All About Calabrian Chili Paste

Originally, chili peppers were only used as decorative pieces due to their vibrancy. However, once deemed safe enough to eat, they rapidly integrated into the Italian culinary world. Now, native to Italy’s proverbial “boot,” Calabrian chilies are used to make a delicious chili paste. So how can we use this fiery pepper, and are there suitable substitutes? 

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Calabrian chili paste offers a unique spicy, fruity, smoky, and slightly salty flavor. You can add this condiment to pasta, pizza, eggs, meatloaf, casserole, stew, and soup recipes. Great alternatives for Calabrian chili paste include hot sauce, chili flakes, and other types of chili peppers.

Calabrian chilies make a spicy Italian paste that adds vibrancy and a piquant taste to many dishes. Let’s see how we can use this condiment and what we can use as substitutes without losing the essence that the paste provides. 

What Is Calabrian Chili Paste?

Calabrian chili paste is a spicy Italian condiment that adds a sharp, fiery taste to your favorite dish, be it a gourmet pasta or simplistic sandwich. 

Calabrian chili paste is made from, you guessed it, exotic smoked or dried Calabrian chili peppers, olive oil, salt, and occasionally a dash of vinegar. You can describe the paste’s flavor as spicy (of course), fruity with underlying smoky and salty flavors.

What Are Calabrian Chilis?

Calabrian chili peppers originate from Calabria, Italy (hence the common name). However, in Italian, these peppers are known as “Peperone Picante Calabrese,” meaning “spicy pepper of Calabria.” 

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The Calabrian chili pepper is close to the size of a grape; it has a waxy, rich red exterior with a long to a rounded shape, differentiating it from other well-known peppers. 

Also known as the Devil’s Kiss, the spicy Calabrian chili pepper is famous in Italian cuisine. It offers a unique flavor that adds to its charm — spicy, fruity, smoky, and slightly salty.

These peppers are sought-after, and for a good reason too! The Calabrian chilis only come from the “boot” of Italy, making them pretty scarce through other parts of the world. They measure between 25,000 and 40,000 heat units on the Scoville Heat Scale; this is around 3 to 16 times hotter than a Jalapeno pepper.

Calabria hosts a chili pepper festival to celebrate the flavorsome and exotic Calabria chili along with other popular varieties from the Calabria region.

Calabria chilis are a popular choice for Italian cuisine. However, chili lovers frequently prepare Calabrian chilis by drying or pickling them and submerging them into olive oil. More so, these chilis are pulsed to form a paste-like consistency, giving you the famous Calabrian chili paste.

What Does Calabrian Chili Pepper Paste Taste Like?

After the exciting facts about Calabrian chilies, you’re probably dying to know what it tastes like and if it’ll be suitable for your palate.

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Calabrian chilies are small, but they ooze a deliciously complex flavor. These firecrackers are ideal for adding unique and spicy heat to your favorite dish. They typically exhibit a smoky and fruity taste with an underlying salty flavor. 

The variety of unique flavors makes this chili pepper paste simply exceptional.

Calabria Chili Paste Common Uses

While Calabrian chili paste adds a unique and delicious flavor to Italian pasta, noodles, or pizzas, its uses do not end there. Like most famous condiments, you can find endless ways to incorporate Calabrian chili paste into a dish.

You can either consider the traditional route by topping your pasta and pizza with Calabrian chili paste or get creative by adding it atop your breakfast eggs. In addition, quickly take a dish from bland to bold by blending it into your meatloaf, casserole, stew, and soup recipes.

Calabrian chili paste also makes a superb garnish. Add a generous spoonful of tomato puree or sauce to the paste to create a sweet sauce with a slight punch.

How To Make Homemade Calabrian Chili Paste?

Calabrian chili paste is typically made by crushing or pulsing the dried Calabrian peppers with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Some of these chili pastes may include other vegetables like eggplants, but the most famous versions keep all eyes on the Ferrari red pepper and its zippy spice. 

