Thousands of years before Peter Piper picked the peck of pickled peppers, they were cultivated in South and Central America. Peppers were long known by their Spanish name, pimiento, but when Columbus brought them to Europe in 1493, Europeans noted that dried chili peppers were hotter than black pepper, the familiar spice ground from peppercorns, and we’ve called them—both the sweet and spicy varieties—peppers ever since. Bell peppers, or sweet peppers, are brightly hued and beautifully bell-shaped, ringing with high flavor and nutritional notes.
Green, red, white, yellow, orange, purple, brown and even black— bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) come in a rainbow of shades. Powerful, disease-fighting phytochemicals called carotenoids give bell peppers their vibrant colors. Members of the nightshade family, which includes eggplants, tomatoes, and chili peppers, bell peppers may be eaten at any stage of growth, though their vitamin and nutrient content peaks at full ripeness. These fruits, which we treat as vegetables, are bursting with vitamins: a one-cup serving boasts 317% Daily Value (DV) of antioxidant vitamin C—more than twice that of an orange! That same serving contains a host of vitamins, including 93% DV of vitamin A, 22% DV of vitamin B6, and 12% DV of vitamin E.
Notable Nutrients: Sweet Peppers
(1 cup , 149 g, red, raw, chopped)
Dietary fiber: 3 g (13% DV)
Vitamin A: 4666 IU (93% DV)
Vitamin C: 190 mg (317% DV)
Vitamin E: 2.4 mg (12% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.4 mg (22% DV)
Folate: 69 mcg (17% DV)
Note: g=gram, IU=International Unit, mg=milligram, mcg=microgram, DV=Daily Value
Roasted Pepper and Feta Jumble
4 roasted medium red bell peppers, cored, seeded, chopped (or 1 7-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained and chopped)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
¼ c green onions, chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
3-4 endives, pulled into leaves
Makes 20-30 appetizer servings.
Nutrition Information Per Serving: 25 calories, 15 grams (g) fat, 2 g carbohydrate, 1 g protein, 1 g dietary fiber, 50 milligrams sodium.
Recipe adapted courtesy Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce
Bell peppers contain more than 30 different carotenoids, including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Increased consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids is associated with long-term reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration (JAMA Opthamology, December 2015). Bell peppers’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have not yet been studied for their anti-cancer potential, but reduced oxidative stress helps lower cancer risk. Eat bell peppers raw or gently cooked to maintain optimal health properties (Food and Chemical Toxicology, March 2013).
The finer points
Fresh peppers are available year round, but are most abundant in summer and early fall. They also are jarred, canned, frozen, and dried as paprika. Choose vibrantly colored, smooth skinned fruits that feel firm and heavy for their size. Store seven-10 days in the refrigerator. Stem, core, and cut to your liking. Raw slices add flair to a crudité platter and make a fun cracker alternative topped with hummus, tapenade, or nut butter. A gentle sauté of multicolored peppers as a sidedish or accompaniment to meat, chicken or fish will brighten any meal.