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Carrots »« Cabbage

Capsicum/Peppers

Capsicum annuum


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

With their vivid colours, capsicums can make any dish as visually appealing as it is delicious. While related to the chilli pepper, capsicums – also known as bell peppers in many parts of the world – lack that fiery heat, and instead have a sweet and mild freshness.

The colour of the capsicum depends on its variety and its maturity. When unripe, capsicums are green, and are often eaten this way. The most commonly available colours in supermarkets are red, yellow, and orange, though varieties exist that turn chocolate brown or black.

Capsicums can vary in size and shape. All are hollow inside and contain white seeds and membranes that are usually removed; in hot chillis, these are the parts that contain the fire. A fresh capsicum should have a glossy, smooth skin, without any blemishes or wrinkling.

Capsicums – especially red, yellow, and orange ones – are an excellent way to get your vitamin A and C as they’re high in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. They also contain vitamin B6 and folate, among other valuable nutrients.

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History

Native to Mexico and South and Central America, the capsicum was introduced to Spain by explorers in the late 15th century, and from there they spread to countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Uses

Capsicums can be used in many ways, whether it’s just to add a splash of colour to the plate, or to be the main event. The sweet flavour and the appealing colours can be a cunning way to entice children into eating vegetables! Add to stir fries, or slice and eat with hummus or another favourite dip.

Green capsicums are an essential part of a summer Greek salad. Cut into chunks, and add chopped tomatoes, red onion, cucumber and feta. Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano, and mop up the juices with crusty bread. Greek salad is best made a few hours ahead of time, giving the flavours and juices plenty of time to mix.

Capsicums are especially good baked or roasted – choose your favourite colour. Stuff halved capsicums with a mixture of rice, spices and meat, and bake until the capsicum is soft. Roasted red capsicum makes an excellent salad with chickpeas and feta.

Facts

The bell pepper that New Zealanders call the capsicum is the only member of its family that has no ‘hot’ taste. The heat in spicy peppers is caused by capsaicin, but due to a recessive gene, this capsicum contains no capsaicin.

The longer the capsicum stays on the plant, the sweeter it is. That’s why deep red capsicums are sweet, and why green capsicums, which are picked before they’re ripe, can taste almost bitter.



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