Pepperoncini are a type of mild, yellow-green chili pepper that belong to the species Capsicum annuum. They are in the same botanical family as bell peppers and many other hotter varieties of chili peppers. Pepperoncini are most familiar as pickled peppers, which are preserved in vinegar in commercially packaged jars. Banana peppers or yellow wax peppers may also be sold as pepperoncini.
The Italian word “pepperoncini” is the plural form of “pepperoncino.” In Italy, it actually refers to the hotter varieties of chili peppers generically known as “pepperone.” "Friggitelli" is the Italian word for the milder variety sold in the United States as pepperoncini. In the US, they may also be labeled as sweet Italian peppers or Tuscan peppers. They are also common in Greek and Eastern European cuisines, where they are called fefferoni, or golden Greek peppers.
The pepperoncini plant is a bushy, annual variety that grows to a height of about 3 feet (1m). The peppers it produces are tapered, wrinkled along their length and lobed at the ends. They are usually harvested at 2- or 3-inches long (5 to 8 cm), while they are still sweet and yellow-green. When allowed to mature, the peppers turn bright red and grow stronger in flavor.
The heat of chili peppers is caused by a component called capsaicin. The amount of capsaicin in various types of chili peppers is measured according to the Scoville scale, named for American chemist Wilbur Scoville. The scale ranges from zero units for the bell peppers, which have no capsaicin, to 16,000,000 units for pure capsaicin. Pepperoncini rank in the second-lowest category, 100 to 500 Scoville units.
In Italy, pepperoncini may be eaten fresh, they may be packed in olive oil or they may be dried. They are an essential component of the Italian dish known as antipasti, which is a mixed platter of pickles, olives and cured meats such as prosciutto and salami. Pepperoncini are widely used in cooking, especially in tomato sauces for pasta and in olive oil dipping sauces for crusty Italian bread.
Pepperoncini are popular in delicatessens as a filling for sandwiches or as an ingredient for pasta salads. Pepperoncini are an essential component of Greek salads, in which they are tossed with spinach, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. They may also be featured on restaurant salad bars. For home use, pepperoncini are available in most supermarkets, where they are sold either whole or sliced.