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Flare Up the Spice with the Pepperoncini Peppers

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in food

The culinary use of chili peppers can never be understated, as these peppers are used commonly in every other cuisine.

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People in the 16th century actually went on long expeditions just to find some fine quality peppers. Spice trade used to be lucrative back in those days and nations battled tooth and claw to get their hands on them first. That is how surprisingly desirable peppers were, and they still are today. No recipe is complete without the use of pepper in some form or variety.

The immense variety of peppers has cast many people into confusion, as they all range in appearance, color, and spice level. It is important to understand peppers before you can choose the right one for a meal. Fresh peppers have an entirely different taste from their dried and crushed forms, as does their intensity.

This article is here to enlighten you on pepperoncini and account for the differences and importance of various types of chili peppers. But before actually discussing the types of peppers, we will have a quick review of simple storing methods. That way you can enjoy them no matter the season.

What Are Pepperoncini Peppers?

The word Pepperoncini is the English name for the Italian Pepperoncino, which is a hot chili pepper. The hot chili pepper is different from the sweet one, but but are sometimes referred to as pepperoni. It was during the late 1400s that pepperoncini peppers were first discovered and later became central to Italian cuisine.

Before that, it was considered a poisonous plant. The major reason for its popularity was it was cheap and convenient to buy for all classes. Where other spices were expensive and scarce, pepperoncini peppers were easily available to all.

Another important reason for pepperoncini popularity was their hotness. Unlike Chinese peppers, which are super intense. Even hotter than all other peppers from Asia. It was in 1964 that pepperoncini spice was first ever used in a cookbook recipe. And ever since then it has become a major part of every cookbook.

Pepperoncini is most popularly sold in its crushed form at the markets in Sicily. It is used in moderation in Italian cuisine in both the crushed and powdered form. Its flavor is still pretty intense, so it is added only in small amounts. I personally use it for tangy recipes.

Calabrian cuisine also makes good use of the pepperoncini pepper. It has lots of cultural significance. Peppers are hung from buildings and dried in the sunlight. They are available in fresh, whole, pickled, crushed, fried, paste and powdered varieties. The Scoville scale identifies the hotness of peppers, and it is rated about 150 to 300 on this scale.

Pepperoncini peppers are found in two main varieties, one is Greek and the other is Italian. Both the varieties differ in taste and shape. Italian pepper has big long big fruit and is more bitter than the shorter and sweeter Greek pepperoncini pepper. Don’t confuse it with pepperoni!

Both of them have mild hotness and a distinctly bitter taste.  They can appear in yellowish to light green in color but when fully ripened these peppers turn red. They all have wrinkled skin, which makes them distinct from the rest of the varieties of chili pepper.

Pepperoncini are termed as middle ground food because they are moderately healthy. I categorize them as a condiment like olives, pickles, and other tangy vegetables. Pepperoncini have no fats, and they are extremely low in calories.

This trait alone makes these peppers suitable for all sorts of diet plans. Since they are mildly tangy, they do not aggravate any health condition or acidity issues in the stomach. However, they have to be used in moderation in all the meals and can be best served as a garnish. Finely slice the peppers before adding to your food, to incorporate better taste.

According to the statistics, by eating four pepperoncini in a single serving a person can get only about 10 calories! And along with that only two grams of carbohydrates and one gram of fat. But the other major ingredient found in pepperoncini is sodium, about 360 milligrams per serving.

The American Heart Association recommends about 1500 mg of sodium per day. So, keep your intake of pepperoncini in moderation by having limited amounts of the pepper in a single serving. Pickled peppers contain more salt as well, so avoid pickling if you want to restrict your sodium intake.

Extra benefits of Pepperoncini Peppers:

Several studies have confirmed that capsaicin family can prolong life. Though there is no direct evidence except that people who eat a lot of pepperoncini show greater life expectancy on average. It can lessen levels of high blood pressure and reduce the formation of blood clots and cholesterol levels.

This does not mean that you should go for spicy food all the time. But a little spice can give great benefits in terms of health.

I came across with many people who are concerned about the carb content of these peppers, especially the ones who are on either low carb diet or cutting calories in some manner. Their concern is genuine if we consider the ongoing health problems. Pepperoncini contains quite a low amount of carbohydrates, so they are perfect to spice all the ketogenic meals.

As I have discussed earlier, pepperoncini are not as hot as other chili peppers like chipotle or jalapenos. They  measure up to 100 to 500 Scoville units at most. These scores are the second lowest in the pepper world.

It is nothing when compared to jalapeno which measures from 2500 to 8000 Scoville units, and the habanero peppers score at 100,000 to 350, 000 units. In that regard, pepperoncini peppers are perfect for people suffering from spice problems.

Some of the Best Ways to Store Peppers!

