Cowhorn Pepper: Large Medium Heat Peppers

cowhorn peppers
The most notable aspects of cowhorn peppers are their large size and characteristic curling of the ends of the peppers when fully ripened. These cool-looking giants are versatile and may be your best bet for a family-friendly pepper with more predictable heat levels.

What Are Cowhorn Peppers?

Cowhorn peppers are one of the largest chili peppers and are named for the characteristic curling of the end of the peppers when fully ripened—a shape that resembles a steer’s horn. 

Also called cow horn peppers, cow horn chili, or cow’s horn peppers, they are elongated, curved, and have a tapering profile with a pointed end that curls to when the pepper ripens fully.

Cowhorn peppers can grow up to 10 inches long, but may grow smaller depending on their growing conditions, such as sun exposure, soil fertility, and watering.

Cowhorn peppers have thick walls and glossy, wrinkly skin. They ripen from green to red and can be eaten at either stage. Their mild heat and good crunch make the suitable for eating raw.

Unripe and ripe cowhorn peppers.
Unripe and ripe cowhorn peppers.

How Hot Are Cownhorn Peppers?

Cowhorn peppers have a medium heat score of 2,500-5,000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units). Like most large-sized peppers, they have little heat to show for their size.

While most chefs and users agree that the peppers have medium heat, they border more on the upper end of mild peppers. You are more likely to enjoy the sweet, fruity flavor of the peppers before you feel much heat.

To put the heat level of the peppers into perspective, they are about 4 times milder than serrano peppers and much milder than the 100,000-350,000 SHUs habanero peppers. However, they are less sweet and a bit hotter than sweet bell peppers, which have 0 SHUs.

What’s The Difference Between Cowhorn Peppers And Jalapeno Peppers?

Cowhorn chili peppers and jalapeno peppers are both members of the Capsicum annuum species. They are sometimes confused because of their comparable heat levels.

While cowhorn peppers clock 2,500-5,000 SHUs, jalapeno peppers clock 2,500-8,000 SHUs—a broader heat range. The least spicy cowhorn pepper will have the same heat level as the least spicy jalapeno.

Most chefs and home cooks prefer cowhorn hot peppers to jalapenos because the heat range of the cowhorns is easier to predict.

Are Cownhorn Peppers The Same As Cayenne Peppers?

Cowhorn peppers are not the same as cayenne peppers. The two are often confused because of their length, curved shape, and bright red color when fully mature and ripened.

Apart from their shared physical looks, they belong to the same species—Capsicum annuum. But that’s where their similarities end.

The most notable difference between cayenne chilis and cowhorn peppers is their heat levels. Cayennes have a heat range of 30,000-50,000 SHUs, meaning they are moderately hot chilies. A cowhorn pepper is about 6-12 times milder than cayenne pepper.

What Are Cowhorn Peppers Good For?

Because of their size and family-friendly heat levels, cowhorn peppers are versatile. They are suitable for purposes such as:

  • Pickling
  • Grilling
  • Roasting
  • Drying whole or cut into large chunks
  • Blended into marinades and sauces
  • As a twist on the cajun holy trinity that comprises peppers, onions, and celery
  • Frying
  • As a substitute for jalapenos
  • Making homemade sausages
  • Grinding into pepper flakes
  • Canning
  • Cooking into stews, casseroles, and soups
  • Making salads
  • Dehydrating and grinding into chili powder

Substitutes For Cowhorn Peppers

Banana peppers and jalapenos can replace cowhorn peppers in a dish that calls for mild-heat peppers with a sweet flavor. Jalapenos have a broader range of heat levels though, so you may end up with more spice than you want. Always try a tiny nibble of the jalapeno before deciding how much to use in your dish.

On the other hand, banana peppers (0-500 SHUs) will provide a sweet flavor, but they have a lingering tangy flavor.

How Do You Know When Cowhorn Peppers Are Ripe?

Fully ripened cowhorn peppers have a bright red color, and the tapered, pointed end curls at this stage assume the shape of a steer’s horn. 

The peppers are usually harvested when fully ripened. You could also pick them while still green, but the heat levels and flavor will differ from when the peppers are fully mature.

Where To Buy Cowhorn Peppers

You can buy cowhorn pepper seeds online from outlets like Amazon or seed websites. You may be able to find fresh peppers at supermarkets, local gardening stores, specialty stores, and farmers’ markets in the summer.

Can You Grow Cowhorn Peppers?

You can grow your own cowhorn peppers. They are relatively easy to raise from sowed pepper seeds transplanted into containers or directly in the garden. 

Cowhorn pepper plant.
Cowhorn pepper plant.

Like other pepper varieties, cowhorn peppers do better in warm climates in full sun. They require a lot of sunshine, but you should plan to plant them in an area with partial afternoon shade if you live in an extremely hot area.

Germination takes about ten days after sowing. The crunchy red peppers will be ready for harvesting about 70-80 days after germinating.

The young pepper plants should be transplanted into containers or home gardens about two weeks after the last frost.

Containers give you more flexibility because you can easily move them around chasing the sun. However, the containers must be kept outside because it is difficult for cowhorn pepper plants to be happy and highly productive when grown indoors.

The soil for growing cowhorn peppers should be well-drained, moist, and fertile, with a soil pH of 6.2-7.0.

Cowhorn chili growers might have to pinch the pepper plants to allow more lateral growth and encourage them to grow larger, healthier peppers.


Peppers have become the meeting point for three of Alex's greatest passions—gardening, cooking and writing. He is happiest watching small plants grow big and heavy with produce, and he can't wait to harvest self-grown fresh produce for his kitchen. When he is not taking care of his pepper plants, you'll find him busy cooking and sampling different peppers as he seeks the next hotter pepper.

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