Bell peppers, also called sweet peppers, are one of the most popular vegetables in America, and one of the most readily available. According to the USDA, every day almost 25% of Americans will eat a pepper or a dish that contains bell peppers — almost as many people as will consume a tomato, and double the number of those who will eat French fries!
Sweet peppers are plump, bell-shaped vegetables featuring either three or four lobes. They usually range in size from 2 to 5 inches in diameter and 2 to 6 inches in length. The most common varieties have thick flesh, with an inner cavity containing bitter seeds and a spongy white core. Unlike chili peppers, bell peppers aren’t “hot”; they contain a recessive gene that eliminates capsaicin, the compound responsible for the culinary heat found in other peppers.
All bell peppers start out green, but as they mature they turn yellow, orange or red, depending on the variety. This variation in skin color is more than just visual appeal — as peppers ripen, their sugar content increases. Red and orange peppers are pleasantly sweet, with an almost fruity flavor. Yellow peppers are mildly sweet and have a slight tannic or peppery flavor. The common green bell pepper has bitter overtones, because it’s picked fully developed but not ripe. Purple and chocolate peppers are also part of the rainbow array now available. Both of these varieties are also harvested immature (before they turn green), so they lack the sweetness of a mature pepper.
Why choose organic bell peppers?
- Sweet bell peppers are #7 on the Environmental Working Group's "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce," a list of produce that carries the most pesticide residues when grown conventionally — so choosing organic bell peppers makes sense. You can lower your dietary exposure to pesticides substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables, and choosing organic for those items instead.
- An added bonus: organic peppers aren’t waxed, while many conventionally grown bell peppers are coated with a petroleum-based fungicide wax to prolong their shelf life.
- At Earthbound Farm, we grow our organic bell peppers using sustainable methods that build rich soil, support vibrant field ecosystems, and keep potentially hazardous chemicals out of our environment and our food supply. We believe organic is the healthiest choice for people and the planet, and we think organic tastes better, too!
- WhatsOnMyFood.org from the Pesticide Action Network shows you searchable results for vegetables like sweet bell peppers and a wide range of other organic and conventional foods. It’s an easy-to-use and empowering tool for learning about pesticide residues and their health effects for all of us.
How to select and store bell peppers
- Choose peppers with intense, vivid color and taut, glossy skin. Stems should be green and fresh, not wilted. Select peppers that feel heavy for their size; avoid peppers with soft spots or blemishes.
- A pepper’s shape doesn’t usually affect its quality. Boxy peppers with flat sides are the best choice for cooking and are the easiest to peel.
- Wrap unwashed peppers in paper towels and refrigerate them in a plastic bag for up to 7 days. Because red peppers are fully mature, they should be used within a day or two of purchase.
Tips for using bell peppers
- Sweet bell peppers are easy to handle. Before coring and/or cutting the pepper, wash it under running water. Use a paring knife to cut around the stem and gently remove it. Pull out the spongy membrane encasing the seeds and shake the pepper to remove any stragglers.
- Peppers can be cut into various shapes and sizes, cut horizontally into rings, or left whole and stuffed. They’re often served raw, but their true flavor emerges with cooking, especially roasting.