Sweet Peppers

Peppers appear to have played a role in the diet (and cultures) of the Americas since as early as 7500 BC, and have been in cultivation for at least 6,000 years. Not surprisingly, a rich culture surrounding peppers developed in places like Mexico, where they have been in use for so many centuries. They were not known elsewhere in the world until Columbus returned with them to Spain in 1493.

Once the Spanish had colonized Mexico, peppers spread to the Philippines, and then to China. Chilies were introduced to India via the Portuguese colony at Goa. It’s notable that prior to this time, there were no chilies in Indian or South Asian cuisine. By 1650, peppers had spread to the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. There are now at least 3,000 named types of chilies and other sweet pepper seeds.

At the time of European contact with the Americas, black pepper (derived from the unrelated genus Piper) was an expensive condiment. The word “pepper” was used to describe anything hot. Peppers are broadly divided into two groups; Chili peppers and bell peppers. Both are members of the genus Capiscum, which belongs to the family Solanaceae, making them relatives of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. As with tomatoes, the fruit of a pepper plant is technically a berry.

In most of the world, chilies are the preferred type of pepper. Sweet pepper seeds were bred to be free of capsaicinoids, the substances that gives chilies their heat. Bell peppers and many of the chilies are members of the species Capiscum annuum, but chilies are also represented by other species including C. frutescens (Tabasco and Thai), C. chinense (habanero and Scotch bonnet), C. baccatum (friar’s hat) and C. pubescens.

Sweet bell peppers are often eaten while immature, when they are green, but almost every variety will ripen to another colour, and the spectrum now includes red, yellow, orange, white, pink, purple, and brown. As bell peppers ripen, they develop more sweetness and more vitamin C. Green peppers have been described by some people to have a “grassy” flavour, and are not universally appreciated. Many chili peppers are also eaten while green and unripe as well, notably jalapeno chilies.

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