Explore trending sweet and hot chili peppers on pizza
“If your eyes do not water, the food is not good.”
— Indonesian Proverb
Historians believe that chilies were first domesticated by nomadic people who lived in a group of caves in the mountains of Tamaulipas, Mexico between 7000 and 5000 BC. Besides foraging for wild beans and agave, they grew chilies, squash and gourd before the advent of corn. The chili was not known outside of Mesoamerica until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. They were amazed to eat at Moctezuma’s court where the nobles served 1000 dishes of food, many featuring peppers. Bernardino di Sahagun, a Spanish friar wrote a partial list of the dishes; “…turkey with the sauce of small chilies, white fish with yellow chili, lobster with red chili, grey fish with red chili, frogs with green chili, newt with yellow chili…” That was before the 2000 jugs of chocolate which were also spiced with chilies. In the early 1600s, there were at least 40 varieties of chilies. In Mexico today there are said to be 92 varieties.
Chilies are now world-renowned for spice and flavor. The rijsttafel of Indonesia, the curries of India and the Paprika Schnitzel of Central Europe all depend upon different chilies.
Capsicum are members of the nightshade family whose other members are potato, tomato and eggplant — all perfect to accompany trending chili peppers. Capsaicin is found in chilies and is a flavorless compound that produces mild to scorching heat and it is hydrophobic, which means it cannot be washed away with water. Capsaicin will bond with fats, which is why drinking milk or heavy cream dressings is the best way to eliminate the heat.
Getting Jalapeño Face
Some great pairings for trending chili peppers are garlic, citrus, yogurt, onions, mint, cheese, wine, stone fruit and aromatic spices. Other foods to incorporate with chilies to create an interesting flavor profile are strawberry, date, maple syrup, coconut, banana, beef, chicken, pork, turkey, squid, oyster, carrot, soy sauce, miso, artichoke, pumpkin, parsnip, fennel, dill, cilantro, pomegranate, papaya, mustard, cumin, curry, clams, vinegar, beet and corn.
Cayenne I Get a Break?
For most pizzeria owners, green peppers are a bit player but a topping that cannot be discontinued. Green peppers add that zingy crunch to fatty meats like pepperoni and sausage and the addition of onion and tomato elevate this flavor profile to a
“supreme” level. Here are three other pickled peppers that are delicious on pizza.
- Calabrian Chilies: This small heat is perfect because of its vinegar cure. Eat the stem please.
- Sweet Piquanté Peppers: More sweet than hot, this expensive addition to any pizza is both colorfully pleasing and puts the “dolce” in Agra-dolce, (sour and sweet.)
- Sweety Drop Peppers: These shockingly bright Peruvian peppers, also known as Incan red drops, are both sweet and sour. Just a few of these teardrop-shaped nuggets on a pizza produce little explosions of flavor.
Sweet Chili of Mine
Here are a few sweet peppers that are trending and in the height of summer and fall, local farmers grow these in abundance:
- Sweet Italian Reds: This hand-sized, thin-walled beauty is perfect for roasting. When blistered, quickly dump them all into a large lexan to steam. These are beautiful on pizzas and also can be made into a Spanish-style sauce using old breadcrumbs or nuts.
- Shishito Peppers: This smallish pepper (two to four inches) called the Lion Head Pepper by the Japanese exhibits a tremendous amount of savory pepperiness coupled with nuanced sweetness. I love to stuff these with grits or polenta. Lately, they are trendy in many restaurants charred and plated as appetizers.
- Corno di Toro Peppers: This trendy Italian pepper can either be red or vivid yellow and translates to “horn of the bull.” These are thicker-walled than the Italian sweet and have a sweet and crisp, full bodied flavor. Stuff the yellow Toros with Italian sausage or roasted strips on a pizza with Prosciutto di Parma is wonderful.
- Pimiento Pepper: (Some folks still spell it pimento.) This is my favorite because of its thick walls, and it is sweeter and more aromatic than red bell peppers. This has traditionally been used in pimento cheese and as the red stuffing in green cocktail olives. Pimientos are tasty stuffed with cheese after a quick par-roast to loosen the flesh. My customers love these stuffed with chorizo and Manchego cheese.
Hot Time in the City
Here is a list of hot peppers from the top of the flame on down.
Carolina Reaper, 2,000,000 Scoville units
This pepper is surprisingly sweet and fruity before the latent burn really kicks in. The heat reaches your throat first then expands to…everywhere. I love this for our hot pizza called “The Beelzebub” and hot pizza fanatics like it also with bacon and gruyere, manchego with sausage or just cheddar.
Trinadad Scorpion, 1.150,000 Scoville units
This pepper has the same tell-tale-tail that the Reaper has but is more squat-shaped. It is also fruity with hints of flowers and tobacco before the heat crushes your face. I like to make “Cruel-tons” by slicing the old bread, grinding up Scorpions with garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, Italian seasoning and baking them before tossing them with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Ghost Pepper, 1,463,000 Scoville units
The fruitiness of this pepper is very intense because the burn takes so long to hit. “Ghosties” are great pureed into a kimchi pickling liquid and into pizza sauce but all it takes is one in a quart of sauce to feel the burn.
Scotch Bonnet Habanero, 100,000 Scoville units
These two peppers are cousins with small profile and waxy touch. Scotch bonnets are from Jamaica and sweet but hotter than the “Habbies”. They are a perfect pair with tropical fruits. The habanero has sweet flavor like the Fatalli, with a pungent pineapple and floral flavor. Both are great with chicken and fish.
Thai Hot Chilies, 100,000 Scoville units
There are over 70 different varieties of chilies in Thailand, but most refer to this Thai chili as the “Birdseye.” Perfect for an Asian sweet-hot sauce or with fermented sauces like sriracha or in fruity-hot marinades.
Cayenne Chilies, 50,000 Scoville units
More used for the “zing” this spice gives when this chili is dried and powdered, cayenne is used all over the world for its hot, pungent and earthiness and is easy to measure for recipes. It is usually not an ingredient in chili powder or paprika.
Chili di Arbol, 30,000 Scoville units
I use this dried chili to make our famous “Brisket Ahogada” after the famous cuminy-hot Guadalajaran sandwich which features bread and pork and is dunked fully before serving.
Serrano, 15,000 Scoville units
These little gems are more grassy and hotter than the jalepeño. I love to roast them to produce small, smoky and hot filets to a pizza or pasta. (See Serrano Peach Pizza recipe.)
Jalapeño, 2000 to 2500 Scoville units
This wonderful chili can wonder up the heat scale depending upon the year and climate. Jalapeño salsa is particularly nice to fold into pasta and stuffed Jalapeños with creamed cheese and bacon is to die for. The smoked version of this chili is called Chipotle and has a more intense chocolate/tobacco flavor found in sauces.
Poblano, Ancho 1500 to 1000 Scoville units
These are the perfect stuffing peppers to appease a broad range of customer. The Poblano is prized for its size as a stuffer and dried is called the Ancho, which tastes bittersweet and raison-rich which is perfect for stews.
Serrano Peach Pizza with Bacon
I have a love affair with peach and chili combinations. The small serrano filets, roasted to boost the heat and charred flavor, are a perfect foil to the fatty and salty bacon and the sweet peach and maple syrup.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio.