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

Calabrian peppers are a variety of chili peppers that originate from the Calabria region in Southern Italy. Known for their fiery, fruity, and smoky flavor, they are a staple in Italian cuisine. These peppers are tiny, conical in shape, and typically sold red in color. They are often found dried or in jars with olive oil. The Calabrian pepper is solidly medium in spiciness, with a Scoville heat range from 25,000 to 40,000 Scoville heat units.

In Italian cooking, Calabrian peppers are used to add heat and depth to pasta, pizza, and meat dishes. They are also often used in sauces, stews, and marinades. Along with their popularity in Italy, Calabrian peppers are also now gaining recognition worldwide for their distinct taste and heat.

Whole Calabrian Chili Peppers, 10.2 oz.
Calabrian chilies are common sites in many Italian dishes. They are a perfect addition to pastas, pizzas, and more. And the flavor is delicious, smoky and sweet.

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Fresh Calabrian peppers at the market
Fresh Calabrian peppers at the market

Calabrian pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)25,000 to 40,000
Median heat (SHU)32,500
Jalapeño reference point3 to 16 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
Size1 to 2 inches long, conical
FlavorSweet, Fruity, Smoky, Salty

How hot are Calabrian peppers?

If you can handle cayenne pepper, you can handle Calabrian chilies. They run from 25,000 to 40,000 Scoville heat units (SHU) which puts it squarely in the range of medium heat peppers. Cayenne peppers have a similar range, 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, so Calabrian chilies are often of equal heat or slightly milder than cayenne.

Compared to our jalapeño reference point (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), Calabrian peppers are three to sixteen times hotter than jalapeño peppers. Its median heat is roughly six times hotter. It’s no doubt a step-up from a jalapeño, but Calabrian chilies are well within the culinary sweet spot for spiciness. Plus, they pack a ton more flavor than the more neutral tasting cayenne pepper.

Dried Calabrian chilies

What do they look like and taste like?

These are tiny pepper, growing ones to two inches in overall length. They have a conical shape, tapering to one end. As they mature on the vine, they take on a beautiful rich red color, and it’s at this point that they are typically harvested and eaten.

Calabrian chilies have a deliciously complex flavor. It’s a big reason why they are so adored in their home country of Italy (and across the world.) They’re fruity in flavor with an underlying smokiness and even a hint of saltiness to their taste. This is the kind of fruity-sweet flavor that you often need to travel much further up the Scoville scale to find.

Cooking with Calabrian peppers

These chilies, with their complex flavor, can hold their own as a simple roasted pepper side with just a bit of olive oil. But, of course, their use cases go well beyond that. They are obviously a go-to for authentic southern Italian cuisine. They can season everything from pizzas and pastas to sauces and bold dry rubs. If you’re looking for the real “taste of Italy”, you’ll want these peppers on your short list.

If you can handle the heat, they’re also delicious simply chopped or sliced for sandwiches, salads, and salsas. Dried Calabrian chilies are also terrific as the base for a homemade crushed red pepper that’s a bit more flavorful than the typical cayenne-based flakes you get from your local market. In this form, it’s an excellent spice for pizzas in particular.

More Tips:

  • Take care with how much you use. Don’t be fooled by Calabrian chilies being often found jarred, like you’d find mild banana peppers or pepperoncini. These chilies are much higher in heat. If you’re not used to the spiciness, less is more with these chilies. You can always add more to taste. Remember, the Calabrian is closer to a cayenne in spiciness than it is to a jalapeño.
  • Use caution in the handling. Because their heat can be deceiving, you can often get a surprising amount of chili burn while preparing these chilies. Milk is your best option to remove that burn as it breaks down the capsaicin. But there are other options as well. Learn more about treating chili burn before handling any hot pepper.
  • Whole Calabrian chilies (fresh or dried) are the most versatile option. You’ll find this chili in paste form, as well, but the uses cases are limited to places where chili pastes make sense. You can always create a paste from the whole chili. So if you’re going to stock one in your kitchen, choose whole.

Common Calabrian pepper ingredient pairings

Many popular Mediterranean herbs and spices are commonly paired with these chilies. The Calabrian’s complex flavor gives it a lot of versatility in the kitchen, so experiment with more.

  • Garlic: Garlic’s pungent flavor complements the heat of Calabrian chilies, adding depth and complexity. It also helps to balance out the spiciness and adds a savory touch.
  • Oregano: This herb is commonly used in Italian cooking and pairs well with Calabrian chilies. Its earthy, slightly bitter flavor complements the spicy, slightly smoky taste of these chilies.
  • Basil: Basil’s sweet and somewhat peppery flavor can help to balance the heat of Calabrian chilies. It also adds a fresh, aromatic element to dishes.
  • Tomatoes: The sweetness and acidity of tomatoes can help to balance and complement the heat of Calabrian chilies. They are often used together in pasta sauces and stews.
  • Olive Oil: Olive oil is a staple in Italian cooking and it pairs well with Calabrian chilies. It can help to mellow out the heat of the chilies and enhance their flavor.
  • Lemon: The acidity and freshness of lemon can help to cut through the heat of Calabrian chilies, providing a refreshing contrast.
  • Parsley: Parsley has a mild, slightly bitter flavor that can help to balance the heat of Calabrian chilies. It also adds a fresh, vibrant touch to dishes.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary’s piney, earthy flavor complements the smoky heat of Calabrian chilies. It’s often used in roasts and stews.
  • Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds have a sweet, licorice-like flavor that can balance the heat of Calabrian chilies. They are often used together in sausages and meat dishes.
  • Salt: Salt is essential for bringing out the flavors in food, including the heat and flavor of Calabrian chilies. It helps to enhance the Calabrian’s subtle salty flavor.
  • Red Wine Vinegar: The acidity of red wine vinegar can help to balance the heat of Calabrian chilies. It also adds a tangy flavor that complements the chilies’ smokiness.
  • Onions: Onions have a sweet, slightly sharp flavor that pairs well with the heat of Calabrian chilies. They can help to balance the chilies’ spiciness and add depth to dishes.

Recipes featuring Calabrian peppers

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Around the World

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 16, 2024 to include new content.
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angela mazzolino

do they have a different name. I cant seem to find them as calabrian peppers.