So, if you are mainly interested in the unique flavor of Calabrian chili rather than its hot kick, please feel free to adjust your recipe. 

Here’s a ridiculously straightforward recipe for making an equally (if not more) delicious homemade version of Calabrian chili paste.

First, try to get your hands on Calabrian chilis packed in oil; this will save you the rehydration step before you puree them into a tasty paste. However, if only the dried option is available, soak the chilis in warm water for several hours before using them.

Then, ensure that you cut the stems off if they are still attached.

Aside from the Calabrian chilis, the only ingredients you need are:

  • Fresh olive oil
  • Peeled garlic cloves (whole)

Note: if you don’t mind intensely spicy food, you could use the oil that the chilis came in, but keep in mind that the paste will have an extra-spicy kick! 

Next — how is it done?

All it takes is adding the ingredients mentioned above into the food processor or blender and pulsing them until you reach a smooth and spreadable aromatic paste.

For estimated proportions, follow these guidelines:

  • One cup Calabrian chilis (stems removed and preferably those soaked in oil).
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Three whole, peeled garlic cloves

Ensure that you keep the paste in a resealable glass container or Tupperware for up to a month in the refrigerator (if this go-to condiment lasts that long).

Do You Have To Refrigerate Calabrian Chili Paste?

We recommend that you refrigerate Calabrian chili paste, be it homemade or store-bought.

You can keep the store-bought variety in the pantry for a month until you open it for first use; however, you need to refrigerate it afterward to prevent it from spoiling. However, we do not recommend this as there isn’t a guarantee that it’ll stay fresh for that long.

If you are diligent in always keeping your store-bought Calabrian chili paste refrigerated between uses, the paste can last up to 6-9 months. However, the homemade paste is generally safe to use for one month if you keep it in the fridge as it contains fewer preservatives. 

What Are The Best Substitutes For Calabrian Chili Paste?

It’s always disheartening when you realize that the secret showstopping ingredient of your signature dish is missing — Calabrian chili paste. 

Another reason to replace Calabrian chili paste is taste accommodation. For many individuals, the heat intensity of Calabrian chili paste might be a bit much to handle. So, you’ll need to find a suitable alternative when they come over for dinner.

While it’s pretty challenging to find alternative ingredients that highlight the essence of a dish like Calabrian chili paste as it offers a range of exotic and unique flavors, there are excellent substitutes that provide a similar taste to this yummy paste.

Top Six Substitutes For Calabrian Chili Paste

Hot Sauce

Spicy hot chili sauce with of chilli pepper

Consider using a sweet or spicy hot sauce to substitute Calabrian chili paste. It is a highly versatile condiment that most people at least have one bottle of on their pantry shelf or in their fridge. 

You can use the hot sauce in place of Calabrian chili paste by closely matching its spice level and flavors to Calabrian chilies. Or switch things up by customizing the use of the hot sauce to accommodate more palates or add a slightly different flavor to your dish while maintaining the heat factor.

The primary challenge you’ll face with substituting Calabrian chili paste for hot sauce is the texture. Hot sauce has a more liquidy or runny consistency, unlike the Calabrian chili paste’s smooth, spreadable paste-like texture.

Therefore, the hot sauce makes a suitable alternative in saucy dishes like soups and stews. However, if you’d like to use the paste as a garnish or as a pizza base, consider adding a teaspoon of paprika to thicken the consistency. 

Red Chili Flakes

A constant recommendation for a Calabrian chili paste substitute and most chili pastes is red chili flakes or crushed red pepper.

Red chili flakes are tiny bits of dried, then crushed chili pieces that typically come in a shaker. These flakes are widely available, making them one of our top substitutes for Calabrian chili paste.

Although the consistency differs, red chili flakes offer a similarly intense, peppery flavor, including the saltiness and spiciness factor that we hotheads crave! These flakes work particularly well when you’re after needing the spiciness of a dish without concerns about the consistency.

