(Nov. 6) Just a few years ago, chefs rarely served up their dishes with red and yellow peppers. Today, the nutrient-packed vegetables are brightening up dishes from vegetable medleys to salads to hamburgers.

“The pepper industry is continuing to educate the consumer about how valuable the pepper is,” said John Burton, general manager of sales and the plant for Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif. “They’re a fantastic product. They’re versatile in the kitchen, add color to the plate, and they hold up well.”

Part of the reason for the rise in popularity stems from cooking shows on Food Network, he said. During these cooking shows, the celebrity chefs have prepared peppers in many different ways and used them in Mexican, Italian or American cuisine. Food magazines and specialty publications have also promoted red and yellow peppers, which have fueled the popularity of the peppers.

As more consumers are becoming introduced to these vegetables, they’re beginning to use them more when cooking at home, said Ronnie Van Bebber, salesman for Pacific Gold Farms, a growershipper in Watsonville, Calif.

“I’ve seen people use them in vegetable trays, and we roast them and put them on hamburgers or put them in a salad for color,” he said.

Ramping up

Jeff Taylor, a salesman for Prime Time International in Coachella, Calif., has also noticed that the foodservice industry and retailers are introducing red and yellow peppers into mainstream dishes.

“They’re pushing to sell more peppers to use for cooking,” he said. “Not too long ago, no one dreamed of cooking red peppers and serving them on crackers or using them in a vegetable medley along with zucchini. Now, if you go to a steak house, you’ll see them on your plate.”

Taylor has also seen an increase in the red and yellow pepper category because retailers are no longer viewing the vegetables as just a specialty item. Instead, they’re committing more shelf space to red and yellow peppers, he said.

Promoting nutritional value

Retailers are also helping to promote the nutritional value of red and yellow peppers with recipe cards and point-of-sale information at retail.

“There is about as much vitamin A and C in a red pepper as there is in an orange,” Taylor said.

Consumers are learning that red and yellow peppers are not only good to eat, but they’re also good for them, said Ronnie Van Bebber, salesman for Pacific Gold Farms, a grower and shipper in Watsonville, Calif.

As more consumers become aware of the nutritional value of peppers, growers are seeing increased demand, said John Burton, general manager of sales and the plant for Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif.

“The demand grows 5% to 10% per year,” said Burton, whose company has educated consumers in the past with literature and brochures. “As people find out that the quality of the bell pepper is high in nutrition and watch the food channel, they’re using peppers in bigger and better ways.”

Increasing demand

Van Bebber has noticed not only a trend toward increased consumption of peppers on the eastern and western U.S. coasts but nationwide.

“We’ve seen people using them in different parts of the country that never used them before,” Van Bebber said. “As a result, we’ve had better demand.”

While growers have had success selling all varieties of peppers, they have discovered that the red peppers are the most popular, followed by the yellow and then the green. Pacific Gold Farms sells about eight red peppers for every one yellow pepper.

“Red peppers are what’s popular right now,” Van Bebber said.