Banana Pepper Vs. Jalapeño – How Do They Compare?

Banana peppers and jalapeños are two popular chilies, familiar to most North Americans. They are common sites in most supermarkets and are often used in similar ways. But how do they compare? Is one hotter than the other? Are their flavors similar? How do they differ in shape? Let’s dive into the similarities and differences between jalapeños and banana peppers.

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Which is hotter, banana peppers or jalapeños?

Banana peppers are by far the milder of these two peppers, even though jalapenos don’t exactly fall into the extra-hot category either. Neither are anywhere near the hottest peppers on the Scoville scale.

Banana peppers offer anywhere between 0 and 500 Scoville heat units (SHU) which places them firmly in the mild range of the scale. It’s a comparable level of spiciness to pepperoncini peppers (100 to 500 SHU, which it also looks a lot like) and shishito peppers (typically 50 to 200 SHU.)

Because the banana pepper is commonly confused with the hotter Hungarian wax pepper (many people mistakenly consider them the same pepper), they are often listed as having a higher Scoville rating than they truly have. Adding to the confusion, Hungarian wax peppers are often called “hot banana peppers.”

The jalapeño pepper is comparatively much hotter, measuring between 2,500 and 8,000 SHU. That puts the jalapeño, at minimum, five times hotter than a banana pepper, with the potential for a much wider spread.

But on the whole of the Scoville scale, jalapeño peppers are no more than medium heat (and a low-medium heat at that.) Other medium-heat chilies like the serrano peppers (10,000 to 23,000 SHU) and the cayenne pepper (30,000 to 50,000 SHU) pop quite a bit more. The mildest jalapeño peppers are closer to mild chilies like Anaheim peppers than they are to these. And they are nowhere close to extra-hots and super-hots of the scale, like habanero peppers, scotch bonnets, and ghost peppers.

Let’s compare these two chilies by how often they are searched globally. Both of these hot peppers are among the most popular chilies, but one is, of course, is the most well-known of them all. The term “jalapeno” is searched well over 600,000 times monthly on Google, while “banana pepper” is searched nearly 100,000 times per month.

How does each pepper taste?

Unripe banana peppers have a slight tanginess with a little sweetness that will intensify as they ripen. Banana peppers are typically eaten in this unripe state (while they are still yellow/green.)

Unripe green jalapeños have a vegetal, grassy taste, similar to the taste of green bell peppers. They can be slightly bitter. As they ripen to red, they take on more sweetness and lose some of that bitterness.

What does each look like?

Banana peppers measure between two and three inches long and are a distinctive pale yellow-green, which is where it gets its association with the banana fruit. They are wider towards the stem and narrow to a blunt point. Banana peppers can be deeply curved or straight.

Their walls appear to be almost translucent when the peppers are green, and they change to orange or red when they ripen. But, as mentioned, these chili peppers are most often eaten in their earlier yellow/green stage. That’s also when they are typically used for pickling.

Jalapeño peppers measure two and a half to three inches long and are more consistently bullet-shaped. They are smooth, usually straight, and have rounded tips. They are sometimes mistaken for Fresno chilies, as they do look quite a lot alike. But Fresnos, on close examination, are noticeably wider at their tops and have more of a point at the other end.

There are several different jalapeño colors, like yellow and purple jalapeños, but most ripen to red.

Where did each pepper originate?

Banana peppers are one of the ancient chili types and are believed to have been among the first peppers to make their way to Europe from the Americas. They would go on to be cultivated in parts of Europe — Hungary in particular since the peppers grow well in that country’s climate.

Jalapeños are named for the city of Jalapa — also spelled Xalapa — in Veracruz. Jalapeño peppers were once known as cuaresmeños chiles or chiles cuaresmeños. They were only available during one season until modern agriculture made it possible to cultivate them all year. The jalapeño name was supposedly given to them after a business in Jalapa began selling the pickled peppers.

Which is easier to find fresh?

Fresh banana peppers are common in grocery stores but, of course, not as common as fresh jalapeños. Careful, Hungarian wax peppers, which are considerably hotter, look quite a lot like banana peppers. And they are often confused at grocers, or they are listed as hot banana peppers compared to sweet banana peppers.

Fresh jalapeños are easy to find, and most grocery stores that offer fresh produce will carry jalapeños. Both peppers will almost always be sold green, but if you’ll find either red, it will be the jalapeño.

Which is used most often in commercial products?

Banana peppers get used in fewer commercial products than jalapeños. However, pickled banana peppers are a staple in nearly every supermarket.

Jalapeños are also sold pickled, but they are used in many other products besides pickles, including salsas, sauces, cheeses, and salad dressings. There are also quite a few snacks that use jalapeño powder to add enticing heat to your snacking.

How are each most often used?

Banana peppers are most widely known in their pickled form, and when pickled they make an excellent topper to pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. They add a tang and mild simmer that’s totally addictive.

But don’t ignore them as a roasting chili or popper pepper too. Due to their thicker walls, both jalapeños and banana peppers are excellent roasted or stuffed with cream cheese, meats, and more. Their heat is just above or below another common roasted chili: the poblano pepper. So, you have choices depending on your heat tolerance.

Jalapeño peppers are also delicious pickled and work just as well as a topper to pizzas, salads, and sandwiches. But the bright, grassy flavor of the fresh chili makes it an excellent addition to many other foods, too. They work well as a bell pepper substitute in everything from eggs to soups and stews and as an ingredient swap in many other dishes.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on February 11, 2023 to include new content.
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