Pepperoncini, or the singular form pepperoncino, is the generic name for Italian hot chili peppers. Particularly, those from the Capsicum Annuum and Capsicum Frutescens species. The cultivars arrived in Italy in the early 16th century, following Christopher Columbus’ samples from the New World in 1492. And just like tomatoes, this pepper was first considered as a potential poison. Thus, initially, it was only for ornamental or decorative purposes. Soon, it became popular in Italian recipes, specifically for the lower classes. In 1568, Dr. Pietro Mattioli compared these peppers to those from Asia; he mentioned how hotter they are. By the late 16th century, Naples’ chef Antonio Latini published the earliest surviving cookbook that calls for the pepperoncini. The pepper was combined with other ingredients to create and serve a relish.
Although this pepper is native to Italy, there is also another kind of pepperoncini that is native to Greece. The Italian ones are more bitter and they tend to grow longer. On the other hand, the Greek ones are sweeter and shorter in size. Still, both start as green and they change to red as they mature. A typical Calabrian pepperoncino ranges from 15,000 to 30,000 Scoville units, while the sweet version from the Friggitello genus only ranges between 100 and 500 Scoville units. The latter looks very similar to banana pepper that even the stores have a hard time distinguishing which ones are which.
Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Genus: Capsicum and Friggitello
Species: Capsicum Annuum and Capsicum Friggitello
Binomial Name: Capsicum Annuum ‘Friggitello’
- Pepperoncini is 5 to 80 times milder than jalapeños.
- Pepperoncini goes by many names. First of all, they’re also spelled with a single “p” – peperoncino or peperoncini. Second, the Italians also call them “friggitello” or “friggitelli” due to the other species of pepperoncino. They also call it “peperone.” In America and other English-speaking countries, they refer to this pepper as Tuscan pepper, Greek pepper, or sweet Italian pepper.
- Despite its many names, this pepper should not be confused with pepperoni, which is an American cured meat.
Pepperoncino Buying Guide
- All pepperoncini start as green on the plant. They change to red as they mature. Thus, green pepperoncini are more bitter compared to the red ones. Plus, it’s most likely that you will find the green ones in stores.
- Check the size of the peppers and choose the ones that are 2-5 inches long and 1 inch wide.
- Check out the pepperoncini’s skin. Choose the ones that are thick-walled, firm, and glossy. Avoid the ones that have soft spots or shriveled.
- If possible, buy pepperoncini during its season. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, pepperoncini from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you might be able to taste them before you buy them.
Pepperoncino Production & Farming in Texas
Pepperoncini plants are tropical perennial plants. But, some grow them as annuals. They also thrive in warm climates like Texas. Here, the seeds are usually sowed indoors, 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost. For USDA zones 9 and above, however, you may start sowing during mid-summer. Transplant it outdoors 2 to 4 weeks after the last frost.
Although these plants may be grown in cooler temperatures, it’ll retard the germination process. So, maintain the ideal temperature for these plants, which is between 65 – 95ºF. Plus, they need full sun, with a minimum of 6 hours a day. Well-drained loamy or sandy soils are also preferred, with a pH level ranging from 6.0 to 7.0 and an adequate amount of compost or organic matter. With loamy soils, you’ll only have to water it once a week. However, sandy soil needs more water as it tends to drain quickly, though this type is better for peppers. Still, it’ll take around 62 to 75 days for the fruit to mature and be ready for harvest. Pepperoncini starts green, and they turn to red as they ripen. But, most of these peppers are harvested before they get to the pink or light red color as they start to lose their flavor at that stage. Thus, they should be pale yellowish-green when you pick them. It’s when they’re still young, firm, and flavorful. Use sharp shears when cutting.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA. However, this list doesn’t rank peppers. But, since they tested positive on pesticides that are known to be toxic to the brain, they’ve created their Dirty Dozen Plus™ list instead and included these peppers.
Between the years 2010 and 2012, the USDA found oxamyl, acephate, and chlorpyrifos in peppers. These toxic pesticides are banned from use on some crops. However, they’re still permitted to be used on chile peppers. Thus, it is better to buy organic peppers to reduce your pesticide consumption. If they’re unavailable or too expensive, we suggest you cook the conventional ones instead before eating them as heating these peppers can reduce the levels of pesticides. Or better yet, consider growing your own peppers organically.
