Calabrian Chili Peppers: Small, Spicy Italian Peppers

calabrian chili peppers jarred
Calabrian chilis, named after the town in southern Italy where they originated, are a small spicy and smoky red pepper. They are typically dried and preserved in olive oil and sold in jars, either whole or as a paste used as a condiment or seasoning.

What Are Calabrian Chili Peppers?

Calabrian chilis are a specific type of chili pepper grown in the Italian region of Calabria. They are small, red, elongated and pointed chili peppers.

calabrian chilis

Although botanically similar to the many other varieties of capsicum annum, Calabrian chilis have evolved specific characteristics that distinguish them from their more commonly found cousins, like the jalapeno. This is due to their unique growing conditions.

The Italian town of Calabria has the advantage of being surrounded by sea and mountains, thus giving it a mild climate. When peppers are grown, Calabrian summers are consistently sunny with little rain. The natural soil in the region also has several attributes that help create the distinct flavor of the Calabrian chili.

As a result, this hot pepper has earned a regular spot in Italian cuisine.

Are Calabrian Chilis Hot?

While Calabrian peppers aren’t the hottest of the hot peppers, they do pack heat.

The heat level in peppers is measured using the Scoville heat scale and reported in Scoville heat units (SHU).

Calabrian chilis measure between 25,000 -40,000 SHU. This is several times hotter than a jalapeno pepper but not nearly as hot as a Ghost pepper.

The following list will help put things in perspective:

  • Ghost Pepper 1,000,000+ SHU
  • Cayenne Pepper 30,000 – 50,000 SHU
  • Calabrian Chili 25,000 – 40,000 SHU
  • Serrano Pepper 8,000 – 23,000 SHU
  • Jalapeno Pepper 3,000 – 8,000 SHU

The heat of a Calabrian chili can make it an excellent option for those who want a punch of warmth but don’t want to be knocked out.

How To Use Calabrian Chili Paste

It’s rare for recipes to call for whole Calabrian chilis. Most often, they’re used in the form of paste, oils, or chilis that have been finely chopped, jarred, and preserved in oil. 

Calabrian chili paste is a typical Italian condiment, providing a wake-up call of flavor in traditional Italian food.

You can find it added to,

  • Hummus
  • Pizza
  • Marinades
  • Eggs
  • Soups
  • Pasta sauces and pasta dishes
  • And many other Italian dishes

Calabrian chili paste is also an essential seasoning in an authentic Italian favorite called, Nduja, a spreadable meat often eaten with bread or crackers.

What Is Calabrian Chili Oil Used For?

Calabrian chili oil is created by infusing Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Calabrian chilis. The result is a rich, fruity, and spicy oil that can be added to any dish that calls for Olive Oil. It can be a great choice to drizzle on pasta or bread. Or use it in place of hot sauce for a unique flavor.


calabrian chili oil
Clabrian chili oil.

Calabrian chili oil has the added benefit of being a nutritional plus for a healthy diet.

Olive oil contains omega-3 and omega-6, which both help combat bad cholesterol. The chilis are also nutrient-dense, containing large amounts of:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B
  • Vitamin A
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium

What Is The Difference Between Calabrian Chilis And Other Chilis?

Although they are all botanically related, there is a distinct flavor difference between these Italian peppers from Calabria and other more commonly found peppers.

Calabrian chili peppers have a smoky and fruity heat that lends itself well to Italian cuisine’s rich, full flavors. The heat from Calabrian chilis will come on slowly, creating a warmness rather than a burn.

These attributes result from the Calabria region’s soil and climate.

What Are The Different Varieties Of Calabrian Chili Peppers?

While the Calabrian chili holds its own unique culinary corner, many don’t realize there is more than one kind. Among the different types, there can also be varying levels of spice. 

Knowing the difference can help you choose the one that best suits your needs.

The primary players in the Calabrian chili world are as follows:

  • Peperoncino tondo calabrese. These resemble cherry peppers and have a more mild flavor and heat profile. With a bulbous, round shape, they’re excellent for stuffed pepper recipes.
  • Diavolicchio. With the literal translation of this version being “small devil,” these are the spiciest of the Calabrian chilis. These tend to be long and pointy.
  • Naso di cane. Another mild version and a bit larger than the others. These have a cone shape and are sometimes referred to as ‘dog’s nose’ chilis.
  • Peperoncini a mazzettoNot as spicy as the Diavolicchio but spicier than the others. This type of Calabrian chili is also different in that it grows in bunches rather than as individual peppers. The peppers have a slim, pointy profile.
Types of Calabrian chilis.
Types of Calabrian chilis.

Where To Buy Calabrian Chili Peppers

Finding fresh Calabrian chilis at your average grocer can be challenging. True Calabrian chilis are only grown in Italy and are imported, so they can also be quite pricey when found. Fresh peppers would be best sought at a specialty grocer or Italian market.

However, jarred Calabrian chilis, Calabrian chili paste, and Calabrian chili oil are much easier to find. Many local grocery stores now carry jarred Calabrian chilis.

One of the most authentic and well-known brands is Tutto Calabria. They produce several Calabrian chili products – jarred, dried, ground, and pickled – that can easily be ordered.

Amazon has a selection of Calabrian chili products from which to choose.

As with any online ordering, you should check product reviews before purchasing.

What Can You Substitute For Calabrian Chilis?

While Calabrian chilis are becoming easier to find, they may be hard to track down in your area. If you’re looking for a substitute, there are a few that can fill in nicely.

  • Anaheim. Will be slightly less spicey but has a nice fruitiness.
  • Serrano. Generally not as spicey, but depending upon the individual pepper these could be close.
  • Fresno. Often mistaken for jalapenos, these peppers are thinner-skinned and bring more heat than a jalapeno.
  • Poblano. Mild in flavor, these are a staple in Mexican fare.
  • Red pepper flakes. These can vary in heat depending upon which peppers are included. Red pepper flakes are easily found in any grocery store’s spice section.

Keep in mind that none of these will have an identical flavor to Calabrian chilies.

Can You Grow Calabrian Chilis?

The short answer is, yes, you can grow the plants that produce Calabrian chilis.

What should be made clear, however, is that part of what makes Calabrian chilis uniquely flavorful is the soil and climate of southern Italy. So, although backyard gardeners can grow and harvest Calabrian chilis, they won’t have exactly the same flavor profile as those grown in Calabria.

If you do grow Calabrian chilis, they will require the following to flourish:

  • Warm temperatures for 12-18 weeks
  • Full sun
  • Well fertilized soil

Avoid over watering as pepper plants do not like wet feet.

Growing seedling transplants purchased at a nursery is the simplest route, but they may be difficult to find. Seeds can be ordered online and successfully grown in many areas.


Lorin is a writer, editor, photographer, and loves a culinary adventure. She routinely climbs up the Scoville heat ladder using peppers and spice to update and create new recipes for friends. Over the years she's become a pepper aficionado, growing and cultivating several varieties in her home garden.

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