The mighty Pepperoncini may be small but packs in tons of flavor, health benefits, and more. Learn all about this delicious pepper, its nutritional benefits, how to make it, and find delicious pepperoncini recipes.
Whenever I get a pepperoncini in a restaurant salad or in the box of a certain brand of pizza (hey, sometimes the days are long and the pizza delivery person is fast) I feel like I’m getting a treat. I always save it for last, like some kind of vinegary, spicy palate cleanser. I like to eat the whole thing in just a bite or two, seeds and all. Even if my mouth is slightly on fire, I will eat them all and ignore the burning. I just can’t help myself. I love the tangy taste of pepperoncinis THAT much.
Though you can eat them raw, most people prefer them (and they are commonly found) pickled. They’re great to snack on right out of the jar, but also mix well in Greek salads, in crockpot dishes, on pizza, and just about any other way you could think of to use them. They are low in calories and fat and can help rev your metabolism with their little kick of heat. If you are wondering what else is so great about these hard-to-pronounce peppers, read on.
What Is a Pepperoncini?
Not quite a banana pepper, not quite a sweet bell pepper, and not really a hot chili pepper either, pepperoncinis are really a thing unto themselves. The name “pepperoncini” is an Italian name given to mean hot chili peppers in general, however mostly referencing peppers from the Capsicum annuum and Capsicum frutescens families.
The sweeter version of the pepperoncini is called the peperone in Italy. (Not to be confused with pepperoni, which is a whole other article.) Rumor has it Christopher Columbus brought them with him from the New World sometime in the early 16th century. Although the earliest recordings we have of when foods appeared in diets are commonly found in cookbooks, one can surmise these peppers appeared on dishes that were made for generations long before they were written into recipes.
What Kind of Pepper Is Used for Pepperoncini?
There are two main kinds of pepperoncini pepper types: Italian and Greek. They are slightly different in that the Italian kind grows longer and is more bitter than the shorter, sweeter Greek version. However, both can possess a mild heat to them and can taste bitter in their own ways.
Both peppers grow on a bushy plant and start out a light green color and then ripen to a red hue if not picked and eaten green. They both also become creased here and there along the skin as they grow.
What Is the Difference Between a Banana Pepper and a Pepperoncini?
These two peppers are often confused, and it’s easy to see why. They look so similar that sometimes even grocers have trouble telling them apart. They also nearly evenly place on the Scoville heat scale, with pepperoncinis rating only slightly higher on the heat index. One difference here though is that pepperoncinis always have some measure of heat — however slight — while banana peppers are the only hot peppers that can also have zero heat.
One way to tell the peppers apart, however, is to look at their skin. Pepperoncinis have a more wrinkled skin than the smoother banana pepper. The second way to tell them apart is that the banana pepper will have a more pointed tip, like a, well…banana while a pepperoncini end is more rounded. And finally, you can tell a difference when you cut into the peppers. A banana pepper will have thicker inner skin walls, while the pepperoncini skin will be thinner. Your average produce seller might frown upon you slicing their products before you buy, so maybe try to discern the difference using the first two options before you cut.
Can You Substitute Banana Peppers for Pepperoncini?
Sure you can! The pepperoncini will be hotter but both are quite tasty. Sometimes I even use both in one dish. But if you only have one kind in your pantry, I find that they are pretty much interchangeable.
Are Pepperoncinis Healthy?
I think of pepperoncinis as a middle-ground food. While not as healthy as, say, Brussels sprouts, they are not unhealthy like a bacon cheeseburger. I place them in the condiment category, right there with pickles, olives, or any other vegetable that arrives in a nice, tangy, mouth-watering brine. They have zero fat and low, low calories, and they provide amazing flavor, which is what you’re looking for when you’re eating a healthy diet.
The Nutritional Makeup of Pepperoncinis
According to the USDA, you can eat four pepperoncinis in a serving and receive in return 10 calories, 2 grams of carbs, and 1 gram of fat. The only other nutrient you’ll get in every jar of pepperoncinis is sodium, to the tune of 360 mg per serving. Considering the American Heart Association recommends you keep your intake of sodium to around 1,500 mg a day, this is the nutrient to watch. You don’t want to overdo it here with the salt intake by eating too many pepperoncinis. The great thing about this pickled pepper option, however, is a few go a long way, so you probably don’t have to worry about eating an entire jar in one sitting (though no one would blame you if you did, frankly.)
Some brands also boast iron, calcium, and vitamin C, so be sure to check your nutrition information on the label if you want these added benefits in your pepperoncinis.
The Health Benefits of Heat in Pepperoncinis
Do you like a little heat to your food? It’s easy to add with chili peppers. Whether you like the super hot jalapenos or the mild heat of a pepperoncini, both have their health benefits. All hot peppers owe their heat to the compound capsaicin. The more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper.
