Bell Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are bell peppers?

It’s at the bottom of the Scoville scale (0 Scoville heat units), but that certainly doesn’t make the bell pepper less popular. It’s by far the most well-known member of the capsicum family. They are tasty, crunchy, healthy, sweet (at times), and of course, easily found. They’re really a vegetable staple for the kitchen.

bell pepper

Bell pepper fast facts

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 0 SHU
  • Median heat: 0 SHU
  • Origin: Mexico, South America
  • Capsicum species: Annuum
  • Jalapeño reference scale: Zero heat, 2,500 to 8,000 times milder
  • Use: Culinary
  • Size: Approximately 4 to 5 inches long
  • Flavor: Bright, Sweet

Are bell peppers chili peppers?

Technically yes. In the real world? No. They all come from the same nightshade family capsicum, so they’re all related. But while that’s true, chili peppers are known around the world as hot and spicy. That’s NOT the bell pepper at all. They are known as sweet peppers, so you’ll get few takers in the general population that bell peppers fall under the chili moniker. But they are all of course part of the Scoville scale.

Why do bell peppers have no heat?

Bell peppers are the only member of the capsicum family that contains a recessive gene which stops them from producing capsaicin. Capsaicin is the natural compound that creates the hotness we experience when eating chilies. No capsaicin means no heat and a flat zero on the pepper scale.

Are different colors of bells healthier for you?

They do come in colors like the rainbow, don’t they? You’ll find green bell peppers, yellow bells, reds, oranges, purples, and even browns and blacks. But are they different in terms of health? Yes, but it should be said that all bell peppers are extremely good for you, even with the lack of capsaicin.

The colors come mostly from their maturity level. Typically a pepper starts green and matures into one of the many varieties of colors. There are exceptions. One variety of bell remains green for its entire life (aptly named Permagreen). And there are varieties that start out more yellowish or purple than green.

All bell peppers have a ton of vitamins and antioxidants to them. They are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other vitamins and carotenoids. And the key to maxing out the benefit is all in the color. As they mature, their levels of all of these compounds increase too. So a fully mature red bell pepper will be chock full of these health benefits, sometimes over ten times more than what they had as a young green pepper!

Red bell peppers also have the benefit of containing lycopene, a very powerful carotenoid also found in tomatoes. It’s been linked to helping prevent cancer, heart disease, and diabetes among other amazing qualities. So if you’re looking to maximize your health benefit, lean towards the more mature peppers.

Do the different colors taste different?

They do. Again, it’s all about their maturity level, but also mix in the soil they are grown in and how they are kept after harvest. Typically young green bells are more bitter in taste. As they age, they gain in sweetness. Ripe yellow and orange bell peppers are definitely going to taste sweeter than a green variety. And a red bell trumps them all in sweetness.

Where can you buy bell peppers?

Nearly anywhere. They are grown all over the world and are a vegetable staple in every supermarket. They are popular in all sorts of recipes, especially stuffed peppers. Since bell peppers are some of the largest in the capsicum family, with thick walls and a lot of girth, they are great for stuffing. Beyond stuffed peppers, they are some of the best sandwich, salad, and pizza toppers around. And many people love to eat them raw with dip.

They’re also popular to grow in amateur gardens. Bell pepper seeds and plants are easy to find at plant stores or via online vendors (Amazon). This is one tasty, healthy, and versatile pepper. Likely you’re already using a bell pepper or two in your cooking, but like its chili cousins, maybe it’s time to explore using it even more. There are, after all, one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on October 12, 2021 to include new content.
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