Pepper storage can instantly become a crisis when you are not aware of the best methods. It was for me until I became familiar with the techniques. There are lots of myths and bad advice which can steer you wrong too.  I chose the following four methods to store the peppers, as they are most feasible and suitable and to preserve the peppers well.

  • Make a Hot Sauce

It is the best way to store peppers long term. A single bottle of sauce can serve several servings. Preserving the pepper in the sauce also allows you to control the hotness as per your preference. It is up to you whether to puree the peppers with a liquid base or make a delicious sauce out of it by using other ingredients like onions, garlic, and tomatoes.

To store the peppers in sauce, I start by sautéing 1 cup of chopped onion, 4 garlic cloves and 2 mildly hot peppers (Anaheim is perfect) and 2 small hot peppers. Cook for a few minutes then add 1 lb. chopped tomatoes, 1 cup white vinegar, 3 teaspoons sugar and 2 teaspoons of salt.

Cook this mixture until the tomatoes start to blend in. Puree this sauce using a hand blender and allow it cool. Preserve the sauce in an airtight container in a cool and dry place. This sauce can be stored for 1 month in the refrigerator and up to six months in the freezer.

  • Pickle them!

Pickling is a centuries-old tradition to preserve peppers and several other vegetables. Pickled peppers can serve a number of culinary purposes, including the garnishing of salads, stuffing of sandwiches and topping of tacos. I use jalapenos peppers when I want a peck of pickled peppers, but you can use any other variety depending on the flavor you fancy.

Jalapenos, when pickled, reduced in hotness to quite an extent. You can slice the peppers and remove the seeds to reduce the hotness further as well. For a mild and sweet pickle, try banana peppers or the pepperoncini.

To pickle a pepper, you need to slice it so make sure to wear hand gloves. Add the peppers to a pot full of boiling water, let them sit for 2 minutes then instantly transfer them to an ice bath. After 2 minutes of the bath, transfer it to a mason jar. Boil vinegar and water in 1:1 ratio and season this solution with salt and sugar.

After 2 minutes of cooking pour the solution over the peppers and seal the lid of the jar. Refrigerate for a month, then use whenever needed. Pickled peppers can be stored at room temperature, but it is advised to keep it away from high temperatures for longer life. If you are concerned about the use of salt in the process, either reduce the amount to a minimum or switch to Celtic salt.

  • Red Pepper Flakes

Dried crushed pepper flakes can be nicely preserved and used at home. For that, the peppers have to be dehydrated at 200 degrees F for 12 hours or more.

This process can be carried out either in the oven, over a dehydrator plate or under direct sunlight, whichever method suits you the best. The air should be allowed to pass through the peppers while they dehydrate at low temperature.

Peppers should be cut uniformly for even drying.

Do not remove the seeds to retain the hotness of the peppers. Spread all the sliced peppers on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Bake these peppers at low temperature for 1 to 3 hours, keeping the door of the oven opened a bit to avoid cooking the peppers.

Allow the dried peppers to cool then transfer them to a Ziplock bag. Seal this bag and crush the peppers by smashing them using a rolling pin.

If you are not using the oven for dehydration, then prepare the peppers and spread them on a dehydrator plate. Let them dehydrate on the same low temperature for 3 hours or more until the peppers are completely dried. Be very careful while handling dried peppers, especially while crushing them.

I use an extra pair of gloves and a crush them only in a sealed ziplock bag. You can even store the flakes in the same bag and use them whenever needed. You can also use the traditional method of sunlight drying, but it takes more time and effort. So, it’s better to concentrate on the first two methods.

  • Char & Freeze

Peppers can also be frozen for better preservation of their taste and hotness. Freezing them can maintain their color and form. Peppers do not need to be blanched to freeze, but they have to be charred first. You can do that by grilling them on a gas grill or in the broiler. Charring is blackening of the skin. Right when the peppers are charred transfer them to a bowl for cooling.

Cover this bowl with a kitchen towel. When the skin of the peppers loosens, peel it down and freeze the peppers. Charred and frozen peppers are good to use in soups, tacos and egg scramble.

Each method of storage described here affects the taste of the peppers differently. Drying increases the hotness or, more accurately, concentrates it, rendering even a teaspoon of chili pepper spicy. On the other hand, pickling increases the sodium content of peppers and reduces their hotness while increasing their sweetness.

The impact of storage should be kept in mind, and the method should be selected depending on your desired results. I generally don’t pickle my peppers, but rather save them in the form of sauce and dried pepper flakes.

Both of these forms can be stored for a long duration which is just perfect for me. Charring and freezing are good when you want to enjoy a strong and sharp Smokey flavor in your peppers.

Pepper Town! – Know Your Peppers!

There are ceaseless varieties of chili peppers, but only the edible ones are known to all. The green, red, yellow and orange pepper all belong to one single family but greatly range in intensity, flavor, and texture. So, it is really important to realize which pepper is suitable for which cuisine and meal type.