Studies have shown that capsaicin can extend your life. It can also help to reduce blood pressure, the formation of blood clots, and bring down your cholesterol levels. Now, don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you need to go eat all the spicy foods all the time, but a little spice here and there can add up to big benefits when made a part of your overall healthy diet.
Are Pepperoncinis Keto-Friendly?
If you are watching your carb intake because you are on a low-carb diet, such as the Keto diet, then you can add pepperoncinis to the “okay” list. Like anything else, just don’t over do it.
Do Pepperoncinis Have Carbs?
Pepperoncinis do have carbs, though very few. For every four peppers you eat, you are getting just 2 grams of carbs. That means you can add them to your low-carb diet (in moderation) as well.
How Spicy Is a Pepperoncini?
On the Scoville scale, pepperoncinis measure 100–500 units (the second from the lowest measure of heat of all the peppers on the scale). For comparison, a jalapeno measures 2,500–8,000 units and a habanero measures 100,000–350,000 units. So, yes, there is a little kick, but not a ton when you consider it only goes up from the habanero!
Are Pepperoncinis Considered a Vegetable?
I generally assumed pepperoncinis were a vegetable myself. When I looked this up, I discovered peppers are one of those pesky little foods that people generally refer to as a vegetable but are actually a fruit. There are lots of vegetables that are botanically considered fruits. I don’t really care what you consider it; personally I just love to eat them.
How to Choose and Store Pepperoncinis
If you are purchasing fresh pepperoncinis, look for ones that are firm, with a bright color and crisp texture. They should also lack wrinkles or brown spots. These indicate that the peppers are beginning to break down and won’t taste as good when pickled, cooked, or eaten raw. You can store dry, unwashed, fresh peppers in the fridge. You can bag them or leave them loose. Wash them only when you’re ready to eat them or they will start to decompose faster if left wet then put back in the fridge.
Since most of the pepperoncinis I purchase are pickled and jarred, I simply look for the sell-by date on the jar. Once I’ve opened the jar, I refrigerate the rest. Since they are preserved, they tend to last several months in the fridge after opening.
How Do You Make Pepperoncini Peppers?
Pickling your own pepperoncini peppers is a pleasure. (Say that three times fast!) Start with a pound or more of fresh pepperoncini peppers. Have on hand: water, sugar, vinegar, pickling salt, garlic, and any other herbs that you’d like to add in for flavor. Use the recipe below to make your own quick pickled pepperoncinis at home.
- 4 cups pepperoncini peppers
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/2 tbsp peppercorns
- Directions: Wash the peppers and carefully cut a slit down the side of the pepper. This will help the flavor to infuse the pepper. Bring the water, vinegar, and salt to a boil. While the mixtures comes to a boil, fill your jar(s) with the peppers, bay leaves, garlic, and peppercorns. Pour the boiling liquid over the peppers and cover. Let the jar cool slightly before refrigerating. Refrigerate for 3 days, although I can hardly ever wait that long.
If you know me at all, you know some of my favorite recipes are of the set-it-and-forget-it kind. Add to that the subcategory of set-it-and-forget-it-and-toss-in-pepperoncinis-because-um-delicious and you probably have the makings of one of my all-time favorite meals (besides tacos, of course). That being said you can add pepperoncinis to your favorite meat and cook them all day in a crockpot, cut them up for a salad or sandwich topping, or eat them straight out of the jar.
- Slow cooker: Let this five-star Pepperoncini Beef aka Drip Beef recipe cook all day in the crockpot. Add the luscious mixture to buns, on top of rice, or in a stew, or stuff in peppers, tomatoes, or directly into your mouth. I’ve also adapted this very same recipe for the Instant Pot, if you prefer. If you’d rather eat chicken, then you’re in luck because you can make this Pepperoncini Chicken the very same way as the beef.
- In a salad. If you ask me, pepperoncinis make this Grilled Chicken Greek Salad. Without their tangy, tart, and spicy flavor, the salad just isn’t the same. I like to make most of my salads at home where I can control the amount of cheese and overly caloric dressings. Although pepperoncinis seem to call for being placed atop Greek salads specifically, if I’m being honest, I think all salads can be elevated by this pickled pepper. Pepperoncinis would also make a welcome appearance on this Chopped Mediterranean Vegetable Salad as well.
- On a pizza. If you wish your salads were really made of pizza, wish no more. This Greek Salad Pizza Bread takes all the health benefits of salad and melds them with a crunchy, crispy, carby crust that we all crave now and then. Plus…pepperoncinis! Enjoy the perky pepper on this other pita pizza I adore: the Hummus and Veggie Pita Pizza.
- In a skillet. The mouth-watering combination of pork and peppers in this Easy Skillet Pork and Peppers dish is admittedly easy to gloss over. I did myself before I tried it and let me tell you I will ignore this dish no more. The flavor combinations are great alone or served over rice or noodles. This dish also works well with chicken.