Pimento Peppers: What To Know About This Small Sweet Pepper

pimento pepper
Pimento peppers (capsicum annuum), also spelled pimiento, are small, sweet peppers famous for their addition to olives and as a primary ingredient in pimento cheese. They are members of the nightshade family, and unlike their spicier cousins, these versatile peppers have very little heat.

What Are Pimento Peppers?

These heart-shaped peppers are notable for their bright red color and small size.

Although they originated in South America, they are widely grown in Spain, Morocco, Hungary, and the United States.

The name pimento is derived from the Portuguese word for the red bell pepper and Latin pigmentum (pigment), which refers to the color of the pepper. Over time, pimento became the accepted name for these small, pumpkin-shaped peppers.

Because of their size and shape, pimentos are also sometimes referred to as cherry peppers. It should be noted; however, true cherry peppers are a different cultivar and have a Scoville heat rating higher than pimento peppers.

fresh pimento peppers

What Do Pimentos Taste Like?

Pimentos are one of the mildest of all pepper species.

They have a slightly sweet, fruity flavor that can add a peppery distinction to food without the heat. They’re an excellent choice for people who enjoy red bell peppers but want a slightly sweeter flavor.

Many unknowingly eat pimento regularly, as they are the primary pepper used in paprika.

Are Pimentos Hot Or Sweet?

Measuring between 100-500 on the Scoville scale, pimentos are one of the mildest and sweetest peppers available.

For reference, a jalapeno pepper measures between 2,000-8,000 on the Scoville scale, roughly 20 times spicier than the pimento.

What Are Pimentos Good For?

Packed with vitamin c, pimentos are a favorite ingredient in many dishes. 

While it can be challenging to find fresh, pickled pimentos are readily available at most grocery stores.

Pickled pimentos are one of the primary ingredients in pimento cheese spread and pimento loaf. They’re also a delicious addition to salads and cheese dips.

Pimento cheese is a classic spread of cream cheese, cheddar cheese, pimento, and black pepper. Some recipes add fresh jalapeno peppers for spice and mayonnaise for a smoother consistency. In the southern United States, it’s used as a dip and sandwich.

For a tried and true version, check out this recipe for Southern Pimento Cheese.

pimento cheese dip with vegetables and crackers

Why Are Pimentos In Olives?

Most of us are familiar with pimento-stuffed green olives. It’s hard not to notice the distinctive red pop of color in the middle of every olive.

Pimentos became a regular accompaniment to olives in the 1700s as a way to cut the bitterness of the olive itself. Their sweetness helps to balance the flavor of the olive in addition to creating an attractive garnish.

What Is Jamaican Pimento?

Despite the similarity in names, Jamaican pimento and pimento peppers are not the same thing.

One big source of confusion is the difference between Jamaican pimento vs. the red pepper variety we’re all familiar with.

Jamaican pimento refers to the dried berries from the Jamaican pimento tree. This tree is native to the Caribbean islands. Berries from this tree resemble peppercorns and are referred to as ‘Allspice berries’ in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Can You Grow Pimento Peppers?

Although fresh pimentos can be hard to find, growing your own is relatively easy.

Pimento pepper plants can be grown much the same way as red bell peppers. The growing conditions and cultivation are very similar.

They can be grown from seed or transplants if purchased from a nursery. They will do best in USDA hardiness zones 4-6 but are hardy when grown in temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because they have a long growing season, you can sow seeds directly into the soil and expect good results. The peppers will take 80 – 100 days to reach full maturity.

Where To Buy Pimento Peppers

Dried and pickled pimento peppers are easy to find in most markets and grocers. Fresh, however, is much more difficult.

Fresh peppers may be found at specialty grocers, but a call ahead to verify is recommended. Growing pimentos at home is your best choice for the most reliable source.

Seeds and other pimento products are available online with a quick internet search.

What Is A Substitute For Pimentos?

Although the flavor is not identical, red bell peppers are a suitable substitute if you cannot find fresh pimentos.

It’s recommended that you roast the bell pepper slightly to bring out the flavors that most closely mimic that of the pimento.

Cherry peppers can also serve in place of the pimento but will have a slightly spicier flavor profile.


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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