It's fashionable to pick on green bell peppers. "Most cooks deride them as bitter (and) virtually inedible," John Willoughby conceded in his spirited defense of the fruit, recently published by The New York Times. But fans of red, yellow and orange peppers would do well to remember that their favorite peppers were green once too.
Most bell peppers are green when they're young. Some peppers, notably the Permagreen, stay that way, although other varieties develop different shades as they mature: Red, yellow and orange are the most common colors, but bell peppers can be white, lavender or chocolate brown. No matter the color, bell peppers are an excellent source of antioxidants and vitamin C. Here, seven more things to know about peppers:
1. Paprika is a powder made from drying and grinding bell peppers. While Americans think of the spice as red, any color pepper can be subjected to the paprika process.
2. Red peppers got a boost in the 1980s from chefs specializing in California cuisine, who made frequent use of roasted red peppers. "That was the best angle on the roasted red pepper craze I've seen," the San Francisco Chronicle's Patricia Unterman wrote about a dish she encountered in Los Angeles in 1985, the same year she was served poached salmon with roasted red pepper sauce and roasted red pepper salad. Still, it took more than a decade for the rest of the country to catch on: Between 1990 and 1999, roasted red peppers were mentioned in 3,226 newspapers. The number of citations more than doubled between 2000 and 2009.
3. A green bell pepper grown in the Israeli desert in 2013 set the Guinness World Record for the planet's biggest pepper. Farm workers noticed the pepper, which measured about twice the size of a standard pepper, when it got stuck in the produce sorting machine.
4. Bell peppers are one of two fruits that contain two-thirds of the vitamins and carotenoids considered essential by nutritionists (or at least by the Spanish nutritionists who conducted the study.) The only other fruit endowed with as many helpful antioxidants is the tomato.
5. A bell pepper is a ready-made receptacle for other ingredients. Many European cuisines have a stuffed pepper tradition. In Italy, cooks hollow out roasted peppers and fill them with tuna fish and olive oil, or bake peppers stuffed with rice and meat sauce. In Hungary, stuffed peppers are seasoned with paprika and garnished with sour cream. But the idea of cramming a meal into a pepper with its top sliced off may have originated in Turkey, where the stuffing often features raisins and pine nuts.
6. The wavy shape of a bell pepper's outer wall can make it difficult to cut cleanly. The best method is to first chop off the top and bottom, then stand the pepper on one end. Make one vertical slice to unfurl the pepper. Gently work your knife through the seeds and ribs, removing any membranes. You should be left with a flat pepper rectangle, ready to chop, dice or slice.
7. When shopping for bell peppers, look for vividly colored peppers that feel heavy for their size. Store peppers in a plastic bag in the refrigerator: They should last about a week.