Bell peppers are a member of the chile pepper family, though they have no heat or spiciness. They can be eaten cooked or raw and are a common ingredient in cuisines all around the world.
What Are Bell Peppers?
Bell peppers are the fruit of a flowering plant in the botanical family Solanaceae. They're shaped like rounded squares formed of three or four lobes, and are mostly hollow, with a bulbous placenta within along with numerous small, flat, white seeds. While they are typically treated as vegetables in cooking, bell peppers are technically fruits, since they are the part of the plant that contains its seeds. They have this in common with other fruits that are used as vegetables, such as tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and string beans.
While bell peppers are the same species, Capsicum annuum, as spicy chiles like jalapenos, serranos and cayenne peppers, they do not have any heat or spiciness. This is due to a genetic anomaly. Most peppers from the Capsicum genus produce a compound called capsaicin, which is what causes the sensation of heat and pungency associated with hot chiles. Bell peppers don't produce this compound, so they don't taste spicy.
How to Cook With Bell Peppers
Cooking with bell peppers starts with removing the placenta and seeds. This is done by slicing off the top and then trimming away the placenta and seeds with a sharp knife. The pepper can then be sliced into strips, cut into rings, chopped, diced, or used whole, as when making stuffed peppers.
Also known as sweet peppers, or capsicum, bell peppers can be eaten raw, such as in salads, on sandwiches, and in crudite platters, as well as cooked via various methods, such as roasting, sautéing, grilling, and baking. They can also be pureed and used for making sauces and coulis. Bell peppers are often combined with onions, such as in the traditional Italian sausage and peppers dish, and in the Tex-Mex classic fajitas. They are also combined with onions and celery to make up the "holy trinity" of Cajun and Creole cuisines, a mixture that forms the flavor base of innumerable sauces, soups, stocks, broths, stews and other dishes. Stuffed peppers, in which bell peppers are hollowed out, stuffed with ground meat and other aromatic ingredients and then baked, is another popular dish.
In addition to being used as a culinary vegetable, ripe red bell peppers are also dried and ground into a powder to produce the spice paprika.
What Do They Taste Like?
Green bell peppers have a mild, grassy, slightly bitter flavor with a crunchy, juicy texture, while red ones, which are the ripe versions, are sweeter and more fruity. The orange and yellow varieties are likewise sweeter than the green ones. Since they don't produce capsaicin, bell peppers do not have any heat or spiciness.
A 100-gram serving of raw green bell pepper is 94 percent water and provides 84 calories, 5 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber, along with about 1 gram of protein and negligible fat. It is an excellent source of vitamin C, providing 80 milligrams, or 97 percent of the daily recommended value for that nutrient.
Bell Pepper Recipes
Bell peppers can play a supporting role, as when sliced and used as a pizza topping or in a salad, or a main role, like when stuffed and baked. Here are a few recipes that feature bell peppers.
Where to Buy Bell Peppers
Fresh bell peppers are widely available at supermarkets in the produce department, and at farmers' markets. They're available year round but are at their peak from July through September. Look for ones that are firm, plump, and free from blemishes, punctures, or wrinkles.
The best way to store whole bell peppers is loose, in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator with the humidity set to high (i.e. with the vent closed). Stored in this way, they'll last for a week or two. Once they're cut, they should be wrapped and refrigerated and used within 2 to 3 days.
Green bell peppers, the most common variety, are harvested before they reach full maturity. When left to mature, they ripen into red bell peppers. Orange and yellow varietals are also available. Colored bell peppers are generally more expensive than green ones because they must stay on the plant longer, so they require more time and resources to grow.
If you turn over a bell pepper you'll see that it has either 3 or 4 lobes or bumps on the bottom. There's a common misconception that the ones with four bumps are female fruits, and the ones with three are male, and that females have a sweeter flavor. But this is just a myth: bell peppers don't have gender, and their flavor doesn't vary by the number of bumps.
Peppers, sweet, green, raw. FoodData Central, U.S. Department of Agriculture