Pepperoncini Vs. Banana Pepper – How Do They Compare?

If chilies could have doppelgangers, there’d be solid reasons to think that the pepperoncini and the banana pepper are the case in point. Their looks – even their heat – are so similar that even for some produce professionals telling them apart is tricky. But is there more? Do they taste similar too? Is one easier to find in stores? Are there tiny differences that’ll help tell one from the other? We explore these strangely similar – yet surprisingly unique –peppers in our comparison – pepperoncini vs. banana pepper.

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Pepperoncini vs. banana pepper: The heat difference

A measly one hundred Scoville heat units (SHU) separate these two extremely mild hot peppers on the Scoville scale. The banana pepper ranges from 0 to 500 SHU, while the pepperoncini is ever so slightly hotter with a 100 – 500 SHU range. That’s like a rounding error when it comes to overall heat potential, so essentially these two chilies carry the same gentle tickle to the taste buds. These are two extremely mild chilies – barely hotter than a zero heat bell pepper.

Note in the chart above, banana peppers dip to 0 Scoville heat units (no heat), so no minimum shows.

If you’re looking for a difference here, the banana pepper can, in fact, dip down to zero heat. It’s one of the only hot peppers that can. A pepperoncini will nearly always outperform the banana pepper at the low-end of the scale, but they have equal potential at the high end of their range.

The look: How can you tell the difference between a pepperoncini and a banana pepper?

And here’s where the confusion begins and, for many, never ends. These two chilies look eerily alike. They are so similar in looks that telling them apart can be extremely difficult by sight alone. Even supermarkets and restaurants get confused. They both grow from two to three inches in length. They both share a similar yellow-greenish hue. They both have that curved Anaheim pepper-like shape, that, of course, resembles a banana.

If you’re looking for the tell, your best option is the skin itself. The pepperoncini’s skin tends to be more wrinkly than the baby-faced banana pepper. There are more bends and pocks. The banana pepper, on the other hand, tends to have smooth skin that more resembles the banana it’s named after. Though there are pepperoncini as smooth as banana peppers out there, just take a look at the photos above.

The second tell is the shape of the end of the peppers. Banana peppers tend to be pointier (again like a banana) where the pepperoncini will often mature into a more bulbous shape at the bottom. But again, it’s not always the case, so use this and the skin in tandem for a “best guesstimate” sight test.

You can also tell through the thickness of the walls of the chili. A banana pepper’s walls are thicker than the thin-skinned pepperoncini. But this will typically take a bit of visual learning first (and the opportunity to cut the peppers), so it’s not as practical as the first two tests.

The taste: Can you tell a banana pepper from a pepperoncini on taste alone?

First – these are two terrific tasting peppers with similar flavors, so even if there’s confusion it won’t impact your recipe much at all (unless you’re stuffing peppers). That said, there is a slight taste difference here. Both peppers are slightly sweet and tangy, but the pepperoncini tends to be slightly tangier. It’s one of the reasons (along with the thin walls) that the pepperoncini is the better pickling pepper.

Can you find them fresh in supermarkets or gourmet stores?

Here’s a big area of difference, and the banana pepper is the clear winner for purchasing fresh. The banana pepper has become one of the most common chilies available in supermarkets. You can find pepperoncini fresh as well, but not at the same level.

Why it and not the pepperoncini? The thicker walls have a lot to do with it. You can stuff banana peppers, whereas the thin-walled pepperoncini isn’t suited for the job,  and they tend to hold their shape better when sliced into wheels and chopped fresh for salads and sandwiches. The slightly less tangy taste, too, has some impact here. The mellower sweetness of the banana pepper tends to taste slightly better fresh.

How many products use these peppers?

Here’s where the pepperoncini shines, if only slightly brighter. The thinner walls and tangier flavor work extremely well with pickling, so pickled pepperoncini is widely available in stores nationwide and online. They add the perfect tang and sizzle to pizzas and sandwiches.

Sure, pickled banana peppers are also widely available, but for our tastes, the pepperoncini is the better option here. That’s especially true since those jars of pickled chilies labeled “hot banana pepper” are often Hungarian wax peppers – another banana pepper look-alike with a much spicier kick.

For all of their similarities, the banana pepper and the pepperoncini find their individual strengths played out quite well in the grocery aisles. One is slightly better fresh, the other is slightly better pickled. Yes, there are more nuances here than you’d think from a quick glance at these two chilies. They may look near identical and pack a similar heat, but underneath there’s a lot more story to tell.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on February 12, 2023 to include new content.
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Karin Richey

I like the pepperchinies better then banana peppers. II travel alot, pepperchinies seem to be used in the wesr, and banana peppers on them east coast.