Calabrian pepper – All about Heat, Flavor, Uses, Substitutes

What is a Calabrian pepper?

Calabrian peppers are mildly spicy chili peppers that come from a region in southern Italy, Calabria. These peppers are well-known for their vibrant red color, cone shape, and kick of heat. A staple ingredient in Italian cuisine, Calabrian peppers give many dishes a great flavor and spice. The Calabrian pepper is also called a “pepperoncino” in Italy.

Their flavor encompasses a mix of smoky, fruity, and spicy notes. Calabrian peppers are often incorporated into dishes such as pasta, soups, sauces, and pizzas, adding a distinct kick of heat that gives the dish an even greater depth. One of many versatile peppers, Calabrians are often found in various forms, including dried, crushed, or preserved.

Calabrian pepper
SHU25,000 - 40,000
Median SHU32,500
FlavorFruity, slightly sweet and smoky, and moderately spicy
SpeciesCapsicum annuum
OriginCalabria, Italy
UsesToppings for pizza, sandwiches, pasta dishes, etc.

Are Calabrian peppers spicy? How hot are they?

Calabrian pepper Scoville: 25,000 to 40,000 SHU

Calabrian peppers hold a distinct heat and strong flavor. While they range from 25,000 to 40,000 heat units on the Scoville Heat Scale, they typically have a moderate heat level. Therefore, they are perfect for those who want a pepper hotter than banana peppers but with less heat than a habanero.

Calabrian peppers’ spiciness is blended with their smoky and fruity tang, offering a rich depth of flavor and heat. As is the case with many peppers, their heat level may vary depending on the maturity of the peppers and their typical growing conditions. Younger Calabrian peppers tend to be less spicy.

For eaters who enjoy a kick of spice without it overwhelming a dish, Calabrian peppers are a favored choice. Since their heat is combined with a hearty flavor, these peppers enhance many meals on a unique level.


Calabrian pepper history

Where do Calabrian peppers come from?

Calabrian peppers are native to Calabria, a region in southern Italy. This region is well-known for its hot and spicy cuisine. Centuries old, these peppers are a staple in Calabrian dishes and are strongly tied to the region’s culinary culture and identity.

In Calabria, these peppers are used in various dishes, including pastas, pizzas, meats, and cheeses, each food receiving a distinctive fiery and fruity flavor. Over time, their popularity spread beyond Italy’s borders. Today, Calabrian peppers are utilized by chefs and food lovers all around the world because of the unique flavor they bring to cuisine. Of course, their importance in Calabrian and Italian cuisine demonstrates their deep historical significance.


What are Calabrian peppers good for? How to use them?

The Calabrian peppers hold a unique blend of heat and fruitiness, so adding their flavor to many dishes is well-loved. From Italian cuisine to global fusion dishes, these peppers add a fiery kick and flavor to increase the enjoyment of any meal.

A common but entirely appreciated way to use Calabrian chili peppers is to create a Calabrian chili paste. This paste, made out of ground Calabrian peppers, is the perfect addition to give marinades and sauces a spicy kick. It can even be used as a base for homemade pizzas. The distinct flavor of the peppers will carry through each dish, allowing you to control the amount of heat introduced.

Dried Calabrian chili peppers and Calabrian pepper powder are also popular options. Used properly, they can be added to pasta dishes, soups, or stews to provide extra spiciness. In addition, the powdered form is convenient to sprinkle over many dishes as a final topping spice, giving an extra flavor and color boost.

To enjoy a more pronounced flavor, crushed Calabrian chiles in oil are a wonderful option. They are typically used as a topping for pizzas or bruschetta. The oil can then be used for cooking or as a dip for bread, ensuring that the spice and flavor of the Calabrians are thoroughly enjoyed.

Pickled Calabrian chili and Calabrian peppers in vinegar are beloved for their tangy spiciness. Often used as a sandwich topping or added to salads for an extra kick, the pickled or marinated peppers preserve the peppers and absorb a slightly sour taste, complementing their natural spiciness.

Whether making a classic Italian pizza, creating a hearty pasta dish, or trying out new fusion recipes, Calabrian peppers can be your secret ingredient to amaze your guests with a depth of flavor and spice. Whatever the peppers’ form, whether paste, dried, crushed, pickled, or powdered, there is a perfect option to incorporate into your next home-cooked meal.


What do Calabrian peppers look like?

Calabrian peppers are distinct in appearance with a small, slightly tapered, and elongated shape. They range from about 1 to 2 inches in length. Their vibrant red, shiny skin shows when they are fully ripe for optimal enjoyment. The insides of these peppers hold small, spicy seeds.

How do Calabrian peppers taste?

The Calabrian peppers from southern Italy offer a rich, spicy, and hearty flavor. Their moderately spicy heat balanced with a fruity, smoky flavor is enjoyed by pepper lovers worldwide. On the Scoville scale, they range from 25,000 to 40,000 units, giving a moderate heat level that is significant but not overwhelmingly hot.

