What are banana peppers?
It comes as no surprise how the banana pepper got its name. Its long, curved shape and yellowish hue resemble the fruit for which it’s named. Banana peppers are mild chilies (0 to 500 Scoville heat units), with a tasty natural tang and sweetness to them, perfect for pickling or served raw on salads and sandwiches. Though while its shape and color help make banana peppers easier to recognize than many other chilies, there’s actually a lot of culinary confusion surrounding them. Both pepperoncini and the much hotter Hungarian wax pepper share similar looks, and there’s more mistaken identity than you may expect.
Table of Contents
- What are banana peppers?
- How hot are banana peppers?
- What do they look like?
- What do banana peppers taste like?
- Are banana peppers the same as pepperoncini or Hungarian wax peppers?
- Cooking with banana peppers
- What’s the best banana pepper substitute?
- Some of our favorite banana pepper recipes
- Growing banana peppers
- Where can you buy banana peppers?
- Must-read related posts
|Scoville heat units (SHU)||0 – 500|
|Median heat (SHU)||250|
|Jalapeño reference point||5 to 8,000 times milder|
|Size||2 to 3 inches, curved|
How hot are banana peppers?
There are few chilies that are milder. With a Scoville heat unit range from 0 to 500 SHU, they fall in line with pimento and pepperoncini peppers. In fact, they can even dip down all the way down to the zero heat of bell pepper. This makes banana peppers at least 5 times milder than a jalapeño, with the potential – like bell peppers – to be completely lapped in overall heat. Even compared to the mild poblano (1,000 to 1,500 SHU), the banana chili is at least two to three times milder, if not much more.
Given the potential to be zero heat, let’s also compare the median spiciness between this chili and a jalapeño. A banana pepper that fell into the middle of its potential heat range (250 SHU) would typically be about 21 times milder than a middle-range jalapeño (5,250 SHU).
Overall, this is a very eatable level of spiciness — in fact, many would consider it more of a noticeable warmth that a spicy kick. For those looking for an everyday chili to provide just a touch of zing, few perform as well or better than a banana pepper.
What do they look like?
In shape and color, the banana pepper does a solid impersonation of the popular tropical fruit. They grow to two to three inches in length, and their curved shape obviously resembles a banana. Their color starts green and matures typically to a greenish-yellow or full yellow, again like a banana. They can, though, take on orange or even red hues as they mature.
What do banana peppers taste like?
Like the Italian pepperoncini, banana peppers have a natural tang to them, but there’s a sweetness here, too. It’s a hard chili not to love the flavor of, especially when pickled.
And that’s where you’ll more often find banana peppers, in the pickled aisle of your local grocer. When pickled, that natural tang is brought to even more life with the tangy vinegar brine. The combo of this chilies natural flavor and the pickling juice is an incredible flavorful one-two punch. It’s one of the reasons (along with their very eatable heat) why pickled banana peppers are so loved by many and widely available in supermarkets.
Are banana peppers the same as pepperoncini or Hungarian wax peppers?
Here’s the core confusion with these three chilies (and yes, they are different). You’ll see it occur in online forums, restaurants, and even supermarkets: All three look a lot alike and they all come from the same species of chili (capsicum annuum), but they aren’t the same. Adding to the confusion, banana peppers are also known as yellow wax peppers and Hungarian wax peppers are sometimes referred to as hot banana peppers. Obviously, there’s a lot of mistaken identity here.
Pepperoncini peppers share a similar heat level (100 – 500 SHU), but are typically ever-so-slightly spicier and tangier. Hungarian wax peppers are playing on a different field altogether. They are medium heat chilies (5,000 to 10,000 SHU), which makes them normally hotter than jalapeños. They can reach serrano pepper level heat. They are also larger, often reaching six inches in length.
–> Learn More: Pepperoncini Vs. Banana Pepper
All three are terrific when pickled, and when chopped into rings they all make delicious sandwich, salad, or pizza toppings. When chopped, it’s nearly impossible to identify the difference between these three, and a lot of mislabeling occurs in restaurants and sandwich shops because of it. Even supermarkets that sell fresh versions of these chilies often mislabel the three. They sometimes also get jumbled together in the refrigerated aisle, so you may think you’re getting a banana pepper when in reality you picked up a small Hungarian wax.
