Calabrian Chili Peppers: 7 Things to Know


The world has over 4,000 varieties of chili peppers, excluding those growing in the wild. Italy produces numerous types of chili peppers, which they refer to as peperoncino (hot) or peperone (sweet or Bell).

Calabrian chili peppers are a variety of the Capsicum annuum species grown in Italy. Fondly known as the red hot chili pepper, Calabrian chili peppers are a celebrity in the culinary world, with the annual Festival del Peperoncino organized in Diamante dedicated to their greatness.

Photo of Calabrian chili peppers lying on the table

What are Calabrian Chili Peppers?

To the uninitiated, Calabrian chili peppers may appear to be just another kind of red chili pepper. However, these little wonders pack a flavorful punch. The specific taste or flavor profile depends on the type of Calabrian chili pepper.

Calabrian chili peppers are a smoky and salty variant of Capsicum annuum species. Hot and spicy, Calabrian chili peppers are known for their taste, flavor, and texture. These peppers are a staple for Calabrian farmers and have been growing for half a millennium.  

Calabrian chili peppers have four variants:

  • Guglia, or spingoletta or spire
  • Sigaretta or cigarette
  • Naso di cane or dog’s nose
  • Ceraso, or Cerasella, Cerasiello, or cherry

Where do Calabrian Chili Peppers Come From?

Calabrian chili peppers are from the southern Italian region of Calabria. Calabrians were introduced to this chili pepper during the Age of Discovery, and it has been a favorite and cherished crop of farmers ever since.

Calabrian chili peppers did not originate in Italy, or Greece, or southern Europe, where the terms peperoncino and peperone are widely used to refer to all their chilis and Bell peppers. Christopher Columbus brought chili peppers to Europe, initially as a gift for the kings.

Calabria proved to be a haven for chili peppers. The warm but not excessively hot Mediterranean climate with relatively low humidity than the tropics became a paradise for the Calabrian chili peppers.

Most chili peppers need a moderately hot growing season. The daytime and nighttime temperatures should not fluctuate a lot. The soil temperature should not be scorching, which is typical in the tropics, not in Calabria.

The Mediterranean climate offers a moderate climate which is ideal for growing peppers.

What are the Characteristics of Calabrian Chili Peppers?

Each of the four Calabrian chili pepper variants has distinct sets of characteristics. Their size, weight, color, and hotness vary considerably depending on the quality, ripened state, and processing methods.

Size

  • Guglia or spire is a slightly curvy chili pepper. The size is usually around 1.6 to 2.4 inches (4 to 6 cms).
  • Sigaretta look like cigarettes, hence the name. It is slender and can grow as long as 4 inches (10 cms).
  • Naso di cane is conical like a dog’s nose. It is usually around 2.75 inches (7 cms) long when ripe. This variety has thick skin and looks fleshy but isn’t.
  • Ceraso look like cherries. This variant is usually round and looks meaty. The diameter is around 1 inch (approximately 2 cms).

Weight

The weight of Calabrian chili peppers varies depending on their shape, size, and state.

Like most chili peppers, when fresh and unprocessed, the weight per mature or ripe piece ranges from under 10 grams to almost 45 grams (0.35 oz to 1.6 oz). The weight of a sun-dried mature or ripe Calabrian chili pepper is approximately 1 gram (0.03 oz).

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

The weight of dried and ground Calabrian chili peppers follows the same 10:1 rule of proportion applicable to other varieties. Around 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of fresh, ripe, and whole Calabrian chili peppers make for about 1 pound (0.45 kg) of dried and ground powder.

Color

Calabrian chili peppers are almost always red when ripe. Some chilis may not turn into the typically bright and glamorous red from its unripe shades. Like other red chilis, you should opt for those particularly bright or glossy when mature and fresh.

The natural red color may lose its glossiness when Calabrian chili peppers are sun-dried or processed. Dried or dehydrated Calabrian chili peppers usually sport a dark red hue, whether packaged or bought from a farmers’ market.

Availability

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Calabrian chili peppers are not grown in the United States. Some companies may process and package the final products Stateside, but the raw peppers are sourced entirely from Italy or through other major trading ports in southern Europe.

Amazon.com has Calabrian chili peppers available in the following forms:

  • Whole, fresh but mixed in oil
  • Whole and dried
  • Chopped, fresh but preserved
  • Crushed or as a paste
  • Flakes
  • Sauce
  • Pate
  • Others

Tutto Calabria, a well-known brand of Calabrian chili peppers, makes almost every version there is. Here is a brief list of Tutto Calabria varieties from Amazon.com:

You can also check out the Sanniti Italian Calabrian Hot Long Chili Peppers on Amazon.com. The jar has whole long pieces of red chili pepper mixed with mostly natural preservatives.

