Pepperoncini peppers are well-loved for Italian antipasto and on everything from sandwiches to pizzas. Most supermarkets carry pickled pepperoncini, and some specialty grocers even have this chili fresh. But what if you’re out of luck? Where can you turn on the pepper scale for similar heat and flavor? The good news is there’s a perfect pepperoncini substitute out there that’s nearly just as common.
Your best bet for heat and flavor: Banana peppers
Pepperoncini and banana peppers are both very mild chilies; in fact, they nearly share the same Scoville heat range (100 to 500 SHU for the pepperoncini vs. 0 to 500 for the banana pepper). They both also have a sweet and tangy flavor, with the pepperoncini being just a little tangier. They even look alike – so much so that supermarkets often confuse these two peppers while labeling. Best of all, banana peppers are widely available pickled and jarred, so your hunt won’t be long. If you want a near-perfect substitute for pepperoncini, it doesn’t get better than this.
Ready for a heat bump? Hungarian wax peppers
Is the reason you’re looking for a pepperoncini alternative because you want something comparable with a little more oomph? Then step up to the Hungarian wax. Its Scoville heat range is well beyond the mild likes of the pepperoncini. At 5,000 to 10,000 SHU it’s more akin to the heat of a spicier jalapeño, with the chance to surpass even that at the top end. As to taste, Hungarian wax peppers also have that sweet tang, so it’s a good flavor match.
They share a similar look as well, so everything lines up for a natural progression when you want something spicier…if you can find them. They aren’t as easy to find as pepperoncini in pickled form, but you are more likely to come across these chilies fresh since spicy food chefs love the heat the Hungarian wax brings to the table.
Want a similar heat in fresh form, with no care for flavor differences? Poblano pepper
And now for something completely different. We mention the poblano only for the fact that they are so easy to find fresh and it’s not a drastic heat bump. Poblanos range from 1,000 to 1,500 SHU. On paper that’s a big heat bump, but really you are talking about turning up the simmering spiciness only slightly. They are both still very mild peppers, and the poblano is carried in most any supermarket.
But – and it’s a big but – the flavors couldn’t be more different. Poblanos have a rich and earthy flavor with meatier walls. It’s nearly the exact opposite of the sweet, spicy, thin-walled pepperoncini. Poblanos don’t bring that zing, so they are only a good substitution if the heat, availability, and freshness trump the taste difference. For many, that’s a deal breaker, but if you’re in need for a similar simmer that’s likely available in the produce section – regardless of taste – it’s a decent fit.