The Cup 'n Char Pepperoni and Peppadews Pizza from Smithfield Culinary

Smithfield Culinary/Margherita
Food & Ingredients

Which Pepper Will Be The Next Big Pizza Topping?

Here's a look at three sweet-heat options that are beginning to take off, according to Datassential's Pizza Inspiration Report 2023.

It wasn’t long ago that drizzling hot honey on pizza seemed like a novel idea. Thanks to Mike’s Hot Honey, that trend has taken off. Perhaps due to that momentum, it feels like everywhere one turns, a trendy pizza place is adding some new ingredient, packed with sweet heat, to the menu.

Datassential recently released its Pizza Inspiration Report 2023, which examines different trends in the pizza segment to keep an eye out for. One chart in the report breaks down pizza ingredients by how widespread they are across the industry. Datassential refers to this as the “menu adoption cycle” and categorizes each ingredient in four different phases: inception, adoption, proliferation and ubiquity. The research firm identifies the inception phase as the place where trends of tomorrow begin to percolate on the fringes of the industry.

The inception-stage category from this year’s report identified three different peppers that are up-and-coming. Pizza makers can view these three peppers, with varying degrees of sweet and heat, as a topping they can add to the menu before a rival pizzeria does it first.

Shishito Peppers
Shishito peppers are a hallmark of Japanese cuisine and are often served blackened, with a dipping sauce, as an appetizer. As bold international flavors continue to pique the interest of American diners, shishito peppers are showing up on pizza—Datassential identifies the usually mild pepper as one of the many ingredients in the “inception” phase of its adoption cycle. Scientists estimate that one in every ten shishito peppers is hot, and each pepper has some subtle fruity, sweet notes.

One real-world menu example of shishito peppers on pizza is The Tripping Billy, a viral pizza that was first featured as an LTO on the menu at Paulie Gee’s Logan Square location in Chicago. Self-taught guest chef Billy Zureikat came up with the recipe after buying several pounds worth of shishitos at the farmer’s market. Without any idea how he was going to use them all, he designed a pizza drawing inspiration from a traditional Mexican recipe, Rajas con Crema, and tinkered with it until it was something special. The pie has now been featured on the menu at numerous other pizzerias around the country, including Robert’s Pizza & Dough Co. in Chicago.

Related: Robert’s Pizza debuts Detroit-style pizza with Tripping Billy flair

A picture of viral pizza chef Billy Zureikat holding his now-famous The Tripping Billy pizza, featuring shishito peppers.

Peppadew Peppers
Peppadew is one of those trademarked brands that has become synonymous with the product it makes, like Jet Ski or Crock-Pot. Peppadew’s claim to fame is its signature sweet, spicy and tangy Juanita piquanté peppers. These unique peppers have long had a diverse array of usages, from charcuterie boards to pasta dishes to sandwiches.

The peppers are also increasingly being featured atop pizzas. Datassential reports that Peppadew peppers have grown on U.S. menus by 32% across four years.

Here’s a Cup ‘n Char Pepperoni and Peppadews recipe from Smithfield Culinary. It also features sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes and Boursin, Fontina and Parmesan cheeses.

Calabrian Chili Pepper
It only seems fitting to round out the list of peppers included in Datassential’s report with one that’s native to the homeland of pizza. The Calabrian Chili Pepper hails from Southern Italy and packs a medium heat with sweet, smoky notes. The ingredient has long been a staple in Italian cuisine, especially in sauces.

Pizzaiolos in the U.S. are beginning to namecheck the Italian pepper on menus and feature larger strands of it atop pies. Little Star Pizza, with locations in San Francisco and Albany, California, recently featured Calabrian Chili Peppers on a seasonal pie alongside roasted white corn, goat cheese and roasted red pepper.

Datassential reports that Calabrian Chili Peppers have grown on U.S. menus at a 41% clip across the past four years.

A photo of a pizza from Little Star Pizza in San Francisco featuring Calabrian Chili Peppers.