How hot do you want it? Chili peppers range from mild to wild so we present our guide. They add delicious, complex flavors to a variety of dishes. A simple bit of chili pepper can add great distinction and depth to your recipes.
Remember, water activates the heat qualities of chilis, so, if the heat’s too much, quickly eat a simple starch like white bread or mashed potatoes, which neutralize the effect.
Appearance: thick-fleshed, shaped like a bell pepper with collapsed sides tapering to a point; 3″ to 5″ long, 2″ to 3″ wide near the stem; grows dark green and becomes dark red when fully matured.
Flavor: smoke-roasted and earthy with full, green flavor.
Firepower: tropical; a comfortable “3” on the heat scale.
Best uses: roasted and peeled in casseroles and soups and sauces; stuffed for chiles rellenos.
Anaheim (New Mexican)
Appearance: long, smooth and bluntly pointed with medium-thick flesh; 5″ to 7″ long, 1″ to 2″ wide; glossy green, orange-red or bright scarlet.
Flavor: clear-cutting, sweet, earthy flavor.
Firepower: lukewarm; ranges between “4” and “2” on the heat scale.
Best Uses: in most Southwestern dishes including beverages, sauces, salads, stew chilies rellenos, tamales, casseroles, dressings, candies and desserts.
Note: dried crushed red New Mexican and Anaheim are commonly sold as crushed red pepper flakes; Anaheims are milder than New Mexican and are often sold whole or chopped in cans as generic “mild green chilies”.
Appearance: long, thin-fleshed, sharply pointed pods, either straight or curled at the tip; 6″ to 10″ long, 1″ wide; ripens to brick red.
Flavor: acidic and tart (also exudes smoky undertones when dried).
Firepower: incendiary; a dangerous “8” on the heat scale.
Best Uses: fresh in salsa or salads; dried and crushed in Creole dishes or whole in Asian stir-fry dishes.
Note: dried red cayenne is commonly ground into a spice known as cayenne pepper or processed into hot pepper sauces such as Tabasco; in world commerce, dried cayenne pods are known as Ginnie peppers.
Appearance: torpedo-shaped and thick-fleshed, but longer than Jalapenos; 1 to 3-inches long” to 1-inch wide; grows dark green and usually ripens to red, but sometimes brown, orange or yellow.
Flavor: pleasantly acrid flavor with clean, biting heat.
Firepower: blazing, but less explosive than de arbol; a low “7” or high “6” on the heat scale.
Best Uses: fresh in salsa; roasted in sauces; pickled with carrots and onions.
Appearance: long, cylindrical and furrowed; over 6″ long, 1″ wide; grows dark green; ripens to dark brown.
Flavor: raisin-like aroma with sweet berry overtones.
Firepower: tepid; an unobtrusive “3” on the heat scale.
Best Uses: dried or powdered in sauces or moles such as guacamole.
Note: in California and northern Mexico, fresh and dried Poblanos are often mistakenly named Pasillas.
Habenero (Bahamian, Scotch bonnet)
Appearance: short, stocky, lantern-shaped; 1″ to 2-?” long, 1″ to 2″ wide; ripen to red, yellow, orange or white; most frequently dark orange.
Flavor: distinctly floral and fruity with delayed-action nasal flame that sneaks up on you, then persists.
Firepower: infernal, the hottest pepper known; a “10” on the heat scale and estimated to be 100 times hotter than Jalapenos.
Best Uses: with tomatoes and tropical fruits; in fresh salsa, chutney, marinades and jerk sauces; for persistent heat in any dish.
Note: although very similar to the habanero, the Scotch bonnet pepper is usually yellow in color and slightly more bonnet-shaped than lantern-shaped.
Appearance: plump, blunt and bullet-shaped, sometimes with dry cracks along the thick-fleshed skin; 1″ to 2″ long, -?” to 1″ wide; shiny medium green, red or purple when ripe.
Flavor: green vegetable flavor with back-or-the-throat heat. Firepower: flaming; a fiery “5” on the heat scale.
Best Uses: fresh in salsa, stews, sauces, breads or dips; stuffed with cheese for a snack; as a topping for nachos.
Note: known as Chipotle Chile when smoke-dried.
Ancho (dried Poblano)
Appearance: broad, flat, wrinkled and heart-shaped with medium-thick flesh; 3″ to 6″ long, 2″ to 3″ wide; dark reddish mahogany (sometimes called “mulato” when dark brown or “negro” when black)
Flavor: mild fruit flavor with smoky, earthy hints of coffee and dried plum.
Firepower: cozy and warm; a modest “3” on the heat scale.
Best Uses: chili, sauces and moles.
Note: the Spanish mole means “mixture”, as in guacamole, which is a mixture of vegetables or guaca.
Appearance: fleshy and round or slightly heart-shaped; 1-?” long, 1 ” wide; ripen to orange or red.
Flavor: medium sweetness with bright, piquant warmth.
Firepower: warm; ranges between “4” and “1” on the heat scale.
Best Uses: often pickled, sliced and served with sandwiches or salads; also good when chopped fresh in salsa.
Note: especially good pungent varieties include red cherry and hot apple.
Appearance: elongated, pointed and thin-fleshed with a tough skin; 3″ to 4″ long, 3/4″ to 1″ wide; shiny dark red or orange.
Flavor: superb tropical fruit flavor with clear, direct heat.
Firepower: naughty; a respectable “5” on the heat scale.
Best Uses: in sauces, stews and corn dishes; pickled with carrots and onions.
Note: the gualilo chile is a variety of the mirasol chile.