In Season: Bell Peppers
My kids love chomping on crunchy slices of these sweet, mild peppers. Who am I to complain, when one cup has more vitamin C than an orange? Here are some more reasons to grab these babies while they're at their peak.
Sweet peppers include a wide variety of mild peppers, with the most popular in the U.S. being the bell pepper. Part of the Capsicum family, bell peppers get their name because of their resemblance to the shape of a bell. They’re native to tropical areas in the Western Hemisphere, and were brought back to Spain by Christopher Columbus, where they found their way into Spanish cuisine.
Ripe bell peppers are sweet and juicy. They range in size from about 3 1/2 to 5 1/2-inches long and from about 2 to 4-inches wide. Most young peppers are green in color, but you can also find orange, purple, red, yellow and brown. Red bell peppers are actually green bell peppers that have ripened on the vine and have a sweeter flavor.
Green bell peppers are available year round at the supermarket, but peak season runs from July through September.
One cup of chopped pepper contains 30 calories, 3 grams of fiber and a whopping 200 percent of the daily recommended needs for vitamin C. It’s also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin B6. The red peppers actually have more beta-carotene than the green ones. They also are a better source of vitamin E.
Peppers are packed with plant compounds called phytochemicals that have been linked cancer prevention. These phytochemicals, including zeaxanthin and chlorogenic acid, are more prevalent in red peppers. Red bell peppers also contain lycopene, an antioxidant that helps lower the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and macular degeneration (an eye disease associated with aging).
Munching on fresh bell peppers of all colors dipped in hummus, a yogurt dip or salad dressing is delicious and easy, but the possibilities don’t end there. Thread bell peppers with onions and chicken on skewers and toss on the grill, stuff with a rice and ground beef mixture (my fave!) or roast.
To roast a pepper, place on a hot grill or under the broiler. Once all sides are blackened, remove from heat and place in a covered bowl and set aside to sweat. Once cooled, peel away the outer charred skin to reveal juicy, soft flesh. Use on sandwiches, salads or puree to make dips and sauces.
Shopping Tip: Choose peppers that are firm, bright, shiny and heavy for their size. Avoid those with bruises and soft spots, or peppers that are soft or shriveled. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »