What Is a Pimiento Anyway?

We all know what pimiento cheese is, but what actually are those little red things? 

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We can't discuss pimientos without talking about pimiento cheese. As Southerners, we can agree pimiento cheese goes hand in hand with sweet tea, and one might even say a good pimiento cheese is equally as important as attending church on Sunday. This crowd-favorite dip has many regional varieties, but they all start with a combination of cheese, mayonnaise, and of course, pimientos. Though we all know and love this Southern delicacy, the starring ingredient often flies under the radar.

What is a pimiento?

Small but mighty, pimientos (or pimentos) are mostly sweet with a little heat; think of them as sassy peppers. Whether they're acting as an ingredient, spice, or garnish, their presence can make all the difference in a dish. Native to South America but most commonly found in Spain, this heart-shaped variety of chili peppers is typically red and relatively small—about three to four inches long and two to three inches wide. Some varieties can be hot, but most you'll find are sweet, mild, and more aromatic than their cousin, the crisp bell pepper. You'll generally find them fresh in the produce section or jarred on a shelf.

How are pimientos used?

Though these little guys are very versatile, in the South, you'll mostly find them folded into classic pimiento cheese. However, chances are high that you've encountered them a few other ways that you likely didn't realize. Have you've ever wondered what the red stuffing inside your green olives is? That's a pimiento pepper. When dried and ground, these sweet peppers can also be found in paprika, which we're quite sure you've used as the finishing touch on your deviled eggs.

Can you substitute bell peppers for pimientos?

Technically speaking—yes. Bell peppers are often used in place of pimientos, but in doing so, you lose their specific flavor. You'll find some store-bought pimento cheeses that do this or instead use a combination of both pepper varieties. If you must substitute them in a recipe, try roasting the bell peppers first to give them a sharper, stronger peppery flavor to mimic pimientos. But if you want to make a true Southern pimiento cheese, you've got to stick with pimientos. Our Favorite Pimiento Cheese recipe uses jarred ones.

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