Pepperoncini are home to Italy and Greece, but they’re also grown in other parts of the world like the U.S.A. Generally speaking, China remains to be the world’s largest producer of sweet peppers, accounting for more than 70% of the world production. Mexico and Indonesia rank next. Other major producers include Spain, Turkey, and the United States. California, Florida, and Georgia are the three largest producers of sweet peppers in the U.S.
Pepperoncini are commonly sold pickled or brined; these come in mason jars and they’re available all year round. At times, you can find fresh pepperoncini in the market. These are sold and priced by weight, either by the pound or kilogram. If you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these peppers in bushels, cartons, and even crates.
Pepperoncinis are sweet and peppery when eaten raw. But, they’re traditionally eaten as pickles, which gives them an additional tangy flavor. As a matter of fact, pickled pepperoncini are more popular than the fresh ones because it is where the pepper shines the most. They are commonly added as a garnish and/or topping on salads, antipasto, pizzas, sandwiches, and more.
All fresh peppers are best kept unwashed, in a sealable and airtight container lined with paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Properly stored, they will retain their freshness for 1-2 weeks. You may also marinate peppers in olive oil to extend its shelf life for up to 1 month. It’s also good to consider that peppers with thick skins last longer than the thin ones. And, whole peppers are more shelf-stable than the sliced ones. Meanwhile, you can also freeze fresh peppers. Spread them evenly, on a single layer in a sheet tray, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the peppers onto freezer-safe bags. Here, it’ll last for up to 6 months but take note that frozen peppers can only be used in cooking. It’s not meant to be eaten raw as it requires further heat to kill the bacteria. But, to further retain its crispness, you can half-cook the peppers in oil prior to freezing. Fully cooked pepperoncini usually last 3-5 days while pickled pepperoncini, opened or unopened, can last for 1 year in the fridge.
While you can cook pepperoncini, it is important to remember that exposing this pepper to heat destroys the nutrients they provide. Thus, if you want to get the highest level of nutrients, consume them raw. However, if you’re after the smoky flavor it can provide, you can grill or roast these peppers. It also holds its form so well when stuffed. You can use it in replacement of banana peppers and make deep-fried, stuffed pepperoncini.
Raw pepperoncino is composed of 92% water, 5% carbohydrates, >1% protein, and >1% fat by weight.
- Carbohydrates: Pepperoncini are naturally low in calories, which are primarily composed of water and carbohydrates. However, these carbohydrates are mostly sugars, such as fructose and glucose, since they’re the ones that give these peppers their sweet taste.
- Fiber: Pepperoncini contain a considerable amount of fiber. One serving of 30 g can provide 1 g of fiber, which is 4% of the RDI. Fiber makes you feel full faster without eating too much.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Pepperoncini are an excellent source of vitamins C and A. As a matter of fact, one medium serving gives 83% of RDI for vitamin C and 11% of RDI for vitamin A, making them a rich dietary source of this nutrient. On top of that, they’re also a good source of calcium and iron.
- Sodium: As pepperoncini are usually sold pickled or brined, it can contain high amounts of sodium.
- Pepperoncini promote weight loss because of their high water and adequate fiber content. Thus, it is very low in calories and it’ll help you feel more satisfied and full after eating.
- The high levels of vitamin A promotes healthy vision. It also helps in preventing cancer too.
- The high levels of vitamin C acts as an antioxidant. It helps in boosting immunity and repairing cells, which retards the human aging process. It can also reduce the development of gout significantly.
- The insoluble fiber from pepperoncini prevent constipation and indigestion.
- Although pepperoncini contain small amounts of capsaicin, the compound that gives chiles their heat, they’ve been proven to kill cancer cells efficiently. It also boosts our immune system, helping our bodies fight against inflammation. It also contributes to weight loss, as it speeds up our metabolism.
When Are Pepperoncini Peppers in Season in Texas?
To find out when Pepperoncini Peppers are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.