7 Commonly Used Peppers in Italy: Essentials for Cooking


Although peppers did not originate in Italy, there are a number of peppers that one might consider to be “Italian” that we see commonly used in Italian cuisine.

There are seven commonly used chili peppers in Italian cuisine: Pimento, Cayenne, Friggitello, Italian Long Hots, Cubanelle, Hungarian wax peppers, and Calabrian Chili. These chilis land across the Scoville heat scale and while not all of them are hot, they are all delicious.

In this post, we’ll discuss these seven chili peppers and how they are used in Italian dishes. We will also take a look at how hot each of them is so that you can see which works best for whatever Italian dish you’re cooking up!

Photo of plastic crate full of red pimento peppers at a farmers market
Photo by Gaid Phitthayakormsilp

Pimento Peppers

  • Scoville Heat Units: These peppers register between 100 and 500 on the Scoville heat unit table to make them a reasonably mild-tasting pepper.
  • Origin:The Pimento pepper is originally from South America and was introduced to Spain after Columbus returned from the New World
  • Description: This cherry red pepper is medium-sized and oval-shaped so is a bit longer than it is wide.
  • Size: The Pimento pepper is a medium-sized pepper that measures 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cms) in length. The Pimento or cherry pepper is only about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cms) wide.
  • Taste: It has a sweet and succulent taste while quite aromatic.
  • Weight: They weigh about 6 to 8 ounces (170 to 226 grams) each.
  • Color: This pepper starts out green and ends up red when it is fully ripe.

How is the Pimento Pepper Commonly Used in Italian Cooking?

The Pimento pepper is often seen accompanying sweet sausages or added to mild, roasted vegetables to give these dishes a bit of a kick. It is also found in pimento cheese. But perhaps most commonly, Pimentos can also be dried and ground into Paprika to be used as seasoning in a variety of foods .

Cayenne

  • Scoville Heat Units: This type of pepper generally measures at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units. However, some of them measure at 20,000 units.
  • Origin: This pepper originated from Brazil but is mostly grown in New Mexico as well as some parts of Louisiana.
  • Description: The Cayenne pepper is mostly an elongated red pepper with a rippled skin and a tapered and bent tip.
  • Size: The Cayenne pepper is a relatively large-sized pepper measuring 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25 cms).
  • Taste: These peppers are quite hot and have a sweet, pungent taste but are mostly used in powdered form.
  • Weight: A Cayenne pepper weighs on average around 90 grams (3.17 ounces) when it is ripe.
  • Color: Cayenne peppers are red when ripe, but there are some yellow varieties available, although these are not very common.

How is the Cayenne Pepper Commonly Used in Italian Cooking?

The Cayenne pepper is commonly used in the preparation of stews, hot sauces, and casseroles. Additionally, you can use it in fish-based meals as well as many egg dishes such as omelets and devilled eggs. It’s also great for hot sauces and gives almost any meal some delicious spiciness.

Photo of a very full bowl of bright green Friggitello peppers placed on a wood table
Photo by Oxana Denezhkina

Friggitello

  • Scoville Heat Units: On the Scovill heat table, Friggitello peppers measure at 100 to 500 units, making them a mild type of pepper.
  • Origin: Although the Friggitello pepper is native to the southeastern region of Italy, it descends from peppers that were originally from Central and South America.
  • Description: These peppers come in various shapes, from strawberry-shaped to green pepper-shaped and elongated forms. They are mostly yellow when ripe.
  • Size: These peppers are harvested when they are around 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cms) long while still green.
  • Taste: The Friggitello pepper has a little bitter and mild taste to it with just a little heat.
  • Weight: The Friggitello pepper weighs around 2.65 ounces (75 grams) when they are ripe and mostly grown out.
  • Color: It is mostly yellow, but it might be a greenish-yellow to yellow color when pickled.

How is the Friggitello Pepper Commonly Used in Italian Cooking?

Friggitello peppers are often used for appetizers, where they are either stuffed or popped, but it also lends itself very well to sauteing. They are also great roasted with olives or fried with tomatoes, garlic, and basil. Friggitello peppers are also pickled to be used for a variety of platters and appetizers.

