Preserving the Powerful Pepper
3 - 5
Students preserve peppers to create their own probiotic food, observe properties of preserved foods and states of matter changes that occur, and discover the health benefits of probiotics. Grades 3-5
- Fresh bell pepper
- Spoiled bell pepper in clear, sealable bag
Activity 1: Perfectly Pickled
- Perfectly Pickled: Probiotics Pack a Punch, 1 per student
- Perfectly Pickled: Probiotics Pack a Punch Answer Key
Activity 2: Creating Pickled Bell Peppers
- Pepper Brine Recipes
- Prepared sweet and sour brines
- Creating Pickled Bell Peppers, 1 per student
- Disinfectant wipes, 1 per group
- Washed, seeded, and chopped mixed bell peppers, approximately 14 cups
- Clean and sterile pint jars and lids, 2 per group
- Canning funnel, 1 per group (optional)
- Permanent marker, 1 per group
- Masking tape, 4-inch strip per group
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
pathogen: a bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease
perishable: likely to spoil or decay
pickle: to preserve (food or other perishable item) in vinegar, brine, or a similar solution
preserve: to prepare (food) so that it can be kept for a long period of time
probiotics: live bacteria and/or yeast that are good for you
Did You Know? (Ag Facts)
- Peppers are fruits because they are produced from a flowering plant and contain seeds.
- Columbus and Spanish explorers named bell peppers while searching for peppercorn plants to make black pepper.
- Bell peppers are called by different names throughout the world. (US: bell pepper; England: pepper; Japan: papurika; Australia: capsicum)
- Red bell peppers have twice the vitamin C content as green bell peppers.
- Bell peppers are the only member of the pepper family to not contain capsaicin, the main compound that gives chilli peppers their heat.
- Green bell peppers are less sweet and almost bitter since they have not been able to fully ripen.
Background Agricultural Connections
This lesson is part of a three-lesson series for grades 3-5 designed to teach students about producing, preparing, and preserving agricultural commodities, while fostering an appreciation for how fruits and vegetables "start" in the field and "finish" at the table. Lessons include inquiry-based, real life challenges that engage students in a meaningful way, as they discover the story behind how their food is produced. Lessons in this series include:
One characteristic of produce is its perishability. Unless produce is eaten within a relatively short timeframe, it must be preserved. Once preserved, the nutritional value is maintained and the presence of pathogens can be avoided. Bell peppers are perishable and can last up to three weeks whole, but typically only a few days once cut.
Bell peppers are most often preserved by freezing or pickling. These preservation processes help maintain the nutritional value of the pepper for up to one year. Peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A. Vitamin C and vitamin A are antioxidants, which are substances that remove potentially damaging oxidizing agents (sometimes called free radicals) in a living organism—humans included. Eating one red bell pepper provides 100% of the vitamin C and 45% of the vitamin A the body needs each day. Studies suggest that nutrients found in red bell peppers reduce stress, lower inflamation, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers.
Eating preserved peppers that have been pickled offers additional health benefits. Pickled foods contain probiotics. During the pickling process, live microorganisms are introduced. These microorganisms are linked to numerous health benefits when consumed, including weight loss, improved digestion, enhanced immune function, better skin, and a reduced risk of many diseases.
For more information about bell peppers, refer to the Bell Pepper Commodity Fact Sheet.
Interest Approach - Engagement
- Write the words "perishable," "preserve," and "probiotic" across the board or chart paper.
- Show students a fresh bell pepper and a spoiled bell pepper in a clear, sealable bag. Pass around the peppers and discuss the differences in appearance, smell, and texture.
- As students make comments about the spoiled pepper, capture the words they use that relate to the word "perishable."
- Ask the students what preservation methods can be used to maintain the texture, flavor, and nutritional value of the pepper. Guide students towards the words: canned, dried, frozen, and pickled. Capture these words around the word "preserve."
- Ask the students to consider the origin of the word "probiotic." Explain that the Latin prefix "pro" means for and the Greek root "bio" means life. Capture these words around the word "probiotic."
- Explain to the students that they will discover the health benefits of probiotics as they create their own preserved probiotic food.
Activity 1: Perfectly Pickled
- Distribute the Perfectly Pickled: Probiotics Pack a Punch handout. Guide the students through a close reading of probiotics focusing on the essential question, "What are probiotics and how do they contribute to human health?"
- Allow 10-15 minutes for students to complete the text analysis. Collect student work and assess for completeness and accuracy.
Activity 2: Creating Pickled Bell Peppers
- For this activity, prepare the Pepper Brine Recipes in advance. Create one batch of each recipe. Place containers on a clean table top with cups or utensils for pouring into jars.
- Remind the students that it is important to make sure that the environment is clean and hands are washed before working with food. Review the classroom protocol for hand washing.
- Tell the students that they will be creating their own probiotic food, pickled pepper. They will be fermenting two jars of peppers, one sweet and one sour.
- Divide the students into groups of five. Distribute the Creating Pickled Bell Peppers lab handout. Read the instructions together, answer questions, and circulate around the room to guide students through the lab.
- Provide opportunities for the students to make daily observations of their pickled peppers for the following six days. After six days, sample the peppers and discuss the following questions:
- What changes did you observe in your pickled peppers over the course of six days?
- Based on your reading of Perfectly Pickled: Probiotics Pack a Punch, what key ingredients must be in the brine recipe to promote the growth of good bacteria?
- Why was it important to keep jars sealed and refrigerated during the process?
- How did the fermentation process change the flavor and texture of the bell peppers?
- Did this experiment cause a chemical or physical reaction? Use evidence to support your claim.
- Provide a variety of fresh and dried herbs for students to add to their pickled pepper recipe. Organize a class taste test and vote to determine the most flavorful recipe.
- Use bell peppers grown as part of a school gardening project.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Unless produce is eaten within a relatively short timeframe, it must be preserved. Once preserved, the nutritional value is maintained and the presence of pathogens can be avoided.
- Bell peppers are most often preserved by freezing or pickling.
- Pickled bell peppers contain probiotics that provide a boost in healthy bacteria and create a physical barrier against unfriendly bacteria.
To learn more about the healthy benefits of fermented food, choose episodes of The Fermentation Podcast to listen to together as a class.
Compare the cost of fresh bell peppers with value-added products like pickled peppers or roasted bell peppers. Calculate the percent increase per ounce for value added products.
Explore the articles about fermented foods and additional experiments at the Exploratorium website.
Find additional activities in the From Start-to-Finish: Producing, Preparing, & Preserving student workbook.
- Contributing Writers and Editors: Liz Baskins, Judy Culbertson, Mindy DeRohan, Len Fingerman, Hayley Lawson, Brenda Metzger, Judee Sani, Sue Squires
- Funding for this lesson was made possible by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 17-0275-022-SC. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.
Suggested Companion Resources
California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom
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