Peppers are a New World discovery found in a vast spectrum of heat profiles. The ubiquitous bell pepper has zero pungency and endless uses, while the naga infinity chile is akin to handling a liquid fire—requiring gloves and goggles—and has the potential for fever dreams. Here’s a selection of peppers in the “sweet” category: high sugar, mild flavor and only the slightest touch of heat.
The most common member of this group, bell peppers, are available year-round (though most abundant and flavorful from summer through early fall). The different colors available are simply variations of the same plant, though with slight differences in flavor and best usage. Anaheim peppers are a good swap if you want a bit more heat.
Green peppers are harvested before fully ripened, which is why they tend to be quite firm and taste a bit bitter and grassy, with lower sugar content.
Red, Orange and Yellow peppers
Red, Orange and Yellow peppers start green and change color when fully ripened. Reds are the sweetest of the bunch, which makes them especially popular for roasting, grilling, or charring over an open flame. Orange and yellow peppers are not as sweet as reds, but they work beautifully raw in salads, and maintain their color after being cooked.
Purple, Chocolate and White peppers
Purple, Chocolate and White are less common but striking color varieties. They’re sweeter than green, but less than the others. They bring a vibrant splash of color to salads, slaws and other raw dishes, but the lovely color diminishes and becomes muddy with cooking. Some may change color entirely. Talk with your grower!
Named after Anaheim, California, where it was first cultivated in the early 1900s, it’s a relative of the New Mexico chile—which is typically a bit hotter (more pungent on the Scoville scale). This big, mild green pepper is sold fresh, but also available roasted, dried or canned. (They’re called California red chiles or chiles Colorado when fully ripened.) Anaheims are very versatile. Commonly used to make chile rellenos, they’re large enough to stuff, and the rich flavor deepens when slow-roasted or grilled. Try them out in egg-based dishes and stir-fry, too. The flavor profile is similar to the hotter poblano pepper, and they can be used interchangeably.
Cubanelle (aka Italian Frying Peppers)
Less vegetal in flavor than green bell peppers, Cubanelles are sweet, yet mildly pungent and often found in Italian, Spanish and Puerto Rican cuisine. These thin-walled peppers are best when chopped or sliced long and thin and gently fried in olive oil (hence the nickname), or roasted and stuffed. Cubanelles retain their color and structure better than green bell peppers without becoming intensely sweet. They also work as a replacement for both Anaheims and banana peppers.
Banana Pepper (or Yellow Wax Pepper)
The bright yellow color is the reason for the name, but these peppers may deepen to green, orange or red as they ripen. The plants are ridiculously prolific, making fresh banana peppers abundant and affordable. They’re sometimes confused with pepperoncini—the two are similar in appearance, flavor and pungency. Banana peppers have a milder flavor with a shorter finish and thicker skin. They tend to hold their shape better when chopped into salads and sandwiches, and are perfect for stuffing and roasting.
Pimento (also Pimiento or Sweet Cherry)
This sweet, meaty pepper is often sold jarred and pickled, and found stuffed inside green olives. But, the pimento is probably best known for its starring role in pimento cheese—aka “the caviar of the South.” The savory spread has a base of cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimentos, but smoked and spicy variations abound. When purchased fresh, there are quite a few varieties available, so talk with your grower. Some have a bit of heat and others a high sugar content that makes them perfect for roasting.