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get to know your chili peppers

June 12, 2009

If something I’m eating isn’t spicy I just can’t taste it.  Really.  While a professional opinion is probably needed, I self diagnose bland food with an array of chili peppers available the local mega mart, my 8×8 garden, farmers markets, etc.  With 1,000’s of different chiles grown throughout the world how do you know what your getting yourself into?  Well, fret not –just read on to learn about some of the more popular (and my personal favorite) chiles.


Starting with the top right, going clockwise:

Habanero Pepper:    Don’t let it’s small size or vibrant color fool you –this is the hottest naturally occurring pepper in the world.  Spice qualities aside, this is, IMHO, the best tasting, value-add pepper you could find.  The habanero has an amazing, distinctive fragrance and if you can get past the heat is very floral with high citrus notes (nah, this ain’t a wine tasting).   Like all peppers, as most of the heat resides in the seeds and ribs, simply and carefully remove to tame things a bit.  Commonly used in Yucatecan cuisine where it is grown.  Other uses:  Jamaican Jerk rub, chili, salsas, hot sauces, Mexican mole sauces, etc.

Scotch Bonnet Pepper:  A close cousin to the habanero pepper.  Heat, flavor, and intensity are nearly identical.  Ubiquitous in the Caribbean.  Uses:  Jamaican Jerk rub, chili, salsas, hot sauces, and the like.

Serrano Pepper: A small, thin skinned pepper that turn red when fully mature.  While not as searing as the habanero or scotch bonnet, this little pepper does pack a punch.  Usually grown in Mexico, use this pepper to heat up your tacos, burritos, moles, salsas, etc.  I also use in some Asian and Indian dishes.

Chipotle Pepper: Becoming more and more popular, chipotles are mature, late season, red jalapeno peppers that have been smoked and dried, leaving behind a culinary delight.  Packing tolerable levels of heat, the main focus here is their smoky, complex, earthy flavor that’ll liven up any meal that needs a punch of flavor.  Use to jumpstart your salsa, hot sauces, chili powders, moles –pretty much anything.

Jalapeno Pepper:  Probably the most popular chili, the jalapeno is a 2-3 in pepper packing a moderate level of heat.  Fairly fleshy, you can *generally* tell the heat level of a jalapeno by the number of thin-lined brown ‘scars’ on its flesh –a greater number indicates an older and hotter pepper.  Jalapeno plants grow about 2-3 feet high and will produce a huge bounty of peppers if given plenty of sun and moderate levels of water.  While grown in my garden, I find jalapenos to taste too much like a green bell pepper and, as such, they are generally not my first choice.

Use in Mexican food, Asian food, Indian food, Caribbean food, you name it.

Bell Pepper: Zero heat.  None.  Nada.  Rather, and after removing seeds and ribs, use for stuffing, flavor, and its color.  Common colors are green, yellow, orange, and red.  Frequently used in Cuban food.

Dried New Mexican Chili:  A dried, red, mature New Mexican pepper grown in, well, New Mexico.  Just slightly spicy, this pepper forms the cornerstone of New Mexican Red Chili, a flavorful sauce that’s poured on, well, everything in the Southwest.  I also use in my red chili powder –it’ll put that mega market stuff in its rightful place.

New Mexican Pepper: New Mexico’s proudest export.  In its fresh form (vs. dried –see above), this pepper is roasted and used in New Mexican green chili.  Delicious, though I prefer the red chili.

Poblano Pepper: A mild, dark green, 4-5 inch, thick flesh chili that’s widely popular in Mexico and gaining some traction in the States.  One of my favorites, it is commonly fire roasted for an additional layer of flavor and smokiness.  Use in moles, chili, chili rellenos, for stuffing, on your burgers, or use in place of a green bell pepper.  Leaves little to be desired, and will be added to next year’s garden.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. lts permalink
    July 27, 2010 9:27 am

    “Starting with the top right, going clockwise:”
    should be:
    “Starting with the top left, going clockwise:”

  2. August 7, 2013 3:05 am

    There is no capsaicin in the seeds, common misconception. Its all (mostly) in the placenta, that white part in the center

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