Italian Long Hots

  • Scoville Heat Units: This pepper measures 100 to 1,000 Scoville units, making it a mild pepper.
  • Origin: As the name suggests, these pepperoncini originate from Italy, but are descendants of peppers from Central and South America.
  • Description: The Italian Long Hot is an elongated shaped pepper with a tapered tip. The coat is generally shiny or waxy.
  • Size: The Italian Long Hot averages around 6 to 8 inches (17 to 20 cms) long.
  • Taste: Contrary to the name, The Italian Long Hot is actually quite mild and sweet.
  • Weight: They weigh only around 75 grams (2.65 ounces) when they are fully grown and ripe.
  • Color: This pepper is pale green and turns bright red when ripe.

How is the Italian Long Hot Commonly Used in Italian Cooking?

There are commonly used in many traditional Italian home-cooked meals, often roasted or grilled to add a tangy, spicy flavor to dishes.

Hungarian Wax Peppers

  • Scoville Heat Units: The Hungarian wax pepper measures anywhere from 1,000 to 15,000 units on the Scoville scale.
  • Origin: This pepper is a variety of chili peppers that was developed in Hungary.
  • Description: These wax peppers are long, thin and yellow and look very similar to the banana pepper.
  • Size: They are mostly 5 to 6 inches (12.7 to 15.2 cms) when they are ripe.
  • Taste: These peppers are sweet and not too hot.
  • Weight: These peppers weigh on average 2.64 ounces (75 grams).
  • Color: They start out yellow and can become orange then red in color when they mature.

How is the Hungarian Wax Pepper Commonly Used in Italian Cooking?

Hungarian wax peppers are mostly pickled whole or sliced in rings for pickled platter plates that are used in appetizers. They are commonly used in a variety of Italian dishes to add spice to dishes. They’re perfect for people who enjoy very spicy and hot food.

Cubanelle Peppers

  • Scoville Heat Units: The Cubanelle pepper measures roughly 1,000 Scoville Heat Units making them a mild pepper.
  • Origin: The Cubanelle pepper is exported from the Dominican Republic, where it was initially grown.
  • Description: It has a long, tapered shape with a narrow tip and has wrinkled skin.
  • Size: They measure around 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cms) when fully matured.
  • Taste: It has a sweet taste with a slight touch of heat to it.
  • Weight: They weigh anything from 2 to 2.8 ounces (60 to 80 grams) when fully grown.
  • Color: This pepper is yellow-green when not ripe yet but will turn bright red when it is ripe.

How is the Cubanelle Pepper Commonly Used in Italian Cooking?

They are known as Italian frying peppers and are used in salads and on pizza, and are sometimes stuffed with a savory filling. They can also be sauteed in olive oil then added to a variety of classic Italian dishes such as pasta and meat, to name only a few. Alternatively, Cubanelle peppers can be stuffed with rice and baked in the oven.

Photo of three jars of canned red Calabrian chili peppers placed on a table. The peppers are from Italy, denoted by the made in Italy label on the lid of the jars. In front of the jars of peppers are a few bunches of Calabrian chili peppers.
Photo by Maiemy

Calabrian Chili

  • Scoville Heat Units: The Calabrian chili measures between 25,000 and 40,000 SHU, making it reasonably hot.
  • Origin: The Calabrian chili is an original Italian specimen.
  • Description: It is a long, tapering chili with wrinkled skin when ripe.
  • Size: This chili is of average size around 6 inches (15 to 16 cms) long.
  • Taste: It has a salty but fruity taste and is relatively mild.
  • Weight: It has an average weight of 2.5 to 2.8 ounces (70 to 80 grams) when matured.
  • Color: This chili will turn bright red when it is ripe and matured.

How is the Calabrian Chili Commonly Used in Italian Cooking?

This is an authentic staple Italian item that is used in various foods, from pizza to pasta dishes and sauces. While it is often used in sandwiches and salads to improve the taste, it can also be used in breakfast dishes such as omelets and frittatas. Calabrian chilies also pair nicely with chocolates and cheeses for a light snack.

Closing Thoughts

Peppers are generously used in a wide variety of Italian cooking to provide you with that unique style of dishes. Alongside tomatoes, peppers are a staple in Italian cooking and can be found in many different dishes across the country.

Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

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