pepper icon

The modern pepper, known as capsicum in the UK, received its name from overly optimistic Spanish explorers on the hunt for lucrative black peppercorn plants. Related to other nightshades such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant, the pepper family features a great diversity of flavors, colors, and shapes, as well as a host of nutritional and medicinal benefits.

Peppers of many varieties and colors lay among one another.

SEASONAL in Southern California

History

Peppers have been cultivated for more than 9000 years, starting in the kitchen gardens of South and Central American civilizations. Mistaken (perhaps wilfully) by Spanish explorers for the coveted black peppercorn, the pepper plant was spread throughout the Americas and West Indies by traders and colonists, leading to the development of countless regional breeds. By the late 19th century, mild bell peppers were a fairly common ingredient in the United States, with early cookbooks listing recipes for both stuffed and pickled peppers.

Nutrition

All pepper varieties are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, folic acid, and many antioxidants and carotenoids. Spicy peppers have been linked to lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation.

Storage

Wrap unwashed peppers in a lightly dampened paper towel, seal in a plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator crisper for up to 5 days. Green peppers will last slightly longer than red or orange varieties.

Preparation

Hollowed out peppers make ideal vessels for stuffing with grain, meat or other fillings, to be served cold or baked. Spicy peppers can be turned into relish or jelly, pounded into a paste, or steeped in oil. Sweet peppers can be sautéed or roasted over an open flame, and served with egg dishes, stir-fry, grilled meat, pizza, and pasta, or added to tomato soup for a more complex acidic flavor. Traditional dishes with peppers include Mexican fajitas, French ratatouille, Italian peperonata, and Greek gemista.

Cooking

Cut bell peppers in half and remove seeds. Roast peppers over an open flame until blistered all over, then enclose in a sealed container while still hot. When peppers are soft, combine in a blender with walnuts, fresh garlic, cumin, paprika, olive oil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Blend until smooth, then season with salt to taste. Serve as a dip with crusty bread, topped with crumbled goat cheese if desired.

Pro Tips

Anecdotal evidence suggests that bell peppers with four “bumps” at the base will be sweet, while those with three bumps are more bitter.

Bell Pepper

The bell pepper offers a wide spectrum of colors and flavors, with orange, yellow, and red varieties offering more sweetness, and green and purple varieties featuring a bitter undertone.

Gypsy Pepper

A hybrid of the bell pepper and a sweet Italian pepper, the Gypsy pepper (also known as a cubanelle) offers sweetness without heat in a wedge-shaped fruit.

Jalapeño

The jalapeño is named for the capital city of Xalapa in Veracruz, Mexico, where the pepper was traditionally cultivated. Small and smooth-skinned, with a variable level of heat, the jalapeño has been consumed since the time of the Aztecs. Common uses include blending into salsa, pickling, stuffing with meat or cheese, slicing raw over sandwiches, and smoking to make chipotles.

Lunchbox Pepper

These miniature bell peppers are a perfect two-bite snack of sweet flavor and juicy crunch.

Nardello Pepper

A long, thin, bright red pepper with medium heat, the Nardello is named for Jimmy Nardello, whose mother brought the seeds with her from Italy after immigrating to the U.S. in 1887. Their sweetness and mild spice makes them an ideal frying pepper for use on sandwiches and pasta.

Padron Pepper

Also known as Herbón peppers, this variety was bred in the Galicia region of Spain. Small and wrinkly, with colors ranging from bright green to yellowish-green, padrón peppers are prepared similarly to shishito peppers and have the same unpredictable heat in a small percentage of individual peppers.

Pepperoncini

Brought from the New World to Italy in the 16th century, this miniature mild pepper is green when young, ripening to a bright red. While typically used in Italian cuisine as a pickled condiment for sandwiches and salads, the peperoncino is especially important to Calabrian cuisine, where they are eaten raw or fried to a crisp, as well as crushed into a paste and used to make sausages, pasta sauce or chili oil.

Shishito Pepper

A small, wrinkled green pepper with mild heat, the shishito originates from East Asia, and became a popular appetizer during the farm-to-table movement in the late 2000s. Typically served blistered with a cool dipping sauce, shishitos are infamous for delivering an unexpected burst of heat in every 1 out of 10 peppers.

Related Journal