both tropical and temperate climate, and their cultivation and adoption into varying cuisines spread rapidly throughout many parts of the world. In fact, they have become an integral ingredient in both Spanish and Portuguese cuisines. Currently, the main producers of bell peppers are China, Turkey, Spain, Romania, Nigeria, and Mexico.
Bell peppers are one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. Though a 3.5 ounce (100g) serving of raw bell pepper provides only 20 cal (mostly as carbohydrate and fiber), it is a good source of a large number of nutrients, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K, thiamine, folic acid, and vitamin B6.
Bell peppers are also a very good source of phytochemicals with exceptional antioxidant activity. Red bell peppers have significantly higher levels of nutrients than green. Red bell peppers also contain lycopene, a carotene that offers protection against cancer and heart disease.
Studies have shown that bell peppers exert a protective effect against Cataracs, possibly due to the vitamin C and beta-carotene content. However, like other nutrient-dense vegetables, they contain many different powerful phytochemicals.
Bell peppers also contain substances, including capsaicin, flavonoids, and vitamin C, which have been shown to prevent blood clot formation and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Although not as rich in these compounds as chili peppers, nonetheless bell pepper consumption should be promoted for individuals with elevated cholesterol levels.
SELECTION & STORAGE
Bell peppers are available throughout the year but are usually more abundant during the summer months. They should be fresh, firm, and bright in appearance. Avoid bell peppers that appear dry, are wrinkled, or show signs of decay, including injuries to the skin or water soaked areas. Bell peppers should be heavy for their size and firm enough that they gently yield into slight pressure. Be aware that the shape of the bell pepper does not generally affect the quality.
Unwashed bell peppers stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep it for up to one week.
Wash bell peppers thoroughly under cold running water with a soft vegetable brush before coring and or cutting. If the pepper has been waxed or is not organically grown, you will need to spray it with or soak it in a mild solution of additive-free soap or use a produce wash before washing. To remove the stem, use a paring knife to cut around it and then pull it out. Bell peppers can be cut into various shapes and sizes or left whole to be stuffed after carefully removing seeds from the inner cavity.
Buy organic bell peppers whenever possible, as bell peppers are among the top foods and which pesticide residues have been most frequently found.
Bell peppers do contain a low to moderate amount of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate containing kidney stones should avoid over-consuming this food.
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