Banana Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Pairings, And More

Banana peppers, also known as yellow wax peppers, are a type of pepper that belongs to the Capsicum annuum species. They are named for their elongated shape and bright yellow color that resembles a banana, although the color can change to red or orange as they mature. Banana peppers are typically mild, ranging from 0 to 500 Scoville Heat Units, making them less spicy than jalapeno peppers.

These peppers are versatile and can be used in a variety of culinary applications. They are commonly pickled and used as a topping on sandwiches, salads, and pizzas. Banana peppers can also be stuffed, grilled, or used in salsas and relishes. They add a burst of tangy and slightly sweet flavor to dishes, making them a favorite ingredient to enhance many dishes.

banana pepper
Banana peppers on the vine, taken on their yellowish-green hue

Banana pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)0 – 500
Median heat (SHU)250
Jalapeño reference point5 to 8,000 times milder
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginSouth America
UseCulinary
Size2 to 3 inches, curved
FlavorSweet, Tangy

How hot are banana peppers?

There are few chilies that are milder. With a Scoville heat unit range from 0 to 500 SHU, they fall in line with pimento and pepperoncini peppers. In fact, they can even dip down all the way down to the zero heat of bell pepper. This makes banana peppers at least 5 times milder than a jalapeño, with the potential – like bell peppers – to be completely lapped in overall heat. Even compared to the mild poblano (1,000 to 1,500 SHU), the banana chili is at least two to three times milder, if not much more.

–> Learn More: Banana Pepper Vs. Jalapeño—How Do They Compare?

Given the potential to be zero heat, let’s also compare the median spiciness between this chili and a jalapeño. A banana pepper that fell into the middle of its potential heat range (250 SHU) would typically be about 21 times milder than a middle-range jalapeño (5,250 SHU).

Overall, this is a very eatable level of spiciness—in fact, many would consider it more of a noticeable warmth that a spicy kick. For those looking for an everyday chili to provide just a touch of zing, few perform as well or better than a banana pepper.

What do they look like and taste like?

In shape and color, the banana pepper does a solid impersonation of the popular tropical fruit. They grow to two to three inches in length, and their curved shape obviously resembles a banana. Their color starts green and matures typically to a greenish-yellow or full yellow, again like a banana. They can, though, take on orange or even red hues as they mature.

Like the Italian pepperoncini, banana peppers have a natural tang to them, but there’s a sweetness here, too. It’s a hard chili not to love the flavor of, especially when pickled. And that’s where you’ll more often find banana peppers, in the pickled aisle of your local grocer.

When pickled, that natural tang is brought to even more life with the tangy vinegar brine. The combo of this chili’s natural flavor and the pickling juice is an incredibly flavorful one-two punch. It’s a reason (along with their very eatable heat) why pickled banana peppers are so loved by many and widely available in supermarkets.

Are banana peppers the same as pepperoncini or Hungarian wax peppers?

Here’s the core confusion with these three chilies (and yes, they are different.) You’ll see it occur in online forums, restaurants, and even supermarkets: All three look a lot alike and they all come from the same species of chili (capsicum annuum), but they aren’t the same. Adding to the confusion, banana peppers are also known as yellow wax peppers and Hungarian wax peppers are sometimes referred to as hot banana peppers. Obviously, there’s a lot of mistaken identity here.

Pepperoncini peppers share a similar heat level (100 – 500 SHU), but are ever-so-slightly spicier and tangier. Hungarian wax peppers are playing on a different field altogether. They are medium heat chilies (5,000 to 10,000 SHU), which makes them normally hotter than jalapeños. They can reach serrano pepper level heat. They are also larger, often reaching six inches in length.

–> Learn More: Pepperoncini Vs. Banana Pepper

All three are terrific when pickled, and when chopped into rings they all make delicious sandwich, salad, or pizza toppings. When chopped, it’s nearly impossible to identify the difference between these three, and a lot of mislabeling occurs in restaurants and sandwich shops because of it. Even supermarkets that sell fresh versions of these chilies often mislabel the three. They sometimes also get jumbled together in the refrigerated aisle, so you may think you’re getting a banana pepper when in reality you picked up a small Hungarian wax.

This has led to a lot of heat level confusion. People often think banana peppers are spicier than they really are. The simple reason: They didn’t eat a banana pepper.

PIckled Banana Peppers
Homemade pickled banana peppers, see our recipe link below

Cooking with banana peppers

Fresh or pickled, these are terrific sandwich, salad, and pizza toppers. Stuffed banana peppers are also popular due to the relatively thick walls of this chili. It’s a great alternative to the bell or poblano for stuffed pepper dishes. If you’re looking for a milder alternative to a cheese-filled jalapeño popper, banana pepper poppers can be a nice alternative too. Deep-fried banana peppers are also very popular in the Southern United States. They make an excellent barbecue or fried chicken side.

