Sweet peppers aren’t just useful for adding a little pizzazz to your salad, eggs, soups or casseroles (is there no end to their talent?) they’re also a serious smart fuel.
To start, sweet peppers are an excellent source of both vitamin C and vitamin A, providing more than 200% and 100%, respectively, of recommended daily allowance per 1 cup serving. These vitamins contain antioxidative properties which effectively neutralize free radicals, a type of cell-damaging molecule whose rap sheet includes promoting atherosclerosis and heart disease and activating symptoms of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and other inflammatory conditions. In addition, sweet peppers contain vitamin B6 and folic acid, which are important for regulating homocysteine levels and thus, blood vessel integrity, as well as fiber for digestive health. Red peppers, in particular, are also an excellent source of lycopene, which is thought to offer a protective benefit against cancers of the cervix, prostate, bladder and pancreas, and beta-cryptoxanthin, which is thought to protect against lung cancer.
Now on to the good stuff! Peppers are generally bell shaped vegetables that feature three or four “lobes,” although it should be noted that there are several varieties that have a more elongated, tapered shape and no visible lobes. The pepper is basically comprised of three parts, a tough, inedible stem, a thick colored flesh and an interior cavity containing edible seeds and a white spongy core. Peppers come in a variety of colors, with green and purple peppers tending to taste more bitter and those on the more red and yellow end of the color spectrum possessing a sweeter, almost fruity, taste.
When selecting a bell pepper, chose those that are uniformly brightly colored and have taut, blemish-free skin. Peppers should feel heavy for their size and should be firm enough so that they yield slightly to light pressure. It should also be noted that while the size of the pepper does not generally have any impact on its taste or quality, some of the more obscurely shaped peppers may be difficult to cut, resulting in increased waste during cooking. While we do recommend washing all produce, this advice should be particularly heeded in the case of peppers both because the skin of the pepper is consumed and because peppers are often treated with a waxy coating to make them more visually appealing. A good scrub with plain old fashioned water – or a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide – will help remove the majority of pesticides or other contaminants. To further assuage fears of contaminants, opt for organically grown peppers where possible.
As mentioned above, the culinary uses for bell peppers are near limitless. They make an excellent addition to salads of all types, are a popular edition to crudité platters – as referenced by the fact that the peppers are usually the first to go – help add texture (and color…again!) to scrambled eggs and frittatas, and, when roasted and pureed, can add an interesting flavor to winter soups. In addition, red peppers can be dried and ground to create both pimento and paprika.