If eaten raw, the peppers certainly give a nice kick of heat with their crisp texture, though more often, they are utilized either cooked, pickled, or dried. Through one of those forms, their true flavor and heat shine, offering differing layers of fruit, smoke, or a spicy kick. Additionally, pickled Calabrian peppers have a tang to complement the heat levels, often enjoyed for their collision of flavors.


How to grow Calabrian pepper

How to grow Calabrian peppers?

Cultivating Calabrian peppers is enjoyed by many who love to garden. They can be planted directly in the garden soil or potted in containers. In order to grow them successfully, ensure the soil they live in drains well, water them regularly, and fertilize them consistently.

When to pick Calabrian peppers?

The perfect time to harvest Calabrian peppers will depend on how they grow and your preference for their flavor and heat. Typically, they are ready for harvest between 70 to 100 days. The ripening of these peppers will begin with a green color that transitions to red as they fully mature.

If picked early while still green in color, Calabrian peppers will offer a much less sweet flavor. Upon maturing and receiving their deep red color, the heat will balance out with a sweeter, fruitier flavor. Continual harvesting throughout the growing season will encourage the plants to produce more peppers.


Cooking/Recipe ideas for Calabrian peppers

Versatile in use, Calabrian peppers are incorporated into many recipes due to their heat and fruity flavor. The peppers can easily enhance many meals, whether enjoyed as a hot Calabrian pepper paste or as a more subtle flavor addition in pasta dishes.

Calabrian pepper paste is an essential way to use these peppers. With the paste made from a combination of puréed Calabrian chilies, garlic, olive oil, and salt, it is certain to give a kick of spice to your favorite cuisines, whether in pasta dishes, a spread on sandwiches, or incorporated into sauces.

Calabrian pepper chicken is one of the classic dishes to prepare for a hearty meal. The recipe uses either Calabrian pepper paste or Calabrian chiles in oil, combined with garlic, lemon juice, and herbs for marinating chicken. It will gain an earthy, spicy flavor to elevate any dish – often paired with a portion of pasta, salad, or grilled vegetables.

For a twist on a classic condiment, Calabrian chili pepper mayo is a great option. The chiles’ mild heat melds with the creaminess of mayo, offering a delicious, lightly spicy spread for sandwiches and burgers or as a dip for fries.

Another typical recipe is a Calabrian chili cream sauce, excellent in pasta dishes, grilled meats, and roasted vegetables. The sauce tastes delicious when topping these dishes, giving the meal a creamy, spicy, and slightly tangy dynamic.

Salad lovers might enjoy a Calabrian chili Caesar dressing. The Calabrian peppers give the classic Caesar dressing an extra spicy kick. It is tasty when drizzled over a salad or used as a dip for crudités.

For barbecue enthusiasts, Calabrian chili chimichurri is a unique alternative to a traditional chimichurri sauce. The earthy spiciness of the Calabrian chiles combines with herbs, vinegar, and oil, creating a unique blended marinade for grilled meats or as a topping for steak.

Calabrian chili glaze is an incredible addition to chicken wings. Toss the wings in this glaze for a new flavor and a hint of spice to complement the chicken for a perfect appetizer.

Seafood lovers can experiment with Calabrian chili fish recipes. The heat and subtle fruity flavor of the peppers will accentuate the flavor of the fish and is sure to delight.

Finally, classic Calabrian chili incorporated in pasta is well-loved. The peppers add a kick of heat to the pasta which can enhance and complement the sauce, giving an extra flavor to a traditional Italian pasta dish.

Where to find Calabrian pepper


Where can I buy Calabrian peppers?

Typically, Calabrian peppers are found in various forms at Italian grocery stores or specialty food stores. There is a chance that larger supermarkets may carry them in the international foods section.

Conveniently, many online platforms sell Calabrian peppers in their various forms, including pastes, pickled, dried, or powdered. This option may be best as they will be delivered directly to your door.

When selecting fresh Calabrian peppers, look for firm, deeply red-colored peppers that lack blemishes or signs of age. For dried peppers or paste, check the packaging for any signs of damage and ensure the product is within its expiration date for optimal flavor and quality.

Where can I buy Calabrian pepper plants?

Calabrian pepper plants may be found in nurseries or garden centers. However, due to their rarity, they may more likely be located online. Several online retailers specialize in selling chili plants of various types, including Calabrian peppers. Keep in mind that healthy plants will have beautiful green leaves, strong stems and will not wilt or show any signs of damage.

Where can I buy Calabrian pepper seeds?

Garden centers and online seed retailers often carry Calabrian pepper seeds. For those who enjoy gardening their peppers from the beginning, make sure to follow the instructions provided on the seed packet for successful growth. With good care and attention, you’ll soon grow your own Calabrian peppers to spice up your cuisine.


