Hungarian Wax Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Pairings, And More

Hungarian wax peppers, also known as hot yellow wax peppers or hot banana peppers, are a variety of chili pepper with a culinary history well rooted in Hungary. They are medium-sized peppers, usually about four to five inches long, and have a conical shape. Their skin is waxy (providing a light sheen) and smooth, and they range in color from pale yellow to bright yellow when they are mature. However, they will turn orange or red if allowed to ripen fully.

In terms of spiciness, Hungarian wax peppers are within the same range of jalapeño peppers, ranking between 5,000 and 10,000 on the Scoville scale, which places it in the medium heat range. They have a slightly sweet and tangy taste that, along with its very eatable heat, is very versatile in the kitchen. Not only are they commonly used in traditional Hungarian cuisine like goulash, they also are excellent general use chilies (both fresh and pickled) for salads, sandwiches, and pizzas.

Hungarian wax pepper
Hungarian wax peppers, note the likeness to bananas (and banana peppers)

Hungarian wax pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)5,000 – 10,000
Median heat (SHU)7,500
Jalapeño reference pointEqual heat to 4 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginHungary
UseCulinary
SizeApproximately 4 to 5 inches long, slightly curved
FlavorSweet, Tangy

How hot are Hungarian wax peppers?

The Hungarian wax pepper typically falls between 5,000 and 10,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), which actually overlaps part of the typical heat rating of our reference point, the jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU). There’s a good chance that you’ll be very comfortable with this chili’s heat if you are used to the jalapeño, but know there’s a chance for more. Its median heat (7,500 SHU) falls well ahead of the jalapeño’s median (5,250 SHU), so it’ll normally have spiciness at the upper-end of a jalapeño’s potential heat. Typically, it doesn’t reach serrano pepper territory typically (10,000 to 23,000 SHU), but it can come close.

Let’s also compare the Hungarian wax’s heat with that of the banana pepper, a chili that it’s often confused with. For good reason, they share a similar look and the Hungarian wax is often called a hot banana pepper. But the heat is significantly different. Banana peppers are very mild, 0 to 500 SHU, closer to a no heat bell pepper than a jalapeño. Comparing their median heat levels, Hungarian wax peppers are thirty times hotter than a banana pepper. So the confusion can lead to a significant eating surprise.

What do they look like and taste like?

The Hungarian wax couldn’t have a more fitting name. And we say that not only due to these chilies having a rich history as an ingredient in Hungarian cuisine, but also because it has a waxy texture to its skin.

Hungarian wax peppers change color as they ripen, from yellow to orange in hue, followed by red at full ripening. These are larger chilies, ranging from four to five inches long. And while they don’t have the girth of poblano pepper, they’re no super-slim cayenne pepper either. They’ve got a plumper pepper shape, actually quite like a banana. Hence, the confusion between it and banana peppers with a similar plump banana-like shape.

These chilies have a sweet and tangy flavor that’s quite appealing. In fact, the flavor is also quite like a banana pepper, but with more spiciness. So, if the banana pepper is too mild for you but you love the flavor, look to the Hungarian wax as your next step up the Scoville scale.

Cooking with Hungarian wax peppers

Hungarian wax peppers are a staple ingredient in numerous traditional Hungarian dishes, contributing to the rich, robust flavors that characterize the cuisine. They are commonly used in Hungarian goulash, a hearty stew of meat and vegetables, where they lend a subtle heat and distinctive flavor.

The peppers are also often pickled and served as a condiment alongside dishes like Lecso, a vegetable stew with tomatoes and paprika, or stuffed with cream cheese and served as a popular appetizer. Additionally, they are used in making spicy sausages and in the preparation of traditional Hungarian soups.

Beyond its traditional uses, this is a versatile chili that you’ll find many uses for in the kitchen due to its very eatable heat and tasty sweet flavor. In salads, you’ll find these chilies are a perfect add when sliced into rings, whether fresh or pickled. They actually make a decent roasting and stuffing pepper, too. If you want a bit more heat in your chile rellenos, you could opt for a Hungarian wax pepper instead of a poblano. You can also work this pepper into marinades, hot sauces, sandwiches, stews, and stir-fry, just to name a few options.

