Particularly if you frequent farmers markets, you have had the opportunity to try different types of sweet peppers. If all you have ever cooked with is bell peppers, the world of sweet peppers will be a new culinary delight for you. Until I was 40 years old the only sweet pepper I was familiar with was a green bell. Then red bells showed up, followed by yellow bells. Then a whole new world of color and flavor among the sweet peppers began to open up as market gardeners offered a greater variety. Even places like K-Mart started selling seedlings of sweet Italian and sweet banana peppers.
Since the flavors and textures vary across the pepper family, I encourage you to try as many varieties as you can find. When you find peppers you especially like, make note. Give the farmer feedback. Even better, order seed to grow them on your own next season.
In trying out the pepper varieties, remember these points:
Some pepper varieties taste best when raw, others need to be roasted to release their full potential. Test any given variety both ways. Sweet Italians are so-so in their raw state. They are stunning when roasted. Sweet Banana is great either way. But there is a decided difference between the flavor of the raw and the roasted Sweet Banana.
The brightly colored bells have a much thicker flesh than the green bells. Of course, they take twice as long to grow. That is why they cost so much more. Look for them at the end of the growing season to come down in price when all those beauties seem to ripen at the same time. This thicker flesh makes them perfect for roasting: when they are finished cooking, there is still some pepper left and not just skin.
When you eat peppers of many different colors, know that you are consuming a broader variety of nutrients. Color tends to be an indicator of nutrient content.
Some sweet peppers have a little heat in them. Hungarian peppers are an example. Their heat cannot compare to a chili pepper. However, some folks are sensitive to any heat at all.
If you are buying at a farmers’ market, you can check with your vendor on this issue.
The more you explore and experiment, the more you will fall in love with the pepper family. I used to mark the real beginning of summer with the harvest of the first tomato. Now the tomato needs a pepper companion to make my heart sing.
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