Also called: peppers, sweet peppers, red pepper, green pepper, red capsicum, green capsicum, bell pepper, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, banana capsicum, Capsicum annuum L. (botanical name)
What is a capsicum?
The rainbow of colours in which capsicum appears in Australia hints at the versatility of this vegetable – stuff it with herbs, meat and rice, roast and use the smoky flesh in dips or simply eat it raw as a crudité, a traditional French appetiser. First prepared by herdsman as a hearty meal, the delicious Hungarian goulash wouldn’t be the same without the addition of capsicum.
The Capsicum species originated in South and Central America, and Christopher Columbus brought it back to Europe when he returned from the Americas. Records show that capsicum has been used in cooking since 6000 BC. In Australia, capsicum became popular thanks to European and Asian immigrants who use it extensively.
In Australia, capsicums are sold by colour. The main type of capsicum is shaped like a bell and has four lobes, although long, tapered capsicums are becoming more popular. These are closely related to hot chillies but are larger and taste sweet.
Red capsicums are sweeter than green capsicums, but they soften faster. Orange capsicums are sweet and crisp while the yellow capsicums have a mild flavour. When you cut a purple/black capsicum the inside is coloured green.
Why capsicum is good to eat
- Capsicums are an excellent source of vitamin A and C (red contain more than green capsicums).
- They are also a good source of dietary fibre, vitamin E, B6 and folate.
- The sweetness of capsicums is due to their natural sugars (green capsicums have less sugar than red capsicums).
- Energy – 100 g of green capsicum supplies 90 kJ (105 kJ from red capsicum).
How are they grown and harvested?
Capsicums grow on a flowering bush that can reach up to 60 or 80 cm. Capsicum plants prefer stable, warm climates and are usually planted as seedlings.
The seedlings take from 11 to 13 weeks to grow into mature plants with the capsicums ready to harvest. Red capsicums start out green but if left on the bush to ripen they eventually turn red. Other types of capsicum turn yellow, orange, brown or purple/black in colour.
Take care when you harvest capsicums. Rough treatment can injure the plant as the stems are very brittle and can snap off easily.
When choosing capsicums you should select ones with firm, glossy skins. Avoid those with shrivelled skins, soft spots or other visible damage.
How to store and keep capsicum
Store capsicums in the crisper section of your fridge. Ordinary plastic bags cause capsicums to sweat, so only use fridge storage bags. Capsicum should be used within five days.
How to use
To help remove the blackened skin of roasted peppers, place in a plastic bag and allow them to cool for 10 minutes.
For a Mediterranean flavour – remove the stem and stuff red and green capsicums with a mixture of rice, tomato, pine nuts and fresh herbs and bake until soft and tender.
For a fresh, tangy salsa to accompany grilled fish – mix chopped roasted red and yellow peppers, a small chilli, coriander leaf, red onion and dress with red wine vinegar oil and lime.
Make a delicious savoury dip by pureeing roasted peppers, garlic, capers and fresh herbs with oil and lemon juice.
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