A stuffed Hungarian wax pepper
A stuffed Hungarian wax pepper, served with tomatoes (a common ingredient pairing)

More cooking tips

  • Don’t let the waxiness of the skin turn you away. It doesn’t impact the chili’s flavor and most don’t notice it, even when raw.
  • Any recipe calling for a banana pepper, pepperoncini, or jalapeño is likely a good fit for a Hungarian wax. All of these chilies are similar enough to the wax pepper that substitutions (either way) work. Read more on Hungarian wax substitutes here.
  • Hungarian wax peppers make excellent popper chilies. They are longer, but their cavity is wide enough (and their skin is thick enough) to be stuffed just like a jalapeño. The flavor differs from the grassy, bright flavor of jalapeño, so Hungarian wax poppers could make for an excellent popper twist.
  • Don’t overlook the spiciness. We can’t stress this enough. Your eyes may see “mild banana pepper” when it sees a Hungarian wax, but these chilies typically hit harder than a jalapeño. Use gloves when cutting them to protect yourself from chili burn.
  • Learn how to combat chili burn prior to cooking with Hungarian wax peppers. Just like a jalapeño, you can get a significant burning sensation if you handle Hungarian wax chilies without gloves. Read our post on combating chili burn for your best possible solutions. Milk sits at the top of the list, but you have other options.

Common Hungarian wax pepper ingredient pairings

  • Garlic: Garlic pairs well with this chili as it complements the pepper’s heat level and adds a savory depth of flavor. This combination is commonly used in stir-fries, stews, and roasted pepper dishes.
  • Paprika: Given that paprika is a spice made from ground peppers, it naturally pairs well with Hungarian wax peppers. The mild, sweet flavor of paprika can balance the heat of the peppers, and this pairing is often seen in traditional Hungarian dishes like goulash. Opt for Hungarian paprikas for the most authentic pairing.
  • Cumin: The earthy, slightly bitter flavor of cumin complements the heat of the Hungarian wax pepper. This combination is often used in chili, stews, and other hearty dishes.
  • Oregano: Oregano’s robust, slightly bitter flavor matches well with the sweet tang of this chili. It’s a common pairing in pasta sauces, pizza toppings, and Mediterranean dishes.
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a frequent pairing with Hungarian wax peppers. The sweetness of tomatoes can help to balance the heat of the peppers. Plus, the chili’s natural sweetness pairs very well with the vegetable.
  • Cheese: Cheese, particularly creamy ones like mozzarella or cream cheese, helps to mellow the heat of Hungarian wax peppers. This pairing is popular in stuffed pepper recipes.
  • Olive Oil: Olive oil’s rich, fruity flavor enhances the taste of these (and many other) peppers. This pairing is common in Mediterranean cooking, particularly in roasted or grilled dishes.
  • Pork: The rich, fatty flavors of pork are a good counterbalance to the heat of Hungarian wax peppers. They’re often used together in hearty dishes like stews and casseroles.
  • Basil: The sweet, aromatic flavor of basil can complement the heat of Hungarian wax peppers, adding a fresh note to dishes. This pairing is often seen in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Onions: Onions, with their pungent flavor and sweetness when cooked, pair well with the heat of Hungarian wax peppers. This combination is a staple in many cuisines and forms the base for many sauces, soups, and stews.
  • Thyme: Thyme’s subtle, dry aroma and slightly minty flavor can balance the heat of the chili. It’s often used in roasting or grilling recipes.
  • Coriander: Coriander, with its citrusy, slightly sweet flavor, pairs well here. This combination is often seen in Mexican and Indian dishes.
  • Bay Leaves: The slightly floral and somewhat bitter taste of bay leaves can complement the spiciness of many chilies. It’s commonly used in slow-cooked dishes like soups and stews.

Recipes that can use the Hungarian wax

While these recipes don’t list the chili among their ingredients, they are natural fits for swap-ins.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 30, 2024 to include new content.
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Elena

Thank you for this post! I have a mystery pepper plant I bought two years ago from my local grocery store that was heavily discounted at the end of our gardening season. It already had 2 peppers on it, so I thought, “Meh. Why not?” I have been thinking that they must be hot banana peppers, but someone suggested they could be Hungarian hot wax – so here I am! I am still undecided, though, as I’m not sure I have ever eaten a Banana pepper or a Hungarian hot wax, so don’t really know how to compare them. My… Read more »