This has led to a lot of heat level confusion. People often think they are spicier than they really are. The simple reason: They didn’t eat a banana pepper.
Cooking with banana peppers
As mentioned – fresh or pickled, these are terrific sandwich, salad, and pizza toppers. Stuffed banana peppers are also popular due to the relatively thick walls of this chili. It’s a great alternative to the bell or poblano for stuffed pepper dishes. If you’re looking for a milder alternative to a cheese-filled jalapeño popper, banana pepper poppers can be a nice alternative too. Deep-fried banana peppers are also very popular in the Southern United States. They make an excellent barbecue or fried chicken side.
And, like other chilies, banana peppers are excellent chopped for salsas and pureed for hot sauces. Of course, your end result will be very mild, but as an alternative to bell peppers in a salsa, they can add a tiny hint of heat.
–> Learn More: Eight Delicious Banana Pepper Uses
Other cooking tips:
- Don’t let “mild” fool you into handling without gloves. Even the mildest chilies, when handled carelessly, can give you chili burn discomfort. It’s especially common to not feel it on your fingers, but then rub your eye (a much more sensitive area) and feel the burn. Handling whole, uncut banana peppers won’t typically be a problem, but you should wear kitchen gloves when cutting into them.
- Know how to combat chili burn before handling any chili pepper. Read our post on treating chili burn. Hint – keep the milk at hand. We also recommend reading our post on alleviating chili burn from the eye area, since it’s a common occurrence with the sneaky capsaicin oils of mild chilies.
- If using pickled banana peppers, don’t overlook the “juice”. By “juice”, we mean the pickling brine the banana peppers are packed in. Over time that brine has taken on a little heat from those chilies, making it an excellent ingredient to experiment with in the kitchen. For some ideas, take a look at our fun pepperoncini juice uses post (both chilies are often pickled, so the idea is the same.)
What’s the best banana pepper substitute?
The most obvious option is pepperoncini peppers. They, too, are more commonly found pickled and are easy to pick up in most stores. Their heat level, too, is very similar. For more ideas, read our banana pepper substitutes post.
Some of our favorite banana pepper recipes
- Homemade Pickled Banana Peppers: Doing it yourself is a lot of fun and jars of these pickled treats don’t last long in any house.
- Pepperoncini Beef: Banana peppers can be an excellent alternative here, and the beef makes an incredible sandwich.
- Cabbage Salsa: Pickled pepperoncini is called for, but it works just as well with this chili.
Growing banana peppers
These are not a tricky chili to grow, and, with their their many use cases, you’ll find that you don’t have many left over at the end of a season. If you do, just get to pickling! For more information, jump into our banana pepper planting guide to get you started.
Where can you buy banana peppers?
Even with the pepperoncini/Hungarian wax confusion, these are some of the most common chilies you’ll find in stores. Some supermarkets carry them fresh in the produce section, and pickled banana peppers are very common in the condiment/topping section. Online you’ll find a wide variety of pickled banana pepper rings and, for those with a green thumb, seeds for the garden.
- Banana Pepper Seeds (100 Seeds)
- Mt. Olive Banana Pepper Rings
If you have a green thumb, growing this chili, whether in a garden or in a container, is relatively easy to do. And with its mild heat, you'll find there's always a use case, no matter how big the crop.
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A common way of enjoying this mild chili pepper is pickled. They are delicious on salads, sandwiches, and aside pork, chicken, and steak. Plus, they keep for a very long time when refrigerated.
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The banana pepper is so mild that it’s just a tick on the Scoville scale, but there’s a lot of flavor hear to explore. If you’re not an adventurous eater, this is an excellent bell pepper alternative to provide an ever-so-slight hint of heat. And kids and adults alike love them as pickled toppings. Keep a jar around to liven up the everyday sandwiches and salads you make.
Must-read related posts
- The Hot Pepper List: We profile over 150 chilies, considering heat, flavor, origin, and more. Plus link to the profiles for each.
- Our Hot Sauce Rankings: Looking for your next go-to hot sauce? We rank 90+ hot sauces (and growing) based on flavor, heat balance, usability, and collectibility.
- The Hottest Peppers In The World: The banana pepper is most certainly not one, but it is interesting to see the heights to which chilies reach in terms of spiciness!