Americans who hear British or Australian friends rave about “capsicums” and long to try the exotic fruits may be in for a disappointment. Capsicums are simply what people in the United States call sweet peppers. Botanically a fruit, capsicums are considered a vegetable, in the same manner as tomatoes. The colorful peppers are naturally sweet, yet low in fat and calories and high in antioxidants.
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Bell peppers are one common type of bell pepper; and types include sweet banana, bull horns and pimento. As a group, capsicums lack the fire power of hot peppers, instead adding crunch and sweetness to meals. Although green bell peppers are generally the same size as red, yellow, orange, brown and purple bell peppers, the green color indicates that they are simply younger versions -- mature, but not fully ripened -- of their colorful counterparts. Green capsicums have a more intense flavor, while the other colors are sweeter and milder; all are suitable for eating either fresh or cooked.
One cup of capsicums contains only 31 calories, about 6 g of carbohydrates and no protein or fat. The peppers provide 2 g of dietary fiber when eaten raw. Because raw capsicums have a higher water content than cooked varieties, cooked peppers contain more calories than equal amounts of fresh peppers.
Vitamins and Minerals
A 1-cup serving of red peppers provides 100 percent of your daily requirement of the antioxidant vitamins A and C -- in fact, it delivers at least twice the daily requirement of vitamin C. Capsicums also provides at least 5 percent of the suggested daily intake of vitamins B6 and K, as well as folate and manganese. Ripe peppers, with their telltale red, yellow and orange colors, are higher in the antioxidant vitamins than the younger green peppers. On the other hand, green peppers are higher in vitamin K.
Capsicums vs. Capsaicin
Confusingly, both sweet and hot peppers belong to the botanical genus Capsicum, but only sweet peppers bear the common name capsicum. Yet the genus name shows itself in the name of the extract capsaicin, which comes from chili peppers rather than sweet peppers. Capsaicin is what makes a hot pepper hot. While research indicates that capsaicin may have health benefits, you won’t gain its benefits by eating sweet peppers, as they don’t contain the compound.
Toss fresh chopped bell peppers into green salads, or roast them to add to antipasto dishes. Raw strips of capsicum also make healthy “dippers” for hummus and other spreads. Pureed roasted peppers also make creamy sauces for pasta and seafood. Stuffed red, green, yellow or purple peppers are classic one-meal dishes, baked with rice and with meat inserted into their cavities.