Divina offers Chopped Calabrian Peppers on Amazon.com. These two are amongst the most affordable Calabrian chili peppers you will find on Amazon.

Last but not least, there is Trader Joe’s Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce made of fermented, crushed Calabrian chili peppers.

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

What do Calabrian Chili Peppers Taste Like?

Calabrian chili peppers are spicy and smoky. The flavor profile is multifaceted as they are somewhat fruity, a little salty, and moderately hot. Also, the taste and texture depend on the ripeness, how the chili peppers are processed, and the form or recipe you try.

Like most chili peppers, the Calabrian varieties must be adequately ripe for producing and containing an optimum amount of capsaicin. Unripe or poorly grown Calabrian chilis don’t have sufficient capsaicin, the active neuropeptide responsible for all the perceived hotness and spice.

Like all chili peppers, immature Calabrian chili peppers are usually not as hot or spicy as their mature, fully ripened counterparts.

Some varieties like the cherry and the Naso di cane are often stuffed with other foods in different recipes. Such preparations require removing everything but the skin of the chili pepper. Naturally, what remains of the Calabrian chili peppers will not be as hot or spicy as if you ate them whole.

How Spicy are Calabrian Chili Peppers?

Calabrian chili peppers are several times spicier than Jalapeños but not as hot as Habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers. All four common Calabrian chili peppers

are as hot and spicy as Cayenne peppers and Guntur chili peppers.

Here is how the Calabrian chili pepper stacks up on the Scoville heat scale against some other popular chili peppers:

Chili PepperScoville Heat Units
Poblano, Bell, Banana peppers0 – 1,000
Jalapeño, Espelette, Anaheim peppers1,000 – 10,000
Aleppo, Cheongyang, Serrano peppers10,000 – 25,000
Calabrian, Cayenne, Guntur chili peppers25,000 – 50,000
Bird’s eye, Byadagi, Malagueta peppers50,000 – 100,000
Habanero and scotch bonnet100,000 – 1 million
Ghost, Naga, Trinidad Moruga scorpion1 million – 2 million
Carolina Reaper> 2 million

Those who are uncomfortable with the spice of a Jalapeño should exercise caution when eating a Calabrian pepper.

However, those familiar with Ghost peppers (Bhut jolokia) and Naga morich would be more than comfortable enjoying Calabrian chilis.

What to Use Calabrian Chili Peppers On?

You can use Calabrian chili peppers in or on innumerable delicacies, such as pizzas, pasta, sausages, salads, roasted or grilled vegetables, meats, savory and gourmet dishes, and even fried foods. Choose an appropriate form of Calabrian chili peppers based on your needs.

You can sprinkle some Calabrian chili peppers mixed with olive oil on pasta or a few flakes on a pizza or integrate fresh or dried, whole, or crushed, pasted, or sauced Calabrian chili peppers in any recipe that you deem fit.

Calabrian chili peppers or their various forms are not restricted to Italian cuisine. You can use relevant forms in American, Mexican, Cuban, Spanish, Greek, Indian, Korean, and Thai dishes.

You don’t have to buy processed Calabrian chili peppers if you think a manufacturer’s recipe or list of ingredients does not serve or complement your culinary preferences. You can get fresh or dried, whole, or crushed Calabrian chili peppers and make your special pastes, sauces, pickles, marinades, garnishes, and preserves.

Here is a step-by-step video guide to make the paste known as Bomba Calabrese by one of my favorite youtube chefs – Chef John:

What are the Best Substitutes for Calabrian Chili Peppers?

The best substitutes for Calabrian chili peppers are Cayenne pepper and Guntur chili. Consider Bird’s eye, Byadagi, and Malagueta peppers if you want a bit more heat, or scale down to Aleppo, Cheongyang, and Serrano peppers if you want something milder.

It’s important to note that while you can substitute the hotness and spiciness of Calabrian chili peppers, the flavor profile is difficult to emulate with most alternatives. The fruity and salty flavor, the exact aroma, and the texture of Calabrian chili peppers are distinct.

Final Thoughts

Calabrian chili peppers are versatile, delicious red chili peppers that can add extra flavor and a spicy kick to any meal you add them to. They’re medium to hot in spice and have a unique salty and smoky flavor that is bound to delight.

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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