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If you’re Southern, you’ll be familiar with the pimento – that sweet, cherry-red pepper that’s commonly canned or stuffed into olives and perched in a martini. You may be fortunate to find or even grow them fresh and enjoy them in salads. But for some of us, they’re a pretty obscure ingredient. What happens when you’re busy with a recipe, and it calls for pimentos? What is the best substitute for pimento peppers?
The best substitutes for pimento peppers are other sweet, mild peppers, like Peppadews, cherry, piquillo, Corno di toro, banana, cubanelle, Anaheim, poblano, or red bell peppers. Test peppers for heat before using. A good non-pepper substitute for pimentos is sundried tomatoes in olive oil.
Pimento or pimiento peppers are typical of Spanish and Cajun cooking. They’re very versatile and add a fresh tang to any dish in a tiny, gorgeous package. If you’ve run out, what else can you use instead of pimentos?
The Best Substitutes For Pimento
Pimento peppers are part of the nightshade family that includes chili peppers and tomatillos. The best substitutes for pimento come from the same species, Capsicum annuum, which are all sweet chili peppers.
Pimento peppers are small, sweet peppers, about 4 inches long, with a rounded, almost heart-like shape and a bright red color.
Pimento peppers are well-known in their dried and powdered form as called paprika. This spice is often smoked and adds warmth and red color to dishes.
Most commonly, pimentos are preserved sliced or chopped in jars or cans and used as a garnish, olive stuffing, or in dips (like the famous Southern pimento cheese). You can also use fresh pimento peppers as you would any sweet bell pepper – they’re particularly delicious stuffed with cheese.
You can add pimento to most dishes for a delightful burst of flavor without the heat of other peppers. On the Scoville heat scale, pimento peppers rate 500 Scoville heat units (SHU), compared to the jalapeno, which stands at 2500, or the bell pepper at 0.
A word of caution –pimento, paprika, and allspice (which confusingly is sometimes called pimento but is the dried, ground berry of the Pimenta plant) are not the same. Paprika, pimento peppers, and allspice are used quite differently and don’t share a flavor profile – you can’t use paprika instead of pimento instead of allspice and vice versa. Let’s consider other substitutes for pimento.
Most Practical Pimento Substitute: Red Bell Peppers
- Best for: stir-fries, stuffed peppers, roast vegetables, salads, sauces, salsa, chili
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1-2 tablespoons chopped red bell peppers
Substituting pimento with red bell peppers is probably your most accessible and practical solution, as bell peppers are always readily available and highly versatile.
You can use pickled, marinated, or roasted red peppers as a substitute for jarred pimento or fresh bell peppers, where you would use fresh pimento.
Bell peppers are much more substantial, crisper, and heartier than pimento, with less piquancy, so you will not get an exact texture and flavor match. You’ll have to use more bell pepper than pimento to get a tangy flavor. However, if you’re looking for sweetness and juiciness, bell peppers are a perfect substitute.
Best Match Pimento Substitute: Peppadews
- Best for: stuffed peppers, appetizers, garnish, salads, sandwiches, pizza, pimento cheese, cornbread
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1 tablespoon chopped Peppadew
The perfect substitute for pimento is the South African Peppadew, a trademarked unique variety of pepper called the Juanita pepper. These peppers are sold pickled and look much like pimento peppers.
Peppadews are the same size and texture as pimento peppers but are even sweeter, almost candy-sweet, with a tangy kick. The seeds are particularly spicy, and you will need to choose between mild, medium, or hot Peppadews when buying them. Order Peppadews online or look for them at your favorite deli.
You can use Peppadews as you would canned pimento. They are gorgeous stuffed with cream cheese, work well in a quick bread, and pep up any savory dish.
Best Fiery Pimento Substitute: Cherry Peppers
- Best for: garnish, dips, salads, pizza, cheese boards, burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, cornbread
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1/2 tablespoon chopped cherry peppers
Many people confuse the pimento and the cherry pepper, as they are both small, bright red sweet peppers. However, cherry peppers are rounder and smaller, and, although sweet like the pimento, some varieties can be as hot as jalapenos – that’s nearly 40 times hotter than pimento. For this reason, they’re sometimes called the hot cherry pepper or cherry bomb.
Like the pimento, cherry peppers are often pickled, and you can find them in the olive section of the store. You’re unlikely to find them fresh, as their flesh is a little tough.
Use cherry peppers precisely as you would pimentos, especially when your dish needs a little more bite – they are great at cutting through the richness of fatty dishes, such as cheese or meatballs. However, use only half the quantity of cherry peppers for the same level of heat.
Best Smoky Pimento Substitute: Piquillo Peppers
- Best for: stuffed peppers, dips, salads, pizza, cheese boards, soups, Romesco sauce
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1 tablespoon chopped piquillo peppers
Piquillo peppers are a Spanish variety of pepper with a similarly sweet, tangy flavor to pimento peppers. They are small and beak-shaped (the name is Spanish for “little beak”), about two to three inches long.
You’ll find piquillo peppers in jars, like pimentos: however, they’re usually grilled to sweet softness and then bottled in oil. You can sometimes find them pickled or even fresh. Piquillos have a wonderful smoky flavor.
With thicker flesh to the pimento, piquillo peppers have a texture like bell peppers, so they can be used in heartier dishes, like soups and sauces, as well as being served as tapas.
Like most chili peppers, piquillo peppers are easy to grow and bottle at home, so you can ensure your supply.
