January 17th, 2012 Bell peppers are vegetables (botanically a fruit) with a shiny, waxy outer skin that come in a wide variety of colors. Although the most common bell pepper is the green bell pepper, bell peppers can be found in orange, red, yellow, purple, brown and even black. Bell peppers are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. They have been cultivated for over 9000 years and are native to South and Central America, where they were called "piemento." "Pepper" is in fact a misleading name, given by Christopher Columbus, who brought seeds back to Europe. At the time, peppercorns, imported from India, were highly prized so the name "pepper" was extended to all known spices that were hot or pungent. Bell peppers grow well in a variety of climates, so from Christopher Columbus’s original seeds, cultivation quickly spread to North America, Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia. Currently, China is the largest producer, having grown 14 million metric tons in 2007! These sweet peppers are plump, bell-shaped vegetables featuring either three or four lobes. While green and purple peppers are slightly bitter, red, orange, and yellow peppers are sweet and slightly fruity. Red peppers contain more vitamins and nutrients; one large bell pepper contains almost three times the Vitamin C of an orange! Bell peppers are not spicy like other hot pepper cousins. The primary substance that controls "hotness" in peppers is called capsaicin, the genus of bell peppers is the only genus of this family that does not produce capsaicin. Peppers cut horizontally into rings or left whole for stuffed peppers. The pulpy white inner cavity of the bell pepper is rich in flavonoids and can be eaten, even though some people have a personal preference for removing this section. Bell peppers are one of the best vegetables to serve in a crudité platter since not only do they add a brilliant splash of color, but their texture is also the perfect crunchy complement for dips. For colour and crunch, add finely chopped bell peppers to tuna or chicken salad. Paprika is a dried powdered form of bell pepper, and even though we are used to seeing red paprika in the spice section of the grocery, a paprika can be made from any color of bell pepper and it will end up being that same color once dried and ground into powder. Bell pepper is not only an excellent source of carotenoids, but also a source of over 30 different members of the carotenoid nutrient family. A recent study from Spain took a close look vitamin C, vitamin E, and six of these carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin) in all commonly eaten foods and found that only two vegetables contained at least two-thirds of all the listed nutrients. One of these foods was tomato, and the other was sweet bell pepper! Unwashed sweet peppers stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep for approximately 7-10 days. If you plan on consuming your peppers within two to three days, room temperature storage of 20°C (68°F) can improve the availability of fat-soluble carotenoids.