The capsicum (also known as sweet pepper, pepper or bell pepper) is a cultivar group of the species Capsicum annuum. Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colours, including red, yellow, orange, green, white, and purple.
Capsicums are sometimes grouped with less pungent pepper varieties as “sweet peppers”.
Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Pepper seeds were imported to Spain in 1493, and from there, spread to Europe and Asia. The mild capsicum cultivar was developed in 1920s, in Szeged, Hungary. Preferred growing conditions for capsicums include warm, moist soil in a temperate range of 21 – 29°C (70 – 84°F).
The rainbow of colours in which capsicum appears in Australia hints at the versatility of this vegetable – stuff it with herbs, meat and rice, roast and use the smoky flesh in dips or simply eat it raw as a crudité, a traditional French appetiser. First prepared by herdsman as a hearty meal, the delicious Hungarian goulash wouldn’t be the same without the addition of capsicum.
The Capsicum species originated in South and Central America, and Christopher Columbus brought it back to Europe when he returned from the Americas. Records show that capsicum has been used in cooking since 6000 BC. In Australia, capsicum became popular thanks to European and Asian immigrants who use it extensively.
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In Australia, capsicums are sold by colour. The main type of capsicum is shaped like a bell and has four lobes, although long, tapered capsicums are becoming more popular. These are closely related to hot chillies but are larger and taste sweet.
Red capsicums are sweeter than green capsicums, but they soften faster. Orange capsicums are sweet and crisp while the yellow capsicums have a mild flavour. When you cut a purple/black capsicum the inside is coloured green.
Why capsicum is good to eat
- Capsicums are an excellent source of vitamin A and C (red contain more than green capsicums).
- They are also a good source of dietary fibre, vitamin E, B6 and folate.
- The sweetness of capsicums is due to their natural sugars (green capsicums have less sugar than red capsicums).
- Energy – 100 g of green capsicum supplies 90 kJ (105 kJ from red capsicum).
How are capsicums grown and harvested?
- Capsicums grow on a flowering bush that can reach up to 60 or 80 cm. Capsicum plants prefer stable, warm climates and are usually planted as seedlings.
- The seedlings take from 11 to 13 weeks to grow into mature plants with the capsicums ready to harvest. Red capsicums start out green but if left on the bush to ripen they eventually turn red. Other types of capsicum turn yellow, orange, brown or purple/black in colour.
- Take care when you harvest capsicums. Rough treatment can injure the plant as the stems are very brittle and can snap off easily.
- When choosing capsicums you should select ones with firm, glossy skins. Avoid those with shrivelled skins, soft spots or other visible damage.
How to store and keep capsicum
- Store capsicums in the crisper section of your fridge. Ordinary plastic bags cause capsicums to sweat, so only use fridge storage bags. Capsicum should be used within five days.
How to use
- To help remove the blackened skin of roasted peppers, place in a plastic bag and allow them to cool for 10 minutes.
- For a Mediterranean flavour – remove the stem and stuff red and green capsicums with a mixture of rice, tomato, pine nuts and fresh herbs and bake until soft and tender.
- For a fresh, tangy salsa to accompany grilled fish – mix chopped roasted red and yellow peppers, a small chilli, coriander leaf, red onion and dress with red wine vinegar oil and lime.
- Make a delicious savoury dip by pureeing roasted peppers, garlic, capers and fresh herbs with oil and lemon juice.
Capsicum and Health Benefits
- Capsicum is used for various problems with digestion including upset stomach, intestinal gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, and cramps. It is also used for conditions of the heart and blood vessels including poor circulation, excessive blood clotting, high cholesterol, and preventing heart disease.
- Other uses include relief of toothache, seasickness, alcoholism, malaria, and fever. It is also used to help people who have difficulty swallowing.
- Some people apply capsicum to the skin for pain caused by shingles, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. It is also used topically for nerve pain (neuropathy) associated with diabetes and HIV, other types of nerve pain (neuralgia), and back pain.
- Capsicum is also used on the skin to relieve muscle spasms, as a gargle for laryngitis, and to discourage thumb-sucking or nail-biting.
- Some people put capsicum inside the nose to treat hay fever, migraine headache, cluster headache, and sinus infections (sinusitis).
- One form of capsicum is currently being studied as a drug for migraine, osteoarthritis, and other painful conditions.
- A particular form of capsicum causes intense eye pain and other unpleasant effects when it comes in contact with the face. This form is used in self-defense pepper sprays.
How does it work?
The fruit of the capsicum plant contains a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin seems to reduce pain sensations when applied to the skin.
- Red, yellow, or orange bell peppers can be used interchangeably but do not substitute green bell peppers for red, yellow or orange.
- If you don’t want any kind of pepper, the taste of the dish will be radically altered so it might be worth looking for an alternative recipe