Thursday, December 23, 2010

Superfood: Bell pepper (Sweet pepper)

Bell pepper or sweet pepper is a cultivar group of the species Capsicum annuum (chili pepper). Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colors, including red, yellow and orange. The fruit is also frequently consumed in its unripe form, when the fruit is still green. Bell peppers are sometimes grouped with less pungent pepper varieties as "sweet peppers". Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. Pepper seeds were later carried to Spain in 1493 and from there spread to other European, African and Asian countries. Today, Mexico remains one of the major pepper producers in the world.
The misleading name "pepper" (pimiento in Spanish) was given by Christopher Columbus upon bringing the plant back to Europe. At that time peppercorns, the fruit of Piper nigrum, an unrelated plant originating from India, were a highly prized condiment; the name "pepper" was at that time applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste and so naturally extended to the newly discovered Capsicum genus. The most commonly used alternative name of the plant family, "chili", is of Central American origin. Bell peppers are botanically fruits, but are generally considered in culinary contexts to be vegetables. When cut off, the top of the bell pepper is referred to as a "pepper pan".
While the bell pepper is a member of the Capsicum genus, it is the only Capsicum that does not produce capsaicin, a lipophilic chemical that can cause a strong burning sensation when it comes in contact with mucous membranes. The lack of capsaicin in bell peppers is due to a recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin and, consequently, the "hot" taste usually associated with the rest of the Capsicum genus.
The term "bell pepper" or "pepper" or "capsicum" is often used for any of the large bell shaped capsicum fruits, regardless of their color. In British English, the fruit is simply referred to as a "pepper", or additionally by colour (as in the term "green pepper", for example), whereas in many Commonwealth of Nations countries, such as Australia, India, Malaysia and New Zealand, they are called "capsicum". Across Europe, the term "paprika", which has its roots in the word for pepper, is used—sometimes referred to by their color (e.g., "groene paprika", "gele paprika", in Dutch, which are green and yellow, respectively). Paprika also refers to the powdered spice made from the fruits in the capsicum genus. In France it is called "poivron", with the same root as "poivre" (meaning "pepper"), or "piment". In Japan, the word "piman" (from the French) refers only to green bell peppers, whereas "papurika" (from paprika) refers to bell peppers of other colors.
In the Ohio Valley, people sometimes refer to bell peppers as mangos. This has been explained by the practice of pickling the fruit known as a mango when it was imported to the American colonies in the 1600s, before refrigeration. At some point any fruit which was pickled was called "mango". Bell peppers were sometimes pickled, so they were called mangos.
The color can be green, red, yellow, orange and more rarely, white, rainbow (between stages of ripening) and purple, depending on when they are harvested and the specific cultivar. Green peppers are less sweet and slightly more bitter than red, yellow or orange peppers. The taste of ripe peppers can also vary with growing conditions and post-harvest storage treatment; the sweetest are fruit allowed to ripen fully on the plant in full sunshine, while fruit harvested green and after-ripened in storage are less sweet.
Compared to green peppers, red peppers have more vitamins and nutrients and contain the antioxidant lycopene. The level of carotene, another antioxidant, is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers. Also, one large red bell pepper contains 209 mg of vitamin C, which is more than double the 98 mg in one large citrus orange (fruit).

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