Sunday, 31 May 2015

Sweet or bell peppers (Capsicum annuum)

Sweet peppers (Capsium annuum) are evergreen perennial plants from the Solanaceae or nightshade family. This family also includes the potato, tomato and tobacco plants. Also known as bell peppers (referring to the shape) or capsicums, these are the sweet or mild tasting fruits of this genus. Other peppers can be very hot tasting and these are generally known as the chilli peppers.

An image of a yellow sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum) plant
Sweet pepper (C. annuum)

Peppers are native to Mexico, Central and northern South America and have been grown for thousands of years. There are around 22 wild species of Capsicums and five domesticated species including C. annuum, C. frutescens, C. baccatum, C. chinense and C. pubescens. There are a great many named varieties.

Growing methods

Peppers are usually grown as an annual in the British Isles. However, providing they are kept under cover and away from severe winter weather, they can be kept as a perennial. Sow seeds indoors in the spring. Once the seedlings are large enough (three leaves), pot them on into 9cm pots. Once the roots have filled the pots they can be potted on to 30cm pots or placed in the ground. Plants prefer a fertile well-drained slightly acid soil. In the British Isles they should be grown under cover in a well ventilated area or outside in a very warm sunny position. They may be able to be grown outside in the very milder areas.

To encourage the plant to bush out and provide more fruit pinch out the growing tips. Stake the plants if the branches need support when fruiting. Plants will grow to around 1m x 1m in size. Feed every two weeks during the fruit season. By continually picking fruit, it encourages the plant to produce more. Peppers are vunerable to aphids, whitefly and red spidermite. Ventilating growing areas will help. Plants like to be kept moist and it helps to mist foliage regularly.

Other uses

Sweet peppers are usually simply grown for food. However, some are grown as ornamentals. The hot chilli peppers can also be used medicinally.

Raw edible parts

The pepper (fruit) and flowers are edible raw. The colours of sweet peppers include red, yellow, orange, green, lavender, dark purple, chocolate/brown and white/vanilla. Some raw foodists recommend not eating the green coloured peppers raw because they are not ripe. The dried seed and seed oil is also edible. In some countries in Asia, the young leaves are used as a potherb. However, there is little evidence regarding the safety of eating these young leaves raw. The fruit can be dried for later use. Hang whole fruits in a well ventilated area and they will gradually shrivel and dry over several weeks. Alternatively, and for quickness, use a dehydrator. Dried peppers can be ground down to a powder and used as a flavouring or colouring. They are particularly good for raw soups.

An image of three sweet red peppers going through various stages of drying
Sweet red peppers going through various stages of drying. 

Red bell peppers are ripened green peppers and are the sweetest of all the peppers. However, there are some varieties that retain their green colour even when fully ripe. The taste of ripe peppers can also vary with growing conditions and post-harvest storage treatment; the sweetest fruit are allowed to ripen fully on the plant in full sunshine, while fruit harvested green and after-ripened in storage are less sweet.

1 comment:

  1. Are the seeds of the small red/yellow sweet peppers edible before drying?