What Are Calabrian Chiles? Everything to Know About the Italian Staple

published Jun 10, 2024
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overhead shot of a small white bowl with three calabrian chilis, and the jar to the right of it.
Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Styling: Tom Hoerup

If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for another way to add a little spice to your next meal. In addition to various hot sauces, chili crisps, harissa paste, and spice blends, jarred chiles are one of my favorite go-to ingredients for spreading on sandwiches or tossing with pasta.

Calabrian chiles are one of my favorites in this department. They bring a bright, fruity heat that’s not too intense. The flavor is strong enough to stand on its own, but also blends well, adding a subtle sweet-tart kick to more complex dishes. Here, we break down everything you need to know about this little red chile pepper.

Credit: Natalia Macheda / Shutterstock

What Are Calabrian Chiles?

Calabrian chiles are a small red chile pepper grown in the Italian southwest region of Calabria. They’re a staple in the cuisine of the region, prized for their bright and fruity flavor. Different varieties range in shape from round to conical. They’re red when fully ripe, but can range in color from green to yellow.

Are Calabrian Chiles Spicy? 

Calabrian chiles are described as having a warm, tangy heat that’s a little sweet and smoky, rather than an intense burn. They’re medium-hot, similar in the Scoville range to a cayenne pepper. Their level of heat and fruity flavor depends on their variety; there are both sweet and hot versions, but the majority of imported Calabrian chile products do have a spicy kick. The sweet, tart, fruity flavor makes them an easy choice for adding a little spice that isn’t too intense.

How to Buy and Store Calabrian Chiles

While fresh Calabrian chiles are an Italian staple, they’re most often exported either jarred (as whole peppers or crushed) packed in oil, as a chile paste, or dried and sold as crushed chile flakes or ground powder. Because the peppers are imported from Italy, they can be a bit on the pricey side. You can find them sold at many grocery stores or online retailers.

Jarred Calabrian chiles will keep for a year or more in a sealed jar. Always check the expiration date on the jar for specific guidance. Once opened, they can be stored in the refrigerator for several months. Dried or powdered Calabrian chiles should be stored in a cool, dark place like a cabinet or drawer, like other dried spices. 

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Styling: Tom Hoerup

How to Use Calabrian Chiles

Calabrian chiles are extremely versatile. Use them wherever you need a kick of spice. Crushed jarred chiles are great spread on a sandwich, swirled into hummus, or featured as the star of a spicy pasta dish. Whole chiles can be chopped or sliced and added to soups and salads, or blended into sauces and drizzled on eggs. Dried flakes can be sprinkled on pizza; added to spice blends, dry rubs, or marinades; or stirred into homemade salad dressing

Recipes to Try with Calabrian Chiles