POPSUGAR Celebrity

Know Your Ingredients: Chili Peppers

May 2 2013 - 3:36pm

Cooking for a Cinco de Mayo celebration [1] means utilizing different varieties of chilis, from habañeros to jalapeños to serranos. But you know what we've recently realized? It can be confusing to understand the differences between all those peppers, so we're setting the record straight with a primer. Get to know them in one hot minute when you keep clicking.


0 to 100 Scoville units

Also known as cuban peppers or ají cubanela, cubanelles are about as fiery as bell peppers and have a sweet flavor. They are long, tapered, and glossy, with a thick skin that is pale green when picked but red when ripe. They're popular in Puerto Rican cuisine, and are also added to salads, sandwiches, and casseroles.

Anaheim Chilis

500-2,500 Scoville units

Although these medium-sized green peppers could be mistaken for jalapeños, they're actually far milder, measuring only 500 to 2,500 units on the Scoville scale, a measure of chili pepper pungency. They grow to be about six inches long and are sold fresh, canned, and dried. Also known as New Mexico chilis and green chilis, they are used in Mexican and Southwestern egg dishes, vegetable courses, and stews.

Poblano Peppers

500-2,500 Scoville units

One of Mexico's most popular peppers, poblanos (pictured on the left) actually come from Puebla — the Mexican state where Cinco de Mayo is observed. Poblano peppers start out purplish or green in hue, eventually becoming a dark red-black as they ripen, resembling a bell pepper (pictured on the right), but not as large and pointed at the bottom. They tend to be as mild as Anaheim peppers, although occasionally a poblano will show serious heat. Poblanos are fried, stuffed [2], or used to make poblano sauces like mole poblano. When they're dried, they become ancho chilis.

Cascabel Peppers

1,500-2,500 Scoville units

This small, round red pepper, which means "little bell" in Spanish, is also known as the chili bola. It has a moderately sweet, nutty flavor with some heat, and lends itself well to stews and sauces such as romesco sauce.


2,500-8,000 Scoville Units

The most recognizable chili in the United States, the jalapeño has a slightly smoky flavor that packs a moderate punch. The pepper, which grows to about three inches, is picked and sold when still green, although it will ripen to a bright red color. Jalapeños can be used fresh in salsas, added into stir-fries, or used to make jalapeño poppers [3], among many other applications. When smoke-dried, jalapeños are referred to as chipotle peppers, and used to add earthiness to salsa.

Fresno Peppers

2,500-10,000 Scoville units

Ripe, red Fresno peppers are similar to jalapeños in size and shape, only they are markedly hotter. They are nutrient-rich and are used in fresh dishes such as ceviche and salsa; they do not dry well.

Hungarian Wax Pepper

5,000-15,000 Scoville units

These pastel yellow-green peppers, named for their waxy rinds, are closely related to banana peppers. Although they're harvested when they are light in color, they can mature to a rich red color. Toss them uncooked into salads, pickle them, or add them to stews.


10,000-25,000 Scoville units

Serranos are smaller and skinnier than jalapeños, and often picked unripe, when they are still green in color. As they mature, serrano peppers may turn a variety of colors, including red, green, brown, orange, and yellow. They are often consumed raw and appreciated for their crisp, bright, acutely spicy flavor. Try them to add bite to an all natural chili con queso [4].

Chiles de Árbol

15,000-30,000 Scoville units

Spanish for "tree chili," the Árbol chili is a small, ultra-potent