Critically thinking about capsicums

Vegetable platter with different coloured capsicums

I love cooking. I love finding new recipes and getting creative in the kitchen. Clearly, the internet algorithms have picked up on this because I’m often coming across foodie-type posts on social media. Some of these I’m happy see but there is one that seems to circulate again and again and it really gets on my nerves! 

Have you seen it? It is the one that informs you that the number of lobes on the bottom of a capsicum indicates the number of seeds inside, whether it is male or female and, consequently, which is sweeter and better for eating raw and which is more bitter and better for cooking. Sounds legitimate, right? We all learnt at school that some plants are male or female, so it’s not a huge stretch to consider that this may, in fact, have some impact on their taste and the number of seeds inside. You may have heard this idea passed on from your great-grandmother who was a whiz in the kitchen or perhaps seen it on a food blog, both of which would appear to hold decent credentials. I wonder though if you’ve ever questioned its accuracy?

In this age of free-flowing information and fake news, there lies an opportunity to cultivate critical thinking skills. Skills that are far more important for today’s education and children’s futures than just knowing the facts. So how might we go about using this popular ‘amazing kitchen hack’ to get children (and ourselves) thinking critically?

Of course, you could do an internet search or consult a gardening book but, in doing so, you would be ceding the opportunity to think and deduce information in a critical manner.

A fruit and veg break time at school could be a great time to start to investigate with children. Try tasting different-coloured capsicums without looking. Which ones taste sweeter or more bitter? Have a look at the number of lobes on a few capsicums and try another blind taste test. Count the seeds inside each one as well – is there any correlation between the number of seeds, the colour of the capsicum and its taste? When you’re next at the supermarket, inspect the capsicums on display – do they all have only three or four lobes? Are there any with five? Or only two?

Boy tasting capsicum with eyes closed
Boy tasting capsicum with eyes closed

You could continue your investigations in the garden, guiding the children with a discussion on how to grow capsicums and what plants need to grow and thrive. Using some of the seeds collected from the first investigation, children can plant seeds with varying growing conditions – different amounts of sunlight, water, soil types and fertiliser. They could even test other types of plant ‘food’ like juice or milk. If starting from seeds is too slow, your local garden centre may be able to supply some capsicum seedlings for your experiments. Results from all of these investigations so far will have brought up plenty of discussion and maybe cast doubt on the accuracy of the so-called hack.

From paddock to plate, there are multiple processes involved which will impact how a fruit or vegetable ends up tasting. From farming different capsicum varieties and in different conditions, right through to how they are transported, stored and their relative shelf life, many factors dictate their flavour and the number of lobes or seeds they have. With curiosity and critical thinking skills, there are numerous opportunities to investigate and discover with children together.

Article author: Lena Hammond
Head trainer

Lena is an environmental educator with extensive experience in education, advocating progressive teaching approaches and facilitating hands-on STEM workshops. Inquisitive by nature, Lena believes that STEM inquiry initiates lifelong curiosity.

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