Calabrian Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are Calabrian peppers?

Calabrian peppers are a medium-hot chili (25,000 to 40,000 Scoville heat units) that are named after their region of origin, Calabria in Southern Italy. Its flavor is unique and a big part of this pepper’s charm: smoky, fruity, and a touch salty. It’s a popular chili for Italian cuisine, but its usage goes well beyond use in pastas and sauces. Plus, with its growing popularity, the Calabrian pepper is easier to find that many other chili types — sometimes even at your local supermarket — whether fresh, dried, canned, or in paste form.

Fresh Calabrian peppers at the market
Fresh Calabrian peppers at the market

Calabrian pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)25,000 to 40,000
Median heat (SHU)32,500
Jalapeño reference point3 to 16 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginItaly
UseCulinary
Size1 to 2 inches long, conical
FlavorSweet, Fruity, Smoky, Salty

How hot are Calabrian peppers?

If you can handle cayenne pepper, you can handle Calabrian chilies. They run from 25,000 to 40,000 Scoville heat units (SHU) which puts it squarely in the range of medium heat peppers. Cayenne peppers have a similar range, 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, so Calabrian chilies are often of equal heat or slightly milder than cayenne.

Compared to our jalapeño reference point (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), Calabrian peppers are three to sixteen times hotter than jalapeño peppers. It’s median heat is roughly six times hotter. It’s no doubt a step-up from a jalapeño, but Calabrian chilies are well within the culinary sweet spot for spiciness. Plus, they pack a ton more flavor than the more neutral tasting cayenne pepper.

Where do these chilies originate?

It’s all in the name. The Calabrian chili gets its name from its home turf: the region of Calabria in southern Italy. It’s the pepper of choice for the region and a big part of its delicious Italian cuisine. Calabria also hosts its own chili pepper festival where it celebrates this chili and many other popular varieties from the region.

Dried Calabrian chilies

What do they look like?

These are tiny pepper, growing ones to two inches in overall length. They have a conical shape, tapering to one end. As they mature on the vine, they take on a beautiful rich red color, and it’s at this point that they are typically harvested and eaten.

What do Calabrian peppers taste like?

Calabrian chilies have a deliciously complex flavor. It’s a big reason why they are so adored in their home country (and across the world.) They’re fruity in flavor with both an underlying smokiness and saltiness throughout. This is the kind of fruity-sweet flavor that you often need to travel much further up the pepper scale to find.

So what are some good uses for these chilies?

These chilies, with their complex flavor, can hold their own as a simple roasted pepper side with just a bit of olive oil. But, of course, its use cases go well beyond that.

They are obviously a go-to for authentic southern Italian cuisine. They can season everything from pizzas and pastas to sauces and bold dry rubs. If you’re looking for the real “taste of Italy”, you’ll want these peppers on your short list.

If you can handle the heat, they’re also delicious simply chopped or sliced for sandwiches, salads, and salsas. Dried Calabrian chilies are also terrific as the base for a homemade crushed red pepper that’s a bit more flavorful than the typical cayenne-based flakes you get from your local market. It’s an excellent spice for pizzas in particular.

Where can you buy Calabrian peppers?

They are growing in popularity, so Calabrian peppers are appearing in more and more supermarkets. But you may need to check multiple aisles to discover its whereabouts. While they’re a popular fresh chili in Italy (and other European countries) what the rest of the world typically stocks is jarred (whole or chopped). You’ll find these in the jarred vegetable aisles. You may find dried Calabrian chilies and chili paste as well. All can also be easily purchased online (Amazon).

You may find them fresh for sale at local farmers markets and chili farms. Growing them yourself is also an option, and, with their smaller pod size, they’re a good candidate for container gardening. Calabrian pepper seeds can be found at gardening stores and also online.


UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on June 6, 2021 to include new content. It was originally published on February 5, 2021.
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