Peppers can be red, orange, yellow or green, and come in a wide array of shapes and sizes. But just how good for you are they? Does their colour make any difference? And, why do we need peppers if we want to live happy ever after?
Popular as a powdered spice and as a vegetable
Nowadays, you’ll find people cooking with peppers almost everywhere in the world – using them as a spice or as a vegetable – with the hotter types of pepper being especially popular in more southerly countries like Mexico. Paprika is the best-known spice that is derived from peppers; it comes in various varieties, with different levels of heat, and it’s made by drying and then grinding the pepper fruits. Hotter spices are obtained from the various varieties of chilli: cayenne pepper is produced from the chillies of the same name, for example. And, well-loved seasoning sauces such as Sambal Oelek, Tabasco and Ajvar are also made from peppers.
Peppers related to tomatoes and potatoes
Peppers are solanaceous plants, which means that they are closely related to aubergines, potatoes and tomatoes. However, whereas it is the underground tubers that are used as food in the case of potatoes, when it comes to pepper plants, it is the fruits that are harvested. These are known simply as peppers, although other names are also used depending on the colour, size and heat level of the fruit: pimientos and chillies are also members of the pepper family.
Although peppers are nowadays cultivated worldwide, they originally came from South America, and more precisely from the area that lies between Brazil and Bolivia. Animals, in particular birds, gradually spread them further afield and into Central America; in fact, archaeological finds in Mexico indicate that peppers have been grown there as an agricultural crop, and used for food, since as far back as 7000 BC.
Shelf life of peppers
Peppers can be stored for 17 days in a conventional fridge and for 30 days in a Liebherr BioFresh HydroSafe drawer.
They are also great for freezing – but make sure you wash them and chop them up first. If you freeze peppers unblanched, they will keep for about six months; however, if you blanch them for 2-3 minutes before freezing, they will keep for up to a year.
Peppers: it’s all in the shape
In general, a distinction is made between chilli peppers, which taste relatively hot due to their high capsaicin content (read more about this later on), and sweet peppers, which contain very little capsaicin. Whereas sweet peppers tend to be round and bulbous, chilli peppers usually have a longer and narrower appearance. The different types of peppers also taste very different – ranging from mild to hot. However, there are a few things that all peppers have in common: namely, they are healthy, vitamin-rich and low in calories.
The colour reflects the level of ripeness
All unripe peppers are green and, as they ripen, they turn yellow and then red, with their taste becoming increasingly sweeter. In terms of the nutrients contained therein, the pepper’s colour doesn’t matter too much – on the whole, red, yellow and green peppers differ very little from a nutritional point of view. A big benefit for the health-conscious is that peppers contain very few calories, chalking up just 19-28 kcal per 100 g (depending on ripeness); and all due to the fact that 100 g of peppers contains only 3 g carbohydrate, 0.3 g fat, and 1.1 g protein.
Bursting with vitamin C
But, peppers aren’t just healthy because they are low in calories: they also contain many essential vitamins and minerals. They contain, for example, generous amounts of potassium, magnesium, zinc and calcium, as well as vitamins A and B and a large dose of vitamin C. Red peppers, in particular, have an especially high vitamin C content: whilst 100 g of green pepper contains about 140 mg of vitamin C, the same amount of red pepper contains about 400 mg! This makes red pepper one of the most vitamin C rich foods out there.
Other healthy substances in peppers
Peppers also contain flavonoids and carotenes. Flavonoids have antioxidant properties and therefore offer major health benefits: they act as free radical scavengers in our body and reduce the risk of certain illnesses, e.g. a high flavonoid intake can lower the chance of cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, carotenes – found mainly in coloured fruits – also offer protective antioxidant qualities. The range of pepper colours results from various different carotenoid dyes. Most carotenoids are red but yellow dyes also exist.
Capsaicin makes peppers hot
We don’t ‘taste’ heat because capsaicin irritates the taste buds on the tongue; rather, capsaicin triggers sensations of heat and pain. The heat level of peppers is determined using the Scoville index, which specifies the capsaicin content in the various types of fruit. This scale classes a standard sweet pepper as mild, cherry peppers or pimientos as medium, jalapeños as medium hot, and cayenne plants as hot.
Best eat your peppers raw
According to experts, half a pepper ought to be enough to provide an adult’s full recommended daily amount of vitamin C. However, as vitamin C (like carotene) is heat sensitive, it is recommended that peppers be eaten raw. Why is this? Carotene is hidden in little oil droplets that are found in the pepper’s cell walls, and this means it’s readily available. However, when a pepper is cooked, the carotene is dissolved and destroyed.
Peppers are believed to do the following:
- Stimulate digestion
- Combat loose bowel movements
- Promote circulation in the skin, heart and stomach
- Seal capillaries
- Help combat thrombosis
- Strengthen connective tissue
- Strengthen the immune system against infections
- Alleviate muscle soreness and arthritis
Healing properties of peppers
Native Americans used to use peppers as a natural remedy for combating osteoarthritis, amongst other things. Nowadays, many people are familiar with ABC heat plasters for alleviating rheumatic pain, and these utilise the ‘heat’ in peppers. Products containing capsaicin are also used to alleviate lumbago and migraines. And, with a high vitamin C content, peppers are also considered helpful in the prevention of heart attacks and can help to improve blood circulation disorders.
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