Shishito peppers are tiny, bright green, wrinkled-appearing peppers from the family Capsicum annuum. The majority of the peppers are only mildly spicy and even a little bit sweet, but every now and then you’ll run into one with a real kick. Basically, this recipe for shishito peppers produces a really entertaining game of snack roulette in which someone will occasionally consume a hot pepper.
Japan is not renowned for its spicy cuisine, in contrast to some other Asian nations. In actuality, Japanese cuisine has very little heat at all despite having a distinctive flavor. And that essentially sums up the shishito pepper’s tale, barring any unexpected deviations. Shishitos are vibrant, flavorful sweet chilies that typically have a mild spiciness (50 to 200 Scoville heat units). However, just like the Padrón pepper (from which it may have descended), every so often a shishito will turn up the heat and pack a fiery punch. Because of how much fun they are to eat, they have become very popular as an easy-to-prepare appetizer or side dish.
How Did Shishito Peppers Become Native To Japan?
Typically, the origin of chili peppers outside of the Americas can be traced back to early exploration. The Padrón pepper, a native of Spain, is probably where the shishito got its start. They share a similar quirky heat, as you’ll see, but the Padrón is noticeably spicier, reaching its spiciness peak at the level of a mild jalapeño (500 to 2,500 SHU).
The Padrón most likely traveled from South America to Spain in the sixteenth century. The chili was probably then introduced to the Japanese. The Shishito’s flavor and heat may have been altered by the combination of growing the Padrón in Japanese soil and selecting the mildest peppers possible for propagation.
How Hot Are Shishito Peppers?
The average shishito is only a rounding error hotter than a zero-heat bell pepper on the Scoville scale, which ranges from 50 to 200 Scoville heat units. In other words, they aren’t at all hot…most of the time. So if you can’t handle the hot dragon’s breath pepper, you can definitely try shishito pepper. It is very much under the radar and resembles a warm, pulsing light simmer. The typical shishito pepper is 13 to 160 times milder when compared to the jalapeño, which serves as our benchmark. There is a catch, though. One to two shishito peppers out of every ten to twenty will slightly increase the heat. They don’t even approach mild jalapeño heat, but it’s still potent enough to catch you off guard. Similar to how “Russian roulette” tends to be played, padrón chilies bring a playful element to eating that most foods can only aspire to.
You can predict what to expect by imagining that random spiciness hitting close to the minimum points of either a poblano or Padrón (500–1,000 SHU). According to the Scoville scale, the level of heat is still very low. Simply put, it surprises people because of how unexpectedly it appears. Compared to other foods you’ve eaten, the amount of spice is increased by a factor of two, three, or more.
What Does Shishito Pepper Look Like?
The average shishito has a thin wall, is two to four inches long, and is slightly wrinkled. The pepper has a bulbous end that some Japanese claim resembles a lion’s head. In actuality, the shape is implied by the name. Shishito is a combination of the words “lion” and “chili pepper” in the Japanese language. You can visualize it by picturing the enormous lion heads used in Japanese parades and festivals.
Shishito peppers and Padrón chilies do resemble one another quite a bit, and this can lead to confusion when shopping. Padrón peppers can be distinguished by their tendency to be slightly less wrinkled and slightly more stocky. Shishito is typically a little bit shinier as well. However, without both chilies, processing both tells can be challenging.
What Do Shishito Pepper Taste Like?
Shishito peppers almost completely lack heat, but they make up for it in flavor. These are flavorful, sweeter chilies that have a grassy, citrusy, and faintly smoky aroma. Since citrusy sweetness is less common at lower Scoville levels, the shishito’s flavor is quite distinctive.
Cooking With Shishito Peppers
These chilies are quickly gaining popularity as grilling peppers due to their thin walls. Given the one-in-ten heat jump, chili makes a very tasty appetizer when it is chargrilled or fried with a little olive oil and sea salt. They make a great chili for stir-fries and also work well as a tempura vegetable thanks to their sweet grassy flavor.
The recipe for this chili is most famous for its blistered shishito peppers, which were created by char-grilling the peppers to give them a smoky, earthy flavor. This dish is available as an appetizer or side in many restaurants. Also, you can add this to your healthy holiday eating.
Substitute for Shishito Peppers
1. The best Alternative is Padrón Pepper
One in ten Shishito peppers packs an extra-special punch of heat, making them one of those firecracker chilies. They are very entertaining to eat because of this. The same is true of padrón chilies; 90% of the time they are mild, but occasionally you get an explosive surprise.
Shishito peppers range from 50 to 200 Scoville heat units, whereas padrón peppers range from 500 to 2,500. There is a sizable heat difference as a result. Only the mildest Padrón is as hot as that sudden hot shishito. Furthermore, one of those powerful Padrón chilies has heat comparable to that of a mild jalapeño. However, since both of these chilies fall under the mild category on the pepper scale, almost anyone can appreciate this level of spiciness.
2. The Fresh Supermarket Alternative is Bell Pepper
It’s not a particularly attractive option, but when you’re stuck with few choices, it’s the best you’ll find. Of course, the bell has no heat, so it isn’t really hot pepper. However, in terms of overall heat, the shishito registers as barely a blip on the Scoville scale, placing it closer to the bell than most other chilies.
The flavor is similar enough to be used in place. Shishito’s grassy citrus flavor contrasts a green bell’s bright grassiness fairly well. Depending on the use case, a red bell adds a little more sweetness that may better suit your needs.
3. On Supermarket Shelves Option is Banana Peppers
Banana peppers range in heat from 0 to 500 Scoville heat units, which is comparable to other mild peppers. But because they are typically found pickled on store shelves, their flavor profile is very different. They naturally have a sweet tanginess, which the pickling brine only intensifies. That’s very dissimilar to the shishito’s grassy, smoky flavors. But if you’re just looking for a similar level of heat, the banana pepper is one of your best bets. Just take into account how it may affect the flavors of your dish.