A Chinese pepper can be best used for Asian food, but chipotle is the best for Mexican cuisine. Anaheim and banana peppers are good for stuffing and pickling whereas cayenne pepper is great to flavor curries, stews, and soups.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper belongs to the family of  Capsicum annuum. Yet it is not that hot and termed as a moderately hot chili pepper. Cayenne pepper powder is often used to flavor several dishes. These peppers are 10 to 25 cm long, skinny in appearance and have a bright red color with a curved tip. These peppers grow on bushes and their skin is rippled.

The hotness of these peppers is calculated to be 30, 00 to 50, 000 Scoville units. For culinary use, cayenne peppers are usually dried up and then ground to powder. They are either blended with seeds to make the powder hotter or ground without the seeds. Cayenne pepper can be used in egg dishes, meat curries, stews, hot sauce, cheese dishes, and casseroles.

Cayenne pepper is not only known for its good flavor, but has some impressive health benefits. The most amazing is its boosting of the metabolism. You might not have heard about diet-induced thermogenesis, but it will makes itself known when you eat cayenne peppers. These peppers can burn deposited fats and increase the metabolic rate of the body.

People with obesity find these peppers most effective, as they can reduce the feeling of hunger. It also lowers the blood pressure while aiding the digestive process. Cayenne pepper is also effective in treating cancers.

Chipotle Peppers

Chipotle is derived from the word Chipotle meaning smoked chili. It is most commonly used in Mexican cuisine as its taste nicely complements all the recipes from that region. For stews, chipotle is used in chipotle adobo sauce. Its heat is close to the Anaheim pepper or the jalapeno pepper. It is obtained by smoking jalapeno peppers.

That is why, besides spiciness, chipotle has a sharp smoky taste. It has thick flesh, and the peppers take a longer time to cook. They are used in stews and soup or along with lentils and beans.

The chipotle pepper is popularly used in making Mexican chili, or varieties of salsas. Ground chipotle is used in combination with other spices to make marinades for meat. Moreover, it is also added to hot sauce or barbecue sauce to add a Smokey taste. Due to this distinct taste, it is sometimes considered best to season BBQ dishes.

Anaheim Pepper

The name indicates that the pepper was discovered in Anaheim California. It was in early 20th century when Emilio Ortega first brought the pepper to California, and from there it got so popular it became altogether common in the United States. It is used in salsas, tacos, and beans.

It is grown originally in New Mexico and suited best to the regional taste and traditions. Anaheim peppers also therefore go by the name of New Mexico peppers. When dried, these peppers are sold as chile Seco del Norte. A fully ripened Anaheim pepper appears red in color.

Banana Peppers

The banana pepper is also known by the name of banana chili or yellow wax pepper, because of the color and appearance of this pepper. It is bright yellow in color and has a mildly hot taste. It changes color as it ripens up, from green to red to orange. It is best for pickling and stuffed pepper recipes.

It can be classified least hot among all the peppers shared here as it has a value of 0-500 Scoville units. The hotness and spice depend upon the age of the peppers. The riper the pepper, the sweeter it gets.

Banana peppers are known for their good nutritional value. A single pepper contains 92 percent water and 5 percent carbohydrates and contains almost a negligible amount of fat and protein. It is a rich source of fibers, Vitamin C and B6.

Banana pepper is often confused with the pepperoncini due to their similar appearance. At the grocery store, they almost look the same if you do not read the labels. Pepperoncini are slightly tangier than the banana pepper. It’s rating on Scoville heat is also slightly higher than banana pepper.

They both are yellowish in color.

Banana peppers are the only hot pepper which have low or zero heat. You can identify the difference between them by looking at the texture of the skin. Pepperoncini’s skin is more wrinkled than the banana pepper.

Smooth yellow peppers belong to the banana family. Another way to detect the difference is to check the tips of the peppers. Banana pepper has a more pointed tip whereas pepperoncini’s tip is round.

There is yet another difference which can be detected by slicing the peppers in half. The banana pepper has thick walls, whereas pepperoncini have a thin wall.

Slicing the pepper to discern the differences can be difficult, so count on the first two options to differentiate banana pepper vs. pepperoncini. Banana peppers can easily substitute pepperoncini if it’s not available. Try them in salads or pickles to replace pepperoncini.

Conclusion

The entire culinary world would crumble if there were no peppers. That is how deeply they are ingrained into our food culture. From Asian to Chinese, American, European and Mexican cuisine, every meal makes good use of peppers in one form or another. That is why I’ve tried to share everything I know about peppers and the many varieties which are popularly used.

Not every pepper is the same, and now you know that! Choose wisely to maintain the spiciness level of your meal, but try to enjoy them in all varieties, forms, and sizes. As for the main subject of this article, you can only make the best of a pepperoncini pepper when you are aware of all it brings to the table.

Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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