Bell pepper (Capsicum frutescens grossum) is a type of sweet pepper from the Capsicum annuum family that includes spicy chili peppers. The bell pepper contains a recessive gene that prevents the production of capsaicin, a chemical found in chili peppers that makes them spicy. Members of the pepper family are native to South and Central America and have been grown there for over 2000 years. The crop was very popular and quickly spread throughout the Caribbean and Mexico. Columbus discovered several varieties of peppers including the bell pepper when he was travelling in the West Indies and took them back to Europe, where they became very popular in Spain. The pepper was eventually called the bell pepper because the fruit resembles a bell. Today, bell peppers are mainly grown in Florida, Mexico, and Central America.
The peppers grow on bushy upright shrubs that can grow to be about 3 feet tall and prefer warm but not hot climates. The plants produce white flowers about a month after planting and the peppers are harvested roughly two months later. Botanists classify bell peppers as a fruit, not a vegetable. The edible part of the pepper is the fruit wall and the hollow center of the pepper contains numerous small seeds. The fruits tend to be about six inches long and have either three or four prominent lobes. The peppers can be short and stocky or longer and tapered at the end opposite the stem depending on the variety.
Bell peppers are most commonly harvested and sold when they are green. These peppers are fully developed but not yet ripe. They must remain on the plant for another several weeks to completely ripen. Ripe peppers will change color to red, yellow, or orange depending on the variety. Green peppers have a slightly astringent flavor while the ripe red, orange, or yellow peppers tend to be much sweeter. Bell peppers are filled with many nutrients, especially vitamin C. Red, yellow, and orange bell peppers also contain beta-carotene and other carotenoids.
Bell peppers, especially green peppers, are available in most supermarkets year-round. However, the best selection is during the summer months. When purchasing the peppers, look for smooth, shiny, and firm skin with an undamaged stem. Avoid peppers with wrinkly skin. If you are purchasing green bell peppers and find one with streaks of red it will be sweeter than a normal green pepper. Bell peppers keep for about a week in the fridge and also can be frozen for longer storage. When ready to eat, use a knife to remove the stem and all the seeds inside the pepper. The seeds are attached to walls in the pepper that can be easily removed with your fingers. Peppers, especially the ripe and sweet red, yellow, and orange peppers, can be eaten raw with other vegetables or in a salad. They stand up well to baking, grilling, stir-frying, and sauteeing. Whole peppers can also be stuffed with various grains or meats and baked.
BlueDragon adds:"I don't think i've ever seen them called bell peppers in UK. We just refer to them by colour, red pepper, green pepper, yellow, orange."