Melrose Pepper: Sweet Peppers With Italian-American Roots

melrose peppers
The Melrose pepper is a sweet, non-spicy pepper that was first introduced to the U.S. (Chicago) in 1903 by Italian immigrants and has since become a staple of the Italian-American food culture.

What Are Melrose Peppers?

Melrose peppers are a Capsicum annuum cultivar grown for their sweet flavor. The name “Melrose” comes from the city of Melrose Park, Illinois, where they were first cultivated. These peppers are sometimes referred to as ancient sweet red peppers.


Although they look like most hot peppers, Melrose peppers are sweet with zero heat. If you’ve ever had a red pepper that was sweet but not quite a bell pepper, chances are it was a Melrose pepper.


Melrose peppers have curved and tapered fruits with thin skin. Like other chilies, they age from green to red. The peppers can be eaten when green or red.


Melrose peppers are medium-sized and can grow between 4 to 6 inches long.

Where Did Melrose Peppers Come From?

Melrose pepper’s history dates back to 1903 when Italian immigrants Joseph and Lucia Napolitano moved to Chicago. The couple brought seeds for their favorite sweet pepper variety collected from wild peppers in Nocera Superiore, Italy.

The Napolitanos first planted the peppers in their pepper patch in what is now Melrose park. Napolitanos’ son, Tom, continued to grow the peppers and started selling the pepper plants and fruits at the farmer’s market.

The peppers gained popularity and became a staple for Italian-American families in the Chicago region. They’re popular in Chicago home gardens and restaurant tables, especially in the summer when they are at the peak of their harvest.

Green unripe Melrose peppers.
Green unripe Melrose peppers.

Are Melrose Peppers Spicy?

Melrose peppers are not spicy. The Italian farmers who introduced them to Chicago’s Italian community used them for their sweet flavor, not their heat.

The Scoville heat unit of the Melrose pepper is zero, meaning they’re sweet, not hot. The sweetness increases as the Melrose peppers grow. The longer they are on the vine, the sweeter and more flavorful they become.

What’s The Difference Between Green And Red Melrose Peppers?

The main difference between green and red Melrose peppers is their taste. The taste depends on the fruiting stage and their time on the vine.

Green Melrose peppers taste like green bell peppers, less sweet with a grassy and somewhat bitter flavor. Red Melrose peppers are sweeter.

How To Use Melrose Peppers

If you’re a fan of bell peppers, then you’ll fall hard for Melrose peppers. You can enjoy these Italian frying peppers raw, cooked, or roasted. Their versatility makes them an easy addition to any recipe.

Stuffed Melrose peppers are a great way to enjoy Melrose peppers. You can stuff them with meat or vegetable filling, such as Italian sausage and pepper or cooked rice mixed with shredded cheese and diced tomatoes.

Sauteing is another delicious way to prepare the peppers as an appetizer, like peperonata. Saute Melrose peppers in olive oil, then add garlic and other seasonings to taste. Serve with rustic Italian bread or over pasta for a main course.

Roasting is another delicious way to prepare them. The skin will blacken and create a delicious smoky flavor that pairs well with meats and vegetables.

Melrose peppers add flavor and color to salads and crudite boards when eaten raw.

Where To Buy Melrose Peppers

Chicago is the original home of the Melrose pepper. The peppers are available in most grocery stores and farmers’ markets in the Chicago area during summer.

If you’re far from Chicago, check your area’s specialty grocers and farmers’ markets for Melrose peppers. If you can’t find them, try growing your own. Melrose pepper seeds are easy to find online, and growing them is a fun project.

Substitutes For Melrose Sweet Peppers

If you crave the sweet, mild flavor of Melrose sweet peppers but can’t get your hands on them, use carmen peppers. Carmen peppers are a hybrid of the bell and Italian bull’s horn peppers.

Banana peppers are another alternative. They have a mild, sweet flavor with just a hint of heat. They clock 500 Scoville heat units, so they will add some spice to your dish.

Can You Grow Melrose Peppers?

Yes, you can grow Melrose peppers. These peppers grow well in warm conditions. They can be planted outdoors during the summer months or started indoors for an early fall harvest.

These Italian frying peppers need the following growing conditions:

Germination should occur within 6 to 14 days, and the plants can grow up to 24 inches tall and 20 inches wide. The fruits will be ready for harvest within 60 to 90 days.

Where Are Melrose Peppers Grown?

Melrose peppers are a common vegetable in Chicago. This doesn’t mean that they’re only grown in Illinois. They can grow in many parts of the world under the right conditions.


Tabitha's passion for gardening didn't begin until she was in her twenties. She was always interested in plants, but it wasn't until she moved to a rural setting that she realized how much fun it could be. Peppers are part of her edible landscape, and she is constantly looking for new and interesting varieties to try. When she is not gardening, she spends her time reading and writing.

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