Peppers or Capsicum

Peppers or Capsicum

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 salads.

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.

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