I just read this article in CNN "Eating chilies cuts risk of death from heart attack and stroke, study says" and when I read this line:

Carried out in Italy, where chili is a common ingredient, the study compared the risk of death among 23,000 people, some of whom ate chili and some of whom didn't.

I've seen that some Italian dishes call for the addition of dried chili flakes, but a common ingredient? I'm married to a Malay - chili peppers are a common ingredient. It seems as common as salt.

Maybe I'm thinking of the wrong types of chili peppers. We always have a supply of Thai chilies around, but no pepperoncinis. So what have I missed in Italian cooking where chilies are a common ingredient?

Or is what we have here in America as Italian cooking just isn't the real deal?

  • 2
    On a scale of 4=universal>3=common>2=occasional>1=rare>0=unknown, Malay food could easily be a 4 and Italian a 3. My experience of mass-market Mexican food in the US (LA, Vegas) was that it lacks chilli compared to similarly-styled dishes in the UK, unless some form of hot sauce is added by the customer, so maybe spicy foods are toned down for the American market
    – Chris H
    Dec 19, 2019 at 10:00
  • I've traveled extensively in Italy and I would say Chili is not a common ingredient, especially in the northern half of the country.
    – GdD
    Dec 19, 2019 at 11:14
  • I thought I was asking a question that could have had a definitive answer - some list of countries sorted high to low of per capita chili pepper consumption. Most of that type of data I looked for are behind "pay for" firewalls. Maybe the problem is the word "common". I think some common ingredients are salt, black pepper, garlic, but cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving is also "common". If the article I read had stated Northern -vs- Southern Italy, I wouldn't have thought to ask. But it stated "Italy".
    – Jim
    Dec 22, 2019 at 16:40

5 Answers 5


Disclosure: I am Italian but no professional, so what I will say is based on my own experience and could be inaccurate/wrong.

There is sure plenty of use for chili peppers in italian cousine. It is really traditional in the southern region of Calabria and close ones, but it is used throughout the whole country.

Together with the already mentioned Arrabbiata pasta sauce, in which spicy chili peppers is the main ingredient, there are several other dishes and cured meat product (sausages and such) that contains or, sometimes, heavily rely on that spicyness ( for example Nduja ).

Also, plenty of other plates can be adjusted to become spicy using dried chili flakes, especially for tomato based dishes, if it is of your taste.


I'm not Italian either, but I've travelled there (and I'm starting an ocean closer than you). Chillies are used in some dishes, sometimes just a tiny amount, but in sauces like arrabiata they're important. I've had them on pizza in Italy too, but the pizza places I've been to were catering for tourists or styled themselves as modern with a huge variety of toppings, so I'm not sure how traditional they are there.

There are also (thanks @Luciano for reminding me) plenty of spicy, even very spicy, salamis and other sausages. These may be served on pizza or in other ways.

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    I've been to places definitely not catered to tourists (my father's tiny village) and they do have a really spicy salami on their diavola pizza, so can confirm it's common.
    – Luciano
    Dec 19, 2019 at 9:53
  • @Luciano good catch. I wasn't thinking of meat as I rarely eat it but of course there's an excellent selection of spicy sausages.
    – Chris H
    Dec 19, 2019 at 9:56
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    Chili oil is also somewhat common as a condiment but not as part of cooking, just for "if you feel this could use some kick" table use.
    – Borgh
    Dec 19, 2019 at 15:38
  • @Borgh chilli oil is very useful and goes well on pizza, I just don't recall it in Italy personally
    – Chris H
    Dec 19, 2019 at 15:42

I'd like to point out that the detail in your quote is "where chili is a common ingredient"

Using chilies often is not the same thing as always eating spicy food. Southern Italian cooking uses chilies often, but not necessarily to create very spicy food.

Some preparations (arrabiata, fra diavolo, etc) may be spicy, but many things can use chilies and not be hot and spicy--milder chilies, or smaller amounts can be used simply to create flavor, without heat.

I think it's fair to say that Italian cooking uses chilies often while also clarifying that Italian cooking uses significantly less chilies (volume wise) than some other cuisine known for being hot & spicy.


Chili is more commonly used in the south of Italy, particularly Sicily (and Calabria). A "peperoncino" is just a diminutive of "peperone" - a pepper. It doesn't indicate a particular variety of chili.

I'd just like to add that there's a difference between the use of an ingredient in traditional dishes, and everyday use in cooking. At home people cook all kinds of stuff in the north too, including the use of chilies. I took these pictures today in the supermarket (north of Tuscany):

Chili flakes Ground chili Speciality chili Fresh chili

  • Agreed. I have great-grandparents from both northern Italy and Sicily -- and crushed red pepper is in a fair number of Sicilian dishes. We also had a lot of pickled peppers (both hot and sweet) for antipasta ... but I can't think of any specific dishes from the other side of the family with peppers, either hot or mild. It tended to be more risotto, cream sauces, etc. (but my great-grandfather married an American woman of British descent, and then my grandmother from that pairing married a professional chef, so she didn't cook very often)
    – Joe
    Dec 20, 2019 at 1:07
  • Thanks for the pics! If you have a Korean market near you, check out their chili pepper aisle. They will have considerable shelf space consigned to chili pepper especially flake sans seeds. Not especially hot, 2 and 5 kilogram bags are common, but I only buy the smaller containers. Your pics remind me of what I can see at my local American grocery stores here in the Pacific North West.
    – Jim
    Dec 22, 2019 at 15:32

In the Calabria region of Italy, chili peppers grow natively and are present in the local dishes.

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