It’s hard to believe capsicums have only been available in New Zealand for around 40 years. These ancient fruits, originally from South and Central America, have been cultivated since 5000BC yet were only introduced to Kiwis in the 70s.
They may be new but man have we taken to their crisp and crunchy texture, their sweet and juicy flavour and their vibrant colours! Capsicum, as we call them, are available year-round in New Zealand but as you’d expect from a fruit hailing from such warm climes, are at their best in the summer months.
As the name would suggest, the capsicum comes from the Capsicum annuun species which includes many of the chillies from the Americas. Yet the capsicums we enjoy have no capsaicin, the chemical that produces a burning sensation in the mouth associated with chillies. In the US they are called bell peppers and in the UK red, green or yellow peppers (depending on their colour). Although even these are misleading as they are neither hot nor genetically a pepper! The original Spanish name was pimiento.
Are harvested before they are fully ripe. If left to ripen they will continue to first turn yellow or red. They have a slightly bitter flavour and are not as sweet as their red, yellow and orange counterparts.
Are fully ripe green capsicums and thus beautifully sweet—perfect for roasting or chargrilling. Because of their bright red colour, like tomatoes, they contain lycopene, an antioxidant pigment that is said to help prevent certain types of cancer. They are rich in carotenoid phytonutrients and vitamin C.
Orange And Yellow Capsicums
These bright capsicums are sweeter than the green version simply because they are riper. They have a fruity taste and are loaded with Vitamin A and C. Like red capsicums they roast up superbly, maintaining their lovely yellow bright colours whenever cooked. Raw they are just as gorgeous adding a natural crunch to your dishes.
If capsicum is considered a new vegetable in New Zealand, sweetpoints are cutting edge. Unlike the regular capsicum, a sweetpoint has an elongated shape,
much like a large chilli, but don’t let the shape fool you; their flavour is all about sweetness not heat. They have a softer, sometimes thinner skin and very few seeds inside. This makes them very easy to prepare whether dicing for a salad, julienning for a relish or chopping for a stir-fry.
Raw capsicums provide a juicy crunch to dishes; when cooked their sweetness will shine through.