Bell peppers seem to have found their culinary place as an accompaniment in dishes like sausage and peppers, shish kebab, and salads. But don’t overlook their power as a tasty standalone fruit (yes, fruit!)—they pack up to three times the vitamin C of an orange. One general rule to remember when selecting peppers? The smaller the pepper, the spicier the flavor. There are exceptions, but bell peppers, one of the largest pepper varieties, aren’t spicy at all—in fact, they’re also known as sweet peppers. Much milder than their smaller cousins (like jalapenos and habaneros), they can be tangy or bitter in taste; however, they generally taste slightly savory or sweet. Bell peppers also add color and nutrition to almost any dish. Enjoy them raw on a vegetable platter, grilled in a panini, or stuffed and cooked with grains, meats, and spices—and reap the rewards!
Named for their bell-like shape (though sometimes they appear more oval), bell peppers are available in a variety of colors. The most common colors found in the produce section of your local grocery store are green, yellow, orange, and red. At farmers’ markets, you may find some rarer varieties in brown, white, lavender, or dark purple. No matter the color, they tend to be large—usually the size of a softball.
Bell peppers are also sold frozen (often cut into strips) or bottled in oil (typically called peppers or pimentos).
Depending on the variety, bell peppers can be savory or sweet (though not sugary-sweet). Their flavor depends on the variety and the ripeness of the pepper. The riper the pepper is, the sweeter it tastes. Red peppers are actually fully ripened green peppers. So, red peppers are sweet, mild, and slightly tangy, while green peppers are more bitter. Orange and yellow varieties land somewhere in the middle in terms of taste—not quite as sweet as the red pepper, but not as bitter as the green.
The flavor of specialty varieties like brown, white, lavender, and dark purple depends on their ripeness, genus, and growing conditions. In general, brown bell peppers tend to be very sweet, much like a red pepper; and white bell peppers tend to have a delicate and mild flavor. Dark purple bell peppers actually have green flesh on the inside, so they tend to taste bitter, like a green pepper. Lavender peppers are similarly bitter, but less so than dark purple peppers. But to be sure you get what you are looking for, ask your local farmer when you purchase a specialty variety for more information about its flavor.
Peppers can be enjoyed raw or cooked; however, the sweeter varieties are the preferred choice for raw consumption, while the more bitter varieties are better cooked.
Green, yellow, orange, and red peppers are readily available in most grocery stores. Specialty varieties, such as white, brown, lavender, and dark purple, can be found at farmers’ markets and high-end health food stores.
Prime season for bell peppers in the US and Europe is June through November. Some varieties of peppers are available throughout the year, imported from other countries.
Look for bell peppers with tight, glossy skin. Peppers that are heavy and firm for their size are at peak ripeness.
For a sweeter flavor, opt for red, orange, or yellow. For a sharp and savory flavor, choose green. If you stumble upon specialty varieties, like brown, white, lavender or dark purple, be sure to ask the farmer more about the flavor profile as it will vary somewhat from farm to farm.
Color striations sometimes occur, depending on the state of ripeness. This is perfectly normal and will not affect the flavor. In other words, a green pepper with a hint of red, orange, or yellow will still have the desired sharp flavor.
Avoid peppers that are dull or have shriveled surfaces, as this indicates the fruit is overripe.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen.” These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Sweet bell peppers rank #8 on the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list. Therefore, choose organic whenever possible, or visit local farms that may not be organic, but grow produce with minimal agricultural chemicals.
However, the Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Keep unwashed bell peppers in a plastic bag in the crisper of the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Store sliced peppers in a sealed container and use within 1 to 2 days. Less ripe varieties (like green peppers) tend to keep longer than their ripe counterparts.
Wash peppers thoroughly under cool running water and pat dry. Then cut into strips, chop into chunks, or dice more finely. Discard the seeds and stem.
Since sweet bell peppers aren’t spicy, gloves are not necessary during preparation.
This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.
A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.
Amino acids and lipids are the main nutrients metabolized by vitamin B6, helping to promote proper energy levels throughout the body. It is also an important aspect of the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, protecting both the cardiovascular system and brain.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Vitamin E is present in everyday neurological functions and may play a role in protecting the brain from cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E is essential for scavenging free radicals, supplying them with their much-needed electron pair. Eyesight, skin, and the immune system are all positively benefited through vitamin E intake.
As you can see from the above Nutrition Summary, bell peppers are packed with vitamins, most notably vitamin C. A single bell pepper contains as much as three times the vitamin C in a single orange. Vitamin C is known to boost immune health, cardiovascular health, and eye and skin health. It’s also an essential part of prenatal care.
On top of all those benefits, peppers are low in calories (there are only about 24 to 37 calories per pepper, depending on size and variety). That’s right, eating bell peppers is good for your health and your waistline!
Keep in mind, the riper the pepper, the more vitamin C it contains. For example, red peppers are a greater source of vitamin C than green peppers.
- Red bell peppers are actually green peppers that were left on the vine longer
- Although categorized as vegetables, bell peppers are actually fruits, because they originate from a flowering plant and contain seeds.
- Bell peppers are the only member in their genus not producing capsaicin (a chemical that causes a spicy burning sensation in the mouth). This is, in part, why we consider their flavor sweet, unlike other species of peppers.