Deliciously sweet and very versatile…
Scoville heat units (SHU): **0
Jalapeño reference point: 2,500 to 8,000 times milder
Products and seeds: Carmen pepper on Amazon
The Carmen pepper is the epitome of why you shouldn’t judge a pepper by its shape. It looks like a jumbo hot pepper – with its curved horn-like shape and tapering body. But underneath these hot looks, there’s no heat to this Italian pepper. In fact, it’s a sweet pepper with big flavor and lots of use cases. Carmen peppers have a robust sweetness even when young on the vine, and their wide cavity and thicker walls make them very versatile in the kitchen – from stuffing to roasting and grilling. The Carmen pepper really does it all – which is why it’s an All-America Selections (AAS) winning plant.
How hot are Carmen Peppers?
It’s easy to see why people expect some heat from a Carmen pepper. They don’t look like a typical sweet pepper. Most people think “bell pepper” shape for sweet peppers, but the Carmen pepper (known as Corno di Toro in Italy, translating to “horn of the bull”) looks more like the big and spicy cowhorn pepper than the bell. There’s zero heat here for all the machismo of this pepper’s shape. So compared to our jalapeño reference point, the Carmen pepper is 2,500 to 8,000 times milder than a jalapeño.
What do Carmen peppers look like and taste like?
Carmen peppers grow to five to six inches long, with a wide body that tapers to a point. The pepper’s cavity is broad and the walls are decently thick (which gives them lots of culinary uses). They age from green to red, the typical pepper pattern for maturation while on the vine.
There’s a flavorful sweetness here – more than a red bell. And interestingly, this pepper starts green with a lot of that sweetness in place. Other sweet peppers (like the bell) tend to be more bright and grassy in their green state than sweet. Still, the Carmen pepper is typically best when allowed to mature to its full red state on the vine.
How can you use them?
If you’re looking for a unique bell pepper alternative, this is a serious contender. Like the bell, it’s very versatile, in the kitchen. Its wide cavity and relatively thick walls make it a great stuffing pepper for all sorts of recipes. Those thick walls, too, mean the Carmen pepper will hold up to roasting and grilling (and the sweetness of this pepper tastes great with smoky BBQ). It’s just as tasty chopped for salads, sliced for sandwiches, or diced for soups. They’re also delicious raw, so try them as a side for dips.
Salsas, though, may be our favorite option here, especially fruitier salsas. The sweetness of the Carmen pepper really complements fruit flavors, whether tropical fruit salsas or something more unique (blueberry salsas, apple-based salsas, etc…)
Where can you buy Carmen peppers?
You may find this pepper in grocery stores, though you’re more likely to come across them in farmer’s markets and Italian specialty shops. They are a very popular gardening pepper, so picking up Carmen pepper seeds is easy to do online, as well as in gardening centers. If you want a a step away from the normal bell pepper in the garden for something with a little more visual attitude, you can’t go wrong here. It’s a big beauty of a pepper with a ton of flavor.
Here’s a fun growing fact…
If you do decide to grow Carmen peppers, know that they tend to mature faster than other sweet pepper. They reach full maturity in 75 days (1 week to 2 weeks quicker than other sweet peppers), which for those who live in shorter growing cycle climates (too cold, not enough sun late in the summer) make the Carmen a particularly useful pepper in the garden.