In spite of their name, peppers have nothing
to do with the spice pepper used as a seasoning, although early
explorers may have been mistaken in thinking the fruit of the shrubby
plant looked like the spice they were seeking. It is thanks to this
400-year-old mistake that the name "pepper" has stuck.
History : The journeys Christopher Columbus
and the conquistadors made were partly to find the spices Marco Polo had
found a hundred years earlier in the Far East. Instead of the Orient,
however, Columbus discovered the Americas, and instead of spices, he
found maize, potatoes and tomatoes. He would have noted, though, that
the American-Indians flavored their food with ground peppers, and since
it was hot, like pepper, perhaps wishful thinking colored his
objectivity. In any case, he returned with the new vegetables,
describing them as peppers and advertising them as more pungent than
those from Caucasus.
Varieties : Peppers and chilies are
both members of the capsicum family. To distinguish between them,
peppers are called sweet peppers, bell peppers and even bullnose peppers
and come in a variety of colors - red, green, yellow, white, orange and
a dark purple-black. The color of the pepper tells you something about
its flavor. Green peppers are the least mature and have a fresh "raw"
flavor. Red peppers are ripened green peppers and are distinctly
sweeter. Yellow/orange peppers taste more or less like red peppers,
although perhaps slightly less sweet and if you have a fine palate you
may be able to detect a difference. Black peppers have a similar flavor
to green peppers but when cooked are a bit disappointing as they turn
green; so if you buy them for their dramatic color, they are best used
In Greece and other parts of southern
Europe, longer, slimmer peppers are often available which have a more
pronounced sweet and pungent flavor than the bell-shaped peppers -
although this may be because they are locally picked and therefore
absolutely fresh. Whichever is the case, they are quite delicious.