Whether they're stuffed in the olive in your martini glass, pureed in a cheese dip, or dried and turned into paprika, pimentos, which are sweet peppers most closely associated with Spain, are a triple treat. They work as a garnish, an ingredient, and a spice. How's that for versatile?
What Are Pimentos?
Pimentos, also referred to as pimientos, are a type of pepper with a sweet flavor and very little heat. This nightshade is also known as a cherry pepper because of its red color and round, heart-shaped fruit. They usually measure about 3 to 4 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide, with a short, thick green stem.
It's possible you've consumed pimentos and don't even know it. Some regions of Spain and the United States use pimentos in their mix of paprika, a popular spice made by grounding various peppers to a fine powder. Many chefs prefer the mild, sweet flavor of paprika made with pimentos over the heat of other spices, such as cayenne.
How to Use Pimentos
As with other peppers, you discard the stems when prepping them. It's commonly diced and stuffed into Spanish or Manzanilla olives in Mediterranean cuisine. Stateside, pimento-stuffed olives make a traditional garnish for martinis and are found in the pimento loaves our grandmas used to slice and serve for sandwiches.
Pimentos are also a key ingredient for a favorite dinner party appetizer, pimento cheese, sometimes referred to as "the caviar of the South," as a spread on crackers or bread. Or stuff them with rice or cheese and serve them as a handheld appetizer on their own, like in stuffed mini peppers.
Beyond those applications, you can use pimentos anywhere you'd use a bell pepper. Think about Mexican fare, chilis, and soups, as they're great with beans and in tacos, but also mixed in with pasta, risotto, and other grains, too.
What Do They Taste Like?
Pimentos are sweet and mild, and unlikely to cause trouble if you cannot tolerate spicy peppers. They register between 100 and 500 heat units on the Scoville scale, making them one of the mildest of all the chile peppers. Think of them as a sweeter and more aromatic red bell pepper. In comparison to the heat of a jalapeño pepper, pimentos are about 40 times milder.
Still, if you're looking to add the tiniest bit of zip to a dish—and some mystery, too, as it's not a familiar ingredient to many people—a pimento will definitely do the trick. Once you've tried them, you will be able to instantly recognize their unmistakable sweet and slightly peppery presence.
Olives with pimentos are great additions to appetizer plates and can be tossed with pasta. They make their way into so many dips and spreads because they add so much flavor and color. Mixed with mayo, hot sauce, cheddar, and cream cheeses, they bring a sweet tang as a condiment on all kinds of sandwiches and burgers. Add them as a surprise ingredient to soups, pasta dishes, and salads. Macaroni and pimento cheese, anyone?
Where to Buy Pimentos
In the grocery store, pimentos are typically found jarred, stocked with the olives and pickles. However, if your grocery store has a self-serve olive bar, it's possible they're available there—which is always nice because you can buy only what you need or try them without having to buy a whole jar.
In larger supermarkets or those that stock a wider variety of produce, you can purchase fresh cherry peppers. They're easy to find once you know what you're looking for.
If you're fond of them and you've got space, you can grow them at home, but their cycle is pretty long, so they tend to do best in climates that are conducive to outdoor growing. In gardens and yards, they do best in a south- or west-facing location with a steady supply of water and are ready when they show their classic shiny red color. As with other peppers, they're typically harvested in late summer to early fall.
For a fun kitchen project, you can make your own paprika by taking your homegrown peppers, drying them in the sun or on low heat in the oven, and grinding them in a blade grinder. It's a good idea to blanch them first before dehydrating them.
The jarred variety will keep in the fridge, once opened, for up to nine months. Fresh pimentos, should you be lucky enough to encounter them at the grocery store or farmers market, will do well in your fridge in the crisper for up to a week, at least, depending on where you bought them, as farmers market produce will usually last longer than what you buy in the grocery store.
For long-term keeping, pimentos can be frozen like any other pepper. Just wash and dry them off. Then it's up to you as to how you want to freeze them: sliced, whole, diced, and so on. They'll be best suited to cooked dishes when you're ready to use them again but, in the meantime, will maintain their quality for about six months.
Nutrition and Benefits
Pimentos are full of nutritional value. In fact, this nightshade is loaded with vitamins A and C, powerful antioxidants that promote a healthy immune system and which may help strengthen your skin, teeth, and blood vessels. Pimentos also contain a good amount of B6 and folate (vitamin B9). The vitamin K found in these little red peppers may help prevent osteoporosis and aid in the absorption of vitamin D (from the sun or otherwise). They also happen to be a good source of iron.