The Bell Pepper – Names and Uses

The bell pepper is a cultivar species which has many uses in culinary dishes; bell peppers are distinguishable by their colors of red, green, orange and yellow.

Bell peppers belong to the Solanaceae plant family and are botanically related to the potato, tomato, eggplant and, of course, the chili pepper. Bell peppers are sometimes known as ‘Capsicum’as they are a cultivar of the species Capsicum annuum; bell peppers are easily identifiable by their bright colors of red, green, yellow and orange.

Identification of the Bell Pepper

The bell pepper is commonly described as a vegetable, although botanically the bell pepper is a ‘fruit’ of the Capsicum plant species; the bell pepper has a glossy texture and is shaped like a bell with three or four lobes. The most common colors of a bell pepper are green, red, yellow and orange but bell peppers are sometimes colors of black, purple, brown, and white, depending on the cultivar species.

Green bell peppers are, in fact, the unripe bell pepper, whereas other bell pepper colors are ripe. Green bell peppers are often sweeter than the colored varieties of bell peppers but taste and texture of the bell pepper can be also be affected by growing, storage conditions and cultivar species.

The Bell Pepper in History

The bell pepper is a native of South and Central America where it was ‘discovered’ by Spanish explorers and taken back to Europe; the bell pepper appropriated its misleading name from the explorer Christopher Columbus. The bell pepper is known by different names in many countries, sometimes causing confusion as to its botanical relationship with other plant species.

Alternative Names for the Bell Pepper

Depending on the country, the bell pepper is known by the following names:

chile dulce (sweet chili) – Costa Rica
pimentao (big pepper) – Brazil
pepper – UK/USA
paprika – in some European countries; not to be confused with paprika, the spice from the same species
peberfrugt (pepper fruit) – Denmark.

Why are Bell Peppers Mild in Flavor?

Bell peppers are not usually as hot in flavor as their botanical cousin the chili pepper. Bell peppers possess the gene that is capable of repressing capsaisin, an alkaloid which is present in many of the other Capsicum species and which causes the hot and spicy flavor, as in the chili pepper.

The Use of the Bell Pepper in Culinary Dishes

Bell peppers have great nutritional value and are an excellent source for vitamin C. Red peppers contain lycopene, a pigment found in other red fruits, such as tomato, and believed to help protect against some forms of cancer. Bell peppers can be eaten raw or cooked and are used in a number of ways in culinary dishes:

in pasta and rice dishes
in soups
in stews.

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