For a paste-like consistency similar to Calabrian chili paste, add some red chili flakes to an ordinary tomato paste or soy sauce and sugar to reach the desired texture.

We can generally use the chili flakes as a direct substitute for Calabrian chili paste while customizing the desired heat. You can add a pinch to your cooking for the slight heat and spicy flavor or pop a bunch directly into your dish for that extra kick!

Serrano Peppers

Raw Green Organic Serrano Peppers Ready to Use

Serrano peppers are another fantastic substitute for Calabrian chili paste; they are a medium heat chili like the Calabrian chili and offer a similar spicy flavor.  

While you can easily mistake the Serrano pepper for a Jalapeno pepper, as both chilis are pretty similar in size and color, their shape differs, allowing you to distinguish between the two chili peppers. Serrano chilies are long, slender, and smooth, and they exhibit a less-rounded form compared to Jalapenos.

You can work in equal amounts of Serano pepper into your recipe to achieve a similar flavor to the Calabrian chili paste. More so, follow the same recipe as the Calabrian chili one to create a paste-like consistency that you can use in a wide range of dishes or make a delicious spicy salsa or garnish. 

The primary difference between a Serrano chili pepper paste and Calabrian chili paste is the color; Serrano peppers are green while Calabrian chilis are bright red.

Fresno Peppers

Fresno peppers look like their cousin the Jalapeno and even offer a similar taste to Jalapeno peppers. However, we’ve chosen the Fresno above the Jalapeno because this little pepper has a few sneaky tricks up its sleeve.

Firstly, the Fresno chili pepper delivers a slightly spicier kick, coming in between 2,500 and 10,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale. You can compare a mature red Fresno chili to a mild version of the Serrano chili.

Second, the Fresno chili offers a smoky and fruity taste in its mature red form, unlike the Jalapeno pepper, making it a perfect substitute for Calabrian chili paste.

Habanero Chilis

fresh red hot habanero chili peppers  on wooden background

I’m assuming you’ve heard of the Habanero pepper before? If not, it’s the spiciest pepper in the Chilean family, ranking at a whopping 100,000 to 350,000 according to the Scoville Heat Scale!

While Habanero chilies are spicier than Calabrian chilis, they make pretty suitable alternatives if you’ve run out of Calabrian chili paste. Both these chili peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical that triggers a burning sensation in your mouth when you consume them.

Not only is the Habanero chili readily available in most grocery stores nationwide, but it’s also a great alternative to Calabrian chili paste. However, ensure that you less Habanero when subbing it for Calabrian chili paste.

To make a Habanero chili paste, use the same method as preparing the homemade Calabrian chili paste. However, consider using half the number of Habaneros compared to Calabrian chilis. 

Anaheim Peppers

Last on our list of Calabrian chili paste substitutes is the Anaheim pepper. The Anaheim pepper serves as a decent substitute for the Calabrian chili; however, it does not pack as much heat.

Anaheim chilies are perfect substitutes for your friends or family member with sensitive taste buds.

According to the Scoville Heat Scale, Anaheim peppers only range between 500 and 2,500 heat units. So, while the consistency and texture are similar, you’ll want to add more Anaheim peppers to your dish when you sub them for Calabrian chili paste to truly capture the same essence and spiciness of the Calabrian chili.

Consider using Anaheim peppers when they mature and turn red for a more intense kick; however, most people use these chilies while they are green and ripe.

So, What Exactly Is Calabrian Chili Paste?

Calabrian chili paste is a delicious medium-heat paste that serves versatile purposes. It adds a hot kick to dishes while offering a smoky and sweet flavor. However, they predominantly grow in Calabria, making them pretty difficult to source worldwide.

Don’t settle for a bland dish if you run out of Calabria chili paste. Instead, consider using the fantastic substitutes mentioned above. 

Happy cooking!