Flavor Investigator: Bell Peppers

Growing up my mother always cut up for me in strips green peppers for my lunch. Looking around the classroom I quickly realized that this was not typical amongst the other students. To this day I still pack green peppers in my lunch when looking for a healthy veggie to snack on.  Bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) are a species of the plant genus Capsicum, the same genus which produces the spicy peppers. They are native to Mexico, Central America and norther South America with today’s cultivation extending to Europe, Africa and Asia. There is no general characteristic flavor for this vegetable as flavour is largely dependent on colour.

Bell Peppers, Colour and Flavour

There are four different colours of bell peppers you will find in the supermarket: green, red, orange and yellow. The two factors which determine what colour a bell pepper are the time of harvesting and the degree of ripening. The least ripened version of the pepper is green and will eventually go on to mature into red, orange and yellow peppers.

Green peppers are considered to be the mildest in flavour compared to the other colours. They are prematurely harvested and have an apparent bitter flavour with a crisp sweetness. Furthermore, they are described as having a green, grassy flavour. Next up is yellow peppers with maturation the bitterness in green peppers has subsided a bit. Additionally, the sweetness has increased with an almost fruity flavour developing in the background. Orange peppers are the least common of the peppers. They are said to be the sweetest or the varieties allowing them to be eaten raw. Finally, red peppers have the softest flavour because most of the peppers grassy flavour has dissipated.

Wine and Bell Peppers

Have you ever taken a sip of a newly aged wine and thrown into surprise because it slightly taste like green peppers? Well this could be a result of a group of compounds known as methoxypyrazines. This a group of savoury flavours to many is considered to taste like peppers and can be found in wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Merlort. The development pyrazines are believed to be a result of how vineyards are managed. Factors such as light, ripening temperature and grape maturity all play a role in the levels present in the vegetable.  

The Flavour Compounds Found in Bell Peppers

As illustrated above the colour of a bell pepper will affect its flavour but what chemical compounds are responsible for this? Well in green peppers a major aroma contributor is 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine also known as the bell pepper pyrazine is a pyrazine found is found in the members of the capsicum genus. The bell pepper pyrazine is responsible for providing peppers with their distinctive smell. Furthermore, the compound has an extremely low odour threshold making it one of the most intensive odour compounds on earth. These pyrazines are also responsible for providing the “green” flavour we associate with bell peppers, cucumbers and avocados.

Finally, as a pepper ripens it becomes sweeter and this is a result of (E)-2-hexenal and (E)-2-hexanol. (E)-2-hexenal is found in a variety of different fruits and vegetable as is described as being fresh, green, leafy and fruity. In contrast, (E)-2-hexanol is described as being wine-like, fruity and herbaceous.

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