Two often-used chilies go head-to-head…
Jalapeño peppers and pepperoncini are two of the more common chili peppers you’ll find at grocers, and they are each well-loved by spicy food fans around the world. But how similar are they really? Do they share similar heat profiles? Are they used in the same fashion? Can one substitute in for another in the kitchen We reveal the answers to all of these questions in another PepperScale Showdown.
Pepperoncini vs. Jalapeño: Which is spicier?
There’s a clear-cut heat champion here: Jalapeño peppers are much hotter than pepperoncini. That’s not because jalapeños are so hot comparatively on the pepper scale (they aren’t); it’s because pepperoncini are very mild. They come in at a mere 100 to 500 Scoville heat units on the Scoville scale, while jalapeños range from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU placing them in the low-end of medium heat chilies. That makes a pepperoncini pepper five to eighty times milder than a jalapeño, depending on the luck of the draw when comparing two peppers. Think of pepperoncini as a simmer while jalapeño has a pop, and you’ll have a better understanding of the heat difference. This is very eatable heat on both sides.
The look: How different do these two chilies appear?
They do share a similar look in many ways. Both chilies typically range two to three inches in length, but the pepperoncini can grow a little longer. Both age from green to red, too, but the similarities aren’t typically enough for identity confusion to occur between these peppers. Pepperoncini have a more curved and tapered look – akin to an Anaheim chili – while the jalapeño has a slightly curved, pod-like shape.
The taste: How different are the flavors of the pepperoncini and jalapeño?
Fresh pepperoncini have a light sweetness to them while fresh jalapeño has a more grassy, bright flavor. But this isn’t the best comparison. Pepperoncini aren’t typically found fresh at stores as they are primarily pickled for sale. You can find pickled jalapeños right next to those jars of pickled pepperoncini, but truly the vinegar and other ingredients used in the brine become the driving flavor factors. Pickled, their flavor differences are more about the heat they deliver rather than any nuance in the fresh chili.
How easy are they to find in grocery stores?
Both are easily found, but jalapeños have more aisle space than pepperoncini. You’ll find them in both fresh produce and the canned section, while pepperoncini are normally only available pickled.
Can you substitute the pepperoncini for the jalapeño, and vice versa?
They can be substituted, especially if you are looking for a milder pickled chili alternative than the jalapeño. Pickled pepperoncini have a delicious tang and mild simmer that’s very family friendly, whereas pickled jalapeño has that pop of spice that’s still very eatable, but definitely spicy. Even fresh – if you can find fresh pepperoncini – these chilies can be used as alternatives for each other, especially in fresh salads and salsas. There is a flavor difference – pepperoncini being sweeter – but the swap oftentimes works.
One area where substituting is more difficult is popper recipes. Pepperoncini have thin walls which will often tear during the stuffing or baking process. Jalapeño poppers work so well because jalapeños have thick walls that reduce tearing and hold their shape. Stuffed pepperoncini recipes are still common, but take care with the handling.
No doubt, these two chilies are among the most popular on the pepper scale. And while there are similarities, their differences in heat and availability make for two very different eating experiences. Comparing them pickled, pepperoncini is a delicious step down the pepper scale heat ladder to the jalapeño. And fresh, jalapeño reigns supreme due to its near universal availability. Still, when you can find pepperoncini fresh, take a chance on them as a jalapeño substitute. It’s not a typical substitution, but that pepperoncini sweetness, along with its mild simmer, make for some delicious eating.
Photo by: Nociveglia CC 2.