Cooking Tips · Ingredients

The Many Colors of Bell Peppers

I have written a prior Cooking Tip on chili peppers in which I discussed many different varieties. In this Tip, I wanted to talk about the pepper we use most commonly in our kitchens – the bell pepper.

Bell peppers are great for adding not only flavor but also color and texture to your dishes. The one thing they do not add, though, is heat as they rate zero on the Scoville heat chart. You will see them offered in different colors for varying prices. Just what is the difference?

The most common colors you will see are green, red, yellow and orange although rarely you might see brown, white, purple and even striped. The difference in color has to do with the stage of ripeness along with the varietal of the pepper plant.

All bell peppers start out green and change color as they mature. Depending on its varietal, when it is ripe it may become yellow, orange, red or one of the more unusual colors. Some varieties even remain green when ripe.

The taste of a bell pepper also changes as it ripens and changes color. Many people think they do not like bell peppers because they have only tasted the unripe green one. Those are more grassy and even bitter as compared to riper peppers. As they ripen, they become sweeter and lose the bitterness. It is almost like a different fruit. (Yes, even though we think of them as vegetables, they are botanically classified as a fruit.)

When using bell peppers, you can easily substitute one color for another. The only caution I would add is that using an unripe green pepper in place of the riper colored ones will alter the taste. However, swapping out red for yellow and so forth will not change the taste. It will, though, change the appearance.

The nutritional value also changes with the ripening process. Although all bell peppers are a very healthy fruit, as they ripen, they do develop higher amounts of some nutrients such as vitamin A & C, lycopene, and lutein.

When choosing bell peppers, pick ones that have a firm skin without wrinkles. Look at the stem; it should be fresh and green. They should feel heavy for their size. Avoid peppers with any kind of blemishes.

Green peppers will have a longer shelf life because they are less ripe. They will also be less expensive since the colored ones have had longer time on the vine, which necessitates more care. Do not let that discourage you from buying the colored ones, though, especially if you think you do not like bell peppers because you have only tasted green ones. Store them whole and unwashed in your refrigerator produce bin.

I love the ripe ones raw on a salad but they have many other uses such as stuffed peppers, sausage and peppers, made into a romesco sauce and many others. Do you have a favorite use? Let me know.