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sweet peppers

In the United States, the term "sweet pepper" encompasses a wide variety of mild peppers that, like the chile, belong to the Capsicum family. Both sweet and hot peppers are native to tropical areas of the Western Hemisphere and were brought back by Christopher Columbus to his homeland where they quickly found their way into Spanish cuisine. Sweet peppers can range in color from pale to dark green, from yellow to orange to red, and from purple to brown to black. Their color can be solid or variegated. Their usually juicy flesh can be thick or thin and the flavors can range from bland to sweet to bittersweet. The best known sweet peppers are the bell peppers, so-named for their rather bell-like shape. They have a mild, sweet flavor and crisp, exceedingly juicy flesh. When young, the majority of bell peppers are a rich, bright green, but there are also yellow, orange, purple, red and brown bell peppers. The red bells are simply vine-ripened green bell peppers that, because they've ripened longer, are very sweet. Bell peppers vary from 3½ to 5½ inches long and from 2½ to 4 inches wide. Green bell peppers are available all year long, while the red, orange, yellow, purple and brown varieties are found sporadically throughout the year. With their tops cut off and seeds removed, bell peppers are excellent for stuffing with a variety of fillings. The large, red, heart-shaped pimiento is another popular sweet pepper. Fresh pimientos are available in some specialty produce markets from late summer to fall. Canned or bottled pimientos are marketed year-round in halves, strips and small pieces. Pimientos are the familiar red stuffing found in green olives. Other sweet pepper varieties include the thin, curved, green bull's horn; the long, tapered which can range in color from yellow to red; and the sweet banana pepper, which is long, yellow and banana-shaped. Most sweet peppers are available year-round with a peak from July through September. Choose peppers that are firm, have a richly colored, shiny skin and that are heavy for their size. Avoid those that are limp, shriveled or that have soft or bruised spots. Store peppers in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Sweet peppers are used raw in salads and as part of a vegetable platter served with various dips. In cooking, they find their way into a variety of dishes and can be sautéed, baked, grilled, braised and steamed. Sweet peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C and contain fair amounts of vitamin A and small amounts of calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.