It's always a good time to eat a bell pepper, but by nutritional standards, some times are better than others.
Dietitians strongly advise against rushing to eat a bell pepper before it's ripe, since the amount of vitamin C and carotenoids found in the fruit increase with ripening. According to a study cited by Whole Foods, peppers can continue to ripen and become a better source of vitamin C over 10 days of home storage. How do you know when a pepper's ripe? It ought to feel firm and heavy for its size.
Here, the answers to seven more burning pepper questions:
1. Bell peppers follow the same cycle as a stoplight: They start out green, then turn yellow, and finally become red. Because green peppers require the least ripening, they're also the cheapest color in the bell pepper rainbow.
2. China is the world's leading producer of peppers, but bell peppers got their start in the New World. The plant was cultivated in South and Central America 9,000 years ago. In her annotated edition of Mary Randolph's “The Virginia House-Wife,” food historian Karen Hess noted that Thomas Jefferson received a Mexican specimen in 1824: He liked it, once the seeds were removed. Mexico is still a major grower of bell peppers, second only to China.
3. The hallmark flavor of Cabernet Sauvignon is black currant, but it's not unusual for the wine to taste like green peppers. That's because green peppers and the Cabernet Sauvignon grape both contain the chemical methoxypyrazine, which can ruin wine in too-large doses. Central California cabernets were at one point afflicted with so much methoxypyrazine that they were known within the industry as “Monterey veggies.” But research by Cornell University shows growers can reduce the incidence of methoxypyrazine by plucking the leaves from around a grape, Wine Spectator reports.
4. Pepper steak, typically made with round steak, garlic, onions, tomato and green pepper (although varieties are legion), was terrifically popular in the 1960s. Myra Waldo included a recipe for the dish in her 1958 cookbook, “How to Please a Husband,” but its appeal wasn't limited to housewives: Helen Gurley Brown four years later outlined the dish in “Sex and the Single Girl.” Unlike the similarly named steak au poivre from France, which enjoyed kitchen fame during the same period, the Asian-esque preparation was renowned for its affordability. Actress Jane Russell in 1966 shared her recipe with The Los Angeles Times, raving it worked with even the cheapest cut of meat. “Pepper steak affords lots of eating enjoyment,” promised a 1967 issue of Volume Feeding Institutions.
5. Home cooks who regularly roast peppers habitually peel away their waxy skins before serving. But raw bell peppers also can be peeled, and cookbook author Jeff Potter thinks it's a good idea. “If you're actually using a red bell pepper in a dish where you're going to cut it up, you can actually peel it and that will make the dish taste better,” he recently told the Huffington Post.
6. Whether Americans are eating bell peppers sliced and dipped in hummus, or fried up for fajitas, numbers show they're eating more of them than they did a decade ago. In 2012, the last year for which data is available, the average per capita consumption in the U.S. was 11.7 pounds, up from 9.2 pounds in 2005.
7. Bell peppers belong to the genus capsicum, a group of nightshades distinguished by the presence of capsaicin, the chemical that eaters register as heat. But the amount of capsaicin varies by fruit: Bell peppers have none, so rate a zero on the Scoville scale.