And, like other chilies, banana peppers are excellent chopped for salsas and pureed for hot sauces. Of course, your end result will be very mild, but as an alternative to bell peppers in a salsa, they can add a tiny hint of heat.

–> Learn More: Eight Delicious Banana Pepper Uses

Other cooking tips:

  • Don’t let “mild” fool you into handling without gloves. Even the mildest chilies, when handled carelessly, can give you chili burn discomfort. It’s especially common to not feel it on your fingers, but then rub your eye (a much more sensitive area) and feel the burn. Handling whole, uncut banana peppers won’t typically be a problem, but you should wear kitchen gloves when cutting into them.
  • Know how to combat chili burn before handling any chili pepper. Read our post on treating chili burn. Hint – keep the milk at hand. We also recommend reading our post on alleviating chili burn from the eye area, since it’s a common occurrence with the sneaky capsaicin oils of mild chilies.
  • If using pickled banana peppers, don’t overlook the “juice”. By “juice”, we mean the pickling brine the banana peppers are packed in. Over time that brine has taken on a little heat from those chilies, making it an excellent ingredient to experiment with in the kitchen. For some ideas, take a look at our fun pepperoncini juice uses post (both chilies are often pickled, so the idea is the same.)
  • The best banana pepper substitute is the pepperoncini. They, too, are more commonly found pickled and are easy to pick up in most stores. Their heat level, as mentioned, is very similar. For more ideas, read our banana pepper substitutes post.

Common banana pepper ingredient pairings

As these chilies are typically pickled, a lot of the best pairings will handle that sweet-tang from the brine well.

  • Garlic: Garlic’s robust and pungent flavor complements the tangy spiciness of banana peppers. It enhances the overall taste profile without overpowering the pepper’s unique flavor.
  • Olive Oil: Olive oil is often used in dishes with banana peppers. Its smooth, earthy flavor balances the pepper’s spiciness and can also help distribute the pepper’s flavor more evenly throughout the dish.
  • Tomatoes: The sweet and slightly acidic taste of tomatoes pairs well with the tangy flavor of banana peppers. They can help to mellow out the heat of the peppers while adding a nice contrasting sweetness.
  • Onions: Onions are a common pairing with banana peppers. Their sweet and slightly sharp flavor complements the tangy and spicy flavor of the peppers, adding depth to dishes.
  • Oregano: This herb is often used in Mediterranean cooking, where banana peppers are popular. Oregano’s slightly bitter and pungent flavor complements the tangy, spicy taste of banana peppers, enhancing their flavor.
  • Cheese: Cheese, particularly mozzarella or feta, is often paired with banana peppers in dishes like pizzas or stuffed peppers. The creamy, rich flavor of the cheese helps to balance out the spiciness of the peppers.
  • Vinegar: This is more for the fresh chilies as pickled banana peppers are already pickled in vinegar. The acidity of vinegar enhances the spiciness of the peppers and adds a tangy flavor that complements the natural taste of the peppers.
  • Basil: Basil’s sweet, peppery flavor pairs well with banana peppers. It can enhance the pepper’s spiciness while adding an extra layer of flavor to dishes.
  • Paprika: This spice has a sweet, smoky flavor that complements the tangy spiciness of banana peppers. It can help to enhance the pepper’s natural heat without overpowering it.
  • Salt: Salt is a basic seasoning that enhances the natural flavors of foods. In the case of banana peppers, it can help to bring out their tangy, spicy flavor.

Some of our favorite banana pepper recipes

  • Homemade Pickled Banana Peppers: Doing it yourself is a lot of fun and jars of these pickled treats don’t last long in any house.
  • Pepperoncini Beef: Banana peppers can be an excellent alternative here, and the beef makes an incredible sandwich.
  • Cabbage Salsa: Pickled pepperoncini is called for, but it works just as well with this chili.
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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 7, 2024 to include new content.
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Mark Wambach

I have a bunch of banana peppers. And, I have some recipes (yay!). What I want to know is about what parts you can eat. Suppose you cut off the stem. Then, you have the innards with the seeds attached, and the thick outer wall. Can you eat all of that? I’m going to cook banana pepper bolognese and also casserole. I am ok with the heat and want to include all that I can. Is everything but the stem edible? Thanks in advance for your help.

Mark Smith

How about a jalapeño/banana pepper mix for sliced pickled peppers?