In the United States the term sweet pepper encompasses a wide variety of mild peppers that, like the chile, belong to the Capsicum family. Both sweet and hot peppers are native to tropical areas of the Western Hemisphere and were brought back by Christopher Columbus to his homeland, where they quickly found their way into Spanish cuisine. Sweet peppers can range in color from pale to dark green, from yellow to orange to red, and from purple to brown to black. Their color can be solid or variegated. Their usually juicy flesh can be thick or thin, and the flavors can range from bland to sweet to bittersweet. The best known sweet peppers are the bell peppers, so named for their bell-like shape. They have a mild, sweet flavor and crisp, juicy flesh. When young, the majority of bell peppers are a rich bright green, but there are also yellow, orange, purple, red and brown bell peppers. The red bells are simply vine-ripened green bell peppers that, because they've ripened longer, are very sweet. Bell peppers vary from 3½ to 5½ inches long and from 2½ to 4 inches wide. Green bell peppers are available all year long, while the red, orange, yellow, purple and brown varieties are found sporadically throughout the year. With their tops cut off and seeds removed, bell peppers are excellent for stuffing with a variety of fillings.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.