How do I store Calabrian peppers?

Proper storage is crucial to maintaining the freshness and flavor of Calabrian peppers. Fresh peppers should be kept in a sealed plastic bag or airtight container, then placed in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. This will keep them fresh and extend their life for up to a few weeks.

When preserved in oil or vinegar, Calabrian peppers can last for several months when refrigerated. However, these peppers should remain in their original jar or be transferred to another airtight container. Always ensure the lid is securely fastened to keep them fresh as long as possible.

Always check your raw peppers for signs of spoilage, such as mold, a softened or wrinkled texture, or any unusual odor. If your peppers have any of these signs, they should be discarded.

Can Calabrian pepper be frozen?

Freezing Calabrian peppers is a great option for utilizing them over an extended period of time. After cleaning them thoroughly, remove their stems and seeds, then arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer for a few hours until they are fully frozen. Then, transfer them to a freezer-safe bag or an airtight container and store them in the freezer for up to six months.


Health benefits of Calabrian pepper

What are the health benefits of Calabrian peppers?

Calabrian peppers, despite their heat, offer notable health benefits. They are low in calories and high in dietary fiber, which is known to support digestion. Also, they’re rich in vitamin C, which enhances immune function and aids in skin health and iron absorption. In addition, they are a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A (which promotes good eye health), B vitamins to support metabolism, and vital minerals, like potassium.

Additionally, these spicy peppers provide capsaicin which has been linked to metabolism boosts and reduction of inflammation. So, although their spiciness may deter some, their nutritional advantages will provide a beneficial addition to a well-balanced diet. For those who are sensitive to spicy foods, ensure they are used in moderation.


What is a good Calabrian pepper alternative?

While finding an exact substitute for the specific heat and fruity taste of Calabrian peppers might be challenging, several alternatives can bring similar flavors to your recipes.

Aleppo peppers are one option, known for their moderate heat and subtly sweet, cumin-like undertones. While their heat level is less intense than Calabrian peppers, they can still give a mild kick to dishes. In addition, the commonly dried and crushed form of Aleppo peppers can replace Calabrian pepper paste in many recipes, with only slight differences in taste.

Fresno peppers are an excellent alternative. Also holding a lower heat level than Calabrian peppers, they offer a similar smoky, slightly sweet taste. These are particularly useful in recipes that call for fresh peppers.

Lastly, if you seek the sweet-hot flavor of Calabrian peppers but without their extreme heat, think about a combination of sweet bell peppers and milder chili pepper, like jalapeño or serrano. This blending creates a more controllable heat level with the sweet undertones that make Calabrian peppers unique. The ideal substitute depends on the specific dish and individual heat preference.

RELATED: Read our in-depth guide about Calabrian pepper substitutes

How do you pronounce Calabrian pepper?

Calabrian peppers are pronounced as Cal-uh-bri-an pep-pers. Use strong, precise articulation.


FAQ about calabrian peppers

Are Calabrian peppers hot?

Yes, Calabrian peppers are moderately hot. Native to the southern Italian region of Calabria, these peppers are known for their spicy and robust yet slightly sweet flavor. The intensity of heat varies depending on how they are prepared. Generally, they fall between 25,000 to 40,000 on the Scoville Heat Units scale. For example, they are significantly hotter than jalapeño peppers or pepperoncinis.

What’s the difference between a Calabrian pepper and peppadew?

While both Calabrian peppers and peppadews originate from southern regions (Italy and South Africa, respectively), they differ significantly in flavor and use. Calabrian peppers are spicy and commonly used in hot sauces, pastes, or dried for seasoning. Peppadews, however, are sweet, mildly spicy, and often pickled, used in salads, or stuffed with cheese.

What’s the difference between a Calabrian pepper and a jalapeño?

Calabrian chiles and jalapeños vary in heat, taste, and origin. While Calabrian peppers originated in Calabria, Italy, jalapeños are from Mexico. Calabrian peppers have a moderate heat level (ranging from 25,000 to 40,000 Scoville units), while jalapeños are milder on that scale (ranging from 2,500 to 8,000). They also differ in taste, as Calabrian peppers are richer, fruitier, and smokier than jalapeños, which are more crispy and vegetal.

What’s the difference between a Calabrian chili and pepperoncini?

Calabrian chiles and pepperoncinis differ in heat, flavor, and size. Calabrian chilis, from Italy's southern region, have a spicier, fruitier flavor with a Scoville scale rating of 25,000 to 40,000. Pepperoncinis also originate from Italy and are popular in Greece too, though they are milder, sweeter, and crunchier. They are far less spicy, with a heat rating of only 100 to 500 Scoville Units. The size of these peppers also differs as pepperoncinis are longer than Calabrian peppers.

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