The other day, when my friends and I were out enjoying some soup, salad, and breadsticks at Olive Garden, we started arguing about the salad. We all knew the famous restaurant chain tops its salads with black olives, tomatoes, dressing, and croutons, but what was that green veggie on top?
Some said it was a banana pepper. Others said it was a pepperoncini. One friend claimed that his Subway sandwich artist told him banana peppers and pepperoncini were the same thing.
Finally, one of us asked Google who was right, and Team Pepperoncini won the battle.
We also found out that Papa John's includes pepperoncini with all of its pizza deliveries. And we discovered that even though banana peppers and pepperoncini are similar, they are not one and the same. So, how are they alike, and how are they different?
Christopher Columbus is no longer the historical hero that he used to be, but one fantastic thing he did for Italy was introduce the country to pepperoncini from the New World. The peppers arrived in Italy at the beginning of the 16th century and eventually became a staple of Italian cooking.
At first, they were considered a decorative and potentially poisonous item. The upper classes didn't eat them, and they didn't appear in cookbooks until 1694. However, the lower classes cooked with pepperoncini because the peppers were affordable.
The chili pepper family originated in North America, and pepperoncino (pepperoncini is the plural) is the Italian word for hot chili peppers.
Banana peppers are also part of the chili pepper family, which means they are closely related to pepperoncini, but the two aren't the same.
Both peppers are two to three inches in length, and they both have a greenish hue and a curved, banana-like shape.
What makes these peppers extremely hard to tell apart is their similar heat level. The heat of a pepper is measured by the Scoville scale, which starts at zero and goes all the way up into the millions. Each number on the scale is a Scoville heat unit (SHU), and the higher the number, the hotter the pepper.
Only 100 SHUs separate pepperoncini and banana peppers on the scale, with pepperoncini ranging from 100 to 500, and banana peppers ranging from 0 to 500. According to Pepper Scale, this slight difference is merely a rounding error relative to overall heat potential.
So, your taste buds won't be able to tell the difference between these two mild chilis.
When it comes to nutritional value, banana peppers and pepperoncini are nearly identical because they are both cultivars of the same species: capsicum annuum.
Both peppers are low in calories and fat and loaded with vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, and iron, making them perfect for speeding up metabolism and losing weight. Both can help improve blood circulation, relieve symptoms of sinusitis, and lessen the pain due to arthritis.
The antioxidants in both peppers can help prevent various diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration.
However, when these peppers are pickled, they can contain a lot of sodium, and that can affect heart and kidney function.
Pepperoncini and banana peppers look similar, but there are a few ways to tell them apart.
First, check out the skin type. The skin of pepperoncini is usually more wrinkly than the skin of banana peppers, and the walls of banana peppers are thicker than the walls of pepperoncini.
Banana peppers are usually pointier at the ends, while pepperoncini are rounder at the ends.
As banana peppers ripen, they change from green to either yellow, orange, or red, while pepperoncini change from green to a deep red color.
Both of these peppers have a terrific taste, but there is a slight difference. Banana peppers are mild, sweet, and tangy, while pepperoncini are mild, sweet, and slightly bitter. However, if you sub one for the other in a recipe, it won't impact the recipe much at all -- unless you are stuffing the peppers.
When it comes to using these two peppers in the kitchen, the biggest difference is in their wall thickness. Because banana peppers are thicker, you can stuff them with all kinds of things. But pepperoncini are so thin, you can't stuff them.
You can use both peppers for pickling, but pepperoncini are better for this because their thin walls absorb liquid well. Both peppers are great served with sandwiches, on pizza, or as a salad garnish.
Both are also perfect in a variety of different recipes, both big and small. Banana peppers are widely used in soups, omelets, spaghetti, stir-fry, and ice cream. Pepperoncini are used in scrambled eggs, casseroles, and various appetizers.
You can eat both peppers raw, baked, fried, roasted, or steamed.
When it comes to purchasing these peppers fresh, there is a big difference in availability. Banana peppers are easy to find at the supermarket, but pepperoncini are more difficult to find.
This is because of the banana pepper's thick walls. Since you can stuff them and easily slice them into wheels for sandwiches or chop them fresh for salads, banana peppers are a grocery store staple. The banana pepper's mellow, tangy flavor makes it taste slightly better fresh.
However, since pepperoncini are better for pickling, you can easily find the pickled varieties in stores and online.
Banana peppers and pepperoncini look a lot alike, but there are ways to tell them apart -- you just have to know what to look for.
The next time you are out with your friends or family at Olive Garden or order a pizza from Papa John's, you can now drop some serious pepper knowledge on your loved ones.