Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960


                         Is a Green Pepper a Pepper?                                    By: Judith Wakefield

  In our grocery stores there are piles of green, red, yellow (an other colored) peppers.  They were misnamed hundreds of years ago.  Peppers were first cultivated by pre-incan tribes in tropical America over 2000 years ago.  Spanish explorers who set out with Columbus on his second voyage were in search of the peppercorns of India.  They discovered green peppers when they landed in America.  Perhaps they thought the flavor resembled that of peppercorns, and so misnamed them.  Columbus brought Capsicim peppers with him back to Spain.  Later they spread through Europe and to all parts of the world for use as a food spice and condiment. Oddly enough their culture and use became widespread in Europe before gaining popularity in the United States. 

 Garden peppers are of two general flavor types - sweet or mild-flavored, and hot or pungent-flavored.  Peppers belong to the same family as tomatoes and potatoes, and are quite different from the black and white peppercorns and ground pepper in the spice department of stores.

  Sweet peppers are low in calories and are packed with nutrients, such as vitamin B6 and vitamin C as well as dietary fiber.   One 3-ounce green pepper has about 80 milligrams of vitamin C, twice as much C (ounce for ounce) as an orange. Both yellow and red peppers contain more than twice the amount of vitamin C found in green peppers. Red peppers are also an important source of the carotenoids beta carotene and beta cryptoxanthin, and orange peppers are top sources of the carotenoid zeaxanthin.

  The most popular sweet pepper in the United States is the bell which accounts for more than 60 percent of the domestic pepper crop.  Florida is the nation’s leading sweet pepper producer, having over one third of the planted acreage.  Florida produces most of the peppers used in the United States during the winter.

  Green peppers are actually immature.  They turn red or yellow (depending on the variety) when they are ripe. Other colors for bell peppers can be orange, purple or brown.  Bell peppers have no “bite” at all.  They have a mild tang and a crunchy texture that makes them suitable for eating raw; their size, shape and firmness also allow them to be stuffed whole with rice or pasta mixtures and baked.  Sweet peppers are excellent snacks or dipping vegetables; they dress up salads and combine well with almost all other vegetables and with meats.  For eye appeal, try using a mixture of chopped green, red and yellow peppers as a garnish on meats of casseroles.   

  Bell peppers aren’t the only pepper that is not hot.  Cubanelle peppers are long tapered peppers up to 6-inches in length, medium walled, have two to three lobes and are greenish-yellow in color. They are a sweet pepper and the red ones (the ones that ripen on the bush) are more flavorful than bell peppers and are perfect for sauteing.  These peppers are sometimes called Italian frying peppers.

  Banana peppers are a mild yellow pepper, resembling banana shape and color.  It’s important to taste one before using it in a recipe because of its resemblance to a moderately hot twin called Hungarian wax.  Both banana and Hungarian wax peppers may be labeled “yellow wax” in the store with no indication of their heat level.

Mexi-Bells are a cross between a bell pepper and a chili pepper.  They look like small bell peppers, but have a hotter bite.

  The chili peppers include Anaheim, serrano (which is used in fresh salsa), jalapeno, cayenne, tabasco,  and many others, which vary from merely hot to unquenchable.   Ancho and Anaheim peppers are common in Mexican cuisine.  The heat in hot peppers come from a chemical called capsaicin - one of a group of compounds called capsaicinoids.  These are concentrated in the white fibrous part of the pepper where the seeds are attached, called the placenta; the seeds are coated with sapsaicin, too. Habanero chili peppers are the hottest ones. 

  Fresh peppers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors, but the guidelines for choosing them are practically the same. Peppers should be well-shaped, firm, and glossy.  Their skins should be taut and unwrinkled, their stems fresh and green.  Bell peppers are best when they are thick-walled and juicy, so they should feel heavy for their size.  Look out for soft or sunken areas, slashes, or black spots. 

  If a green bell pepper shows streaks of red, it will be slightly sweeter than a totally green one; however, once picked, it won’t get any redder - or sweeter.

  When you purchase peppers store them unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week; green peppers will keep somewhat longer than red or other ripe peppers.  Check them frequently; immediately use any peppers that have developed soft spots.

  Chopped peppers freeze well without blanching.  Upon thawing, the peppers still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in uncooked preparations.

  Wash peppers just before you use them.  Some people think the skin on peppers is too tough.  You can peel them if you blanch them or roast them.

  You should wear rubber gloves when handling raw hot peppers, or at least wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.  Take care not to get capsaicin in your eyes - it can cause severe irritation. Wash your cutting board and knife carefully.  Removing and discarding the seeds and white placenta will reduce a pepper’s heat.

  If your mouth is on fire from too much chili pepper, you won’t be able to quench it with water, because capsaicin doesn’t dissolve in water.  Try milk or yogurt.  Ice cream may be best.

  For more information on fruits and vegetables contact the County Extension Office - 770-5030.