You probably think of the Sweet Pepper as a familiar, versatile supporting actor in soups, stews, salads and stir frys. Not to mention a host of Hispanic menu applications. But have you ever stopped to think, “What’s the most nutritious Sweet Pepper?”…
The ultimate Sweet Pepper celebration: A simple salad of rainbow Bells
with a simple vinaigrette dressing. It just screams ‘Summer!’
What they are
Sweet Peppers are the most familiar types to western cooks. But they lag far behind their hundreds of hot cousins in variety of sizes colours, levels of heat and nuances of flavour.
One thing most cooks don’t know is… Peppers are not veggies, but fruits – officially berries. Like olives, cucumbers, eggplants, avocados, tomatoes and even pumpkins. But that doesn’t matter. We all know how to use them in our fave recipes!
Sweet peppers are, in fact, the mildest of the capsicums. At the other end of the scale live the volcanically hot Naga Bhut Jolokia and cultivated varieties such as the Georgia Reaper.
Why we love ’em
We love the Sweets’ colours, flavours and overall perkiness. There’s no equivalent in nature to their slightly peppery, almost citrusy crunch when served raw.
It’s a crying shame they have become so expensive – especially in the off season. That’s probably 9 months of the year, here in southern Canada. But we still afford ourselves their luxury, if not as often as we once did. You can grow them easily, though, and they can be preserved successfully by pickling.
We know they’re healthy
According to Wikipedia: A raw red bell pepper is 94 percent water, 5 percent carbohydrates, 1 percent protein, and contains negligible fat. A 100 gram (3.5 ounce) reference amount supplies 26 Calories, and is a rich source of vitamin C – containing 158 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) – vitamin A (20 percent RDA), and vitamin B6 (23 percent RDA), with moderate contents of riboflavin (12 percent), folate (12 percent), and vitamin E (11 percent). A red bell pepper supplies twice the vitamin C and eight times the vitamin A content of a green bell pepper.
But which one is the healthiest?
Sweet peppers come in a wide range of colours – some natural and some painstakingly bred by biologists. We usually see Green, Red and Yellow peppers at the supermarket. But you might – depending on availability – occasionally see ‘Chocolate’ brown, purple or even ivory white Sweets, as well.
As hinted at in the Wikipedia nutritional rundown above, bright Red Sweet Peppers deliver the highest concentration of essential nutrients. But all Sweets deliver the same range.
The differences? For example… Red Sweets contain, on average, 8 times the amount of vitamin C found in a Green Sweet of the same size.
Why so much ‘richer’?
Red Sweet Peppers ripen longer than Greens. In so doing, they absorb more nutrients from the ground and have time to develop higher levels of the stuff that’s so good for humans.
You can easily tell a Red from a Green Sweet pepper in a blind taste test. The Green ones are noticably milder – lighter – in basic pepper flavours. They’re not as sweet. And their flavour is simply not as bold and nuanced as that of Reds.
Getting the most out of Sweet Peppers
The cardinal rule is: Don’t overcook them! They’ll easily go limp and start to lose their wonderful complex flavour if left too long on the heat. That’s probably why they are so prized in stir frys and grilled dishes, such as Fajitas and barbecue spreads.
But the best way to enjoy Sweet Peppers is raw. Even a small amount of cooking can destroy a significant amount of their natural nutrients. And, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing like that sweet, perky, crunchy bite of Red or Green Pepper in a summer salad!
~ Maggie J.