A mild Italian masterpiece…
Pepperoncini fast facts:
- Scoville heat units (SHU): 100 – 500 SHU
- Median heat (SHU): 300 SHU
- Origin: Italy
- Capsicum species: Annuum
- Jalapeño reference scale: 5 to 80 times milder
- Use: Culinary
- Size: 2 to 3 inches, tapered
- Flavor: Sweet, tangy
- Pepperoncini pop quiz: Test your knowledge!
What are pepperoncini?
You have likely eaten many pepperoncini peppers in your life, whether you’ve realized it or not. This mild pepper (barely above a bell pepper on the Scoville scale) has a sweet flavor when fresh. But it’s not fresh where its made its mark. In pickled form is where it shines. Pickled pepperoncini are common in (or on) many meals, including some American favorites like pizzas, salads, sub sandwiches, and Italian antipasto. It’s mild, tasty, and quite easy to find!
Where does this chili originate?
Pepperoncini hail from Europe, specifically Italy and Greece have deep ties to this chili. They go by many names. The most common variation is peperoncini (one less p), but the Italians also call it friggitello or a common general pepper name: peperone (not to be confused with the sausage pepperoni). In English, it’s often referred to as the Tuscan pepper, the golden Greek pepper, or the sweet Italian pepper.
How hot are pepperoncini peppers?
They barely nudge the pepper scale, right down there with the pimento pepper in terms of hotness. In fact, the pepperoncini (100 to 500 Scoville heat units) is much closer to a bell pepper than a jalapeño, which comes in on average 40 times hotter.
When comparing the pepperoncini across a wide breadth of the Scoville scale, you can see, in perspective, how mild this chili pepper really is. Versus the cayenne, habanero, or ghost pepper, it’s a mere drop in the bucket in terms of overall spiciness. This is about as family-friendly a chili as you can get.
Compared to its doppelganger of a cousin the banana pepper, the pepperoncini is very close in overall spiciness. The banana pepper ranges from 0 to 500 SHU while the pepperoncini has just a slightly higher floor (at 100 SHU) and shares the same ceiling in terms of heat.
To learn more about how the pepperoncini compares to some of these other popular chilies, read our PepperScale Showdowns. In them, we compare two peppers side by side to get a better understanding of the similarities and differences between them.
Let’s talk pepperoncini flavor – what do they taste like?
Fresh, they have a sweet peppery taste. But, as was mentioned, that’s not how these chilies are normally eaten. When pickled, it’s that pickling juice that’s the driving force of the flavor. It’s a delicious mix of sweet, tangy, and a very eatable tickle of heat. This is one pepper that the whole family can enjoy.
What do these chilies look like?
In terms of size, this is a medium-length (two to three inches) tapered pepper sort of like the Anaheim pepper in shape, and they certainly look a lot like a banana pepper too. They start a light green and ripen to a red color, though the majority of pickled pepperoncini are, of course, eaten when greenish-yellow. It’s then that they are the best overall flavor for pickling.
What is a good pepperoncini substitute?
We mentioned the banana pepper previously, and they are similar in many ways – sometimes eerily so. They share very comparable heat and looks. It, by far, makes the best alternative to pepperoncini, and you can often find pickled banana peppers right beside them in the grocery store aisles.
For additional substitutes, check out our pepperoncini substitutes post that covers quite a few in-depth.
What are some good uses for this pepper?
This is an Italian staple for antipasto, and they add flavor to all sorts of popular foods, from pizza and salads to sandwiches of all types. Really anywhere you could use a pickle (or a pickled banana pepper or jalapeño), you could opt for this chili pepper instead.
They are also very tasty raw and cooked into foods. You can certainly pick up these peppers fresh and use them as you would a jalapeño. They can be used in similar ways as they are pickled, and they can make a sweet, slightly spicy alternative to a bell pepper in recipes.
Enjoy! Some of our favorite pepperoncini recipes
Below are two of our favorite recipes for this chili. For more ideas – whether for this pepper or another – check out our spicy recipe index. It features hundreds of spicy recipes, from appetizers to full meals and desserts.
Pickled Banana Peppers/Pepperoncini: This is technically labeled on our site as a banana pepper recipe, but it works just as well here!
Pickled Pepperoncini Deviled Eggs: We use jalapeño in this specific recipe, but we also reference how good it is using pepperoncini as a mild alternative instead.
If you’ve got the gardening gene and eat a lot of these peppers, you can, of course, give growing these chilies a go. You could even pickle them yourself as a fun food hobby with our recipe above. See our pepperoncini planting guide for full information on growing these peppers. Of particular note is when to harvest pepperoncini. You want to harvest while in their yellow-greenish state (not full maturity) to get the full level of flavor.
How healthy is it?
Like all peppers, this chili is very nutritious. It’s a low-calorie food and rich in vitamins A and C. For a full nutritional breakdown, check out our full breakdown of pepperoncini nutrition.
Where can you buy pepperoncini peppers?
The good news is that most grocers will carry pickled pepperoncini. Look for them near the other pickled products in the canned section, not in the vegetable area. You’ll also find great deals on it online, especially if you are looking for bulk sizing or harder to find imported brands for a more Italian or Greek feel.
Some markets may carry this chili fresh, but typically you’ll need to venture to a specialty shop. And even at your local Italian grocer, they often will have whole pickled chilies and not the fresh varieties. Call around if you are searching.
Pepperoncini are one of those chili peppers that we all know much better than we think. You’ve likely tasted this chili and loved the sweet tang it gave to your meals. This is an easy chili to get into and very easy to find too. Have some in your refrigerator to add a small kick to your favorite meals.