Best Mild Pimento Substitute: Corno Di Toro Peppers
- Best for: stuffed peppers, roast, and grilled vegetables, salads, Peperonata sauce, salsa
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1 tablespoon chopped Corno di toro peppers
Corno di toro (bull’s horn or cow-horn) peppers are an Italian sweet pepper grown in the US. Full-grown, they are about eight inches long, shaped like a horn, and sold in their green, orange, and red forms, like bell peppers.
Corno di toro peppers are larger and fleshier than pimento peppers but have a similarly sweet, tangy flavor – they’re even milder than pimentos.
They’re best as a substitute for fresh pimento peppers in a salad or roasted with another veg. These peppers also work well in any dish calling for bell peppers.
Cutest Pimento Substitute: Banana Peppers
- Best for: appetizers, salads, sandwiches, cheese boards, pizzas, salsa, dips
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1 tablespoon chopped banana peppers
Another member of the pepper family that makes a good pimento substitute is the banana pepper, a tapered, banana-shaped pepper about four inches long.
Like the pimento, these are generally sweet peppers with a piquant bite, but a hotter variety called the Hungarian wax pepper is somewhat fiery.
Banana peppers can range in color from yellow to red and are sweeter when they are reddest. The yellow peppers are quite pretty and look beautiful sliced over a salad or as a garnish.
Banana peppers are often pickled and jarred and make a tasty addition to chili jams and relish because of their sweetness. Bottled banana peppers are common in US grocery stores.
You can use banana peppers as you would use pimento peppers, but check how hot a variety you have found, in which case you’ll use a little less.
Most Aromatic Pimento Substitute: Cubanelle Peppers
- Best for: stuffed peppers, salads, roast and grilled vegetables, casseroles, sauces, pizzas
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1 tablespoon chopped cubanelle peppers
Cubanelle or sweet Italian peppers, also called frying peppers, range in color from green to orange and red and are sweet and fruity in flavor. These glossy, oblong peppers are about six inches long and two inches wide.
Even milder than pimento peppers but more flavorsome than bell peppers, cubanelles are popular in Dominican, Cuban, Haitian, Puerto Rican, and Italian cuisine.
Use cubanelle peppers if you were planning to use fresh pimento peppers, as they fry beautifully, becoming tender and aromatic. Cubanelles add a lovely crunch to salads and are large enough to stuff comfortably.
Best Spicy Pimento Substitute: Pepperoncini Peppers
- Best for: stuffed peppers, salads, compotes, sandwiches, pizzas, antipasto
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1 tablespoon chopped pepperoncini peppers
Pepperoncini or friggitello peppers are not to be confused with the generic Italian red chili, the peperoncino. In the US, these peppers are also sometimes called Tuscan, golden Greek, or Salonika peppers.
These peppers are usually harvested and pickled when they’re bright yellowish-green. However, their unusual flavor is more evident when they’re fresh – pepperoncini peppers have a slightly more bitter and spicier taste than pimentos.
You can substitute the pickled version quite easily for pickled pimento peppers but rinse them first, as their pickling brine increases their sodium levels radically.
Use fresh pepperoncino peppers sparingly as their flavor is not quite a match for pimento. However, they’re delicious as they are and a good option if you’re looking for texture and bite in a dish.
Fruitiest Pimento Substitute: Anaheim Peppers
- Best for: stuffed peppers, roast vegetables, stews, sauces, salads, salsa
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 1 tablespoon chopped Anaheim peppers
Anaheim, Magdalena, New Mexico, or California peppers are long, green, chilis, abundant in the Southwestern United States. These are usually the green chilis found in cans. Anaheim peppers can vary from mild to hot, depending on the variety.
With their fruity, peppery flavor, Anaheim peppers are a suitable substitute for pimentos. Still, you need to be careful as they can get as spicy as jalapeno and lose that sweetness that the pimento provides. They have a deliciously crunchy texture and are lovely roasted as well.
Use Anaheim peppers instead of fresh pimentos, especially if you cook them down in a stew or sauce as they develop a gorgeous smokiness.
Earthiest Pimento Substitute: Poblano Peppers
- Best for: roasted vegetables, soups, sauces, stews, chili
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = ½-1 tablespoons chopped poblano peppers
If you enjoy your food spicy, you can always use poblano peppers instead of pimento. These large, dark green, rich peppers are very popular in Mexican cuisine and offer a kick of heat.
Use poblano peppers instead of fresh pimento peppers, especially in long-cooked sauces, stews, and soups where they can cook down as they lack the sweetness of pimento peppers.
If you don’t have fresh poblano peppers, use the dried version, known as ancho or pasilla. These dried peppers are dark greenish-black and develop a rich, earthy flavor with sweet and piquant overtones.
Best Non-Pepper Pimento Substitute: Sundried Tomatoes
- Best for: appetizers, salads, garnish, sandwiches
- Substitute ratio: 1 tablespoon chopped pimento = 2 tablespoons chopped sundried tomatoes
If you and your family can’t eat peppers, look to sundried tomatoes as a helpful substitute.
Sundried tomatoes are dehydrated whole or chopped tomatoes; that is, all their liquid has been removed. The sundried tomatoes bottled in olive oil are your best bet if you want to replace pimentos, as they are sweet, tender, and succulent, but add that acidic tang you get from peppers.
Use sundried tomatoes as you would pimentos, scattering them liberally over salads, in dips, sandwiches, or as part of a cheeseboard. They cook down into a luscious sauce and are a great addition to any savory soup, stew, or casserole.
Pimento peppers add bright, fresh flavor to both cooked and uncooked dishes, from stews to sandwiches. You can use any other sweet pepper to replace pimentos, the most practical being the red bell pepper and the closest in texture and flavor, the Peppadew. If you don’t like peppers, use sundried tomatoes to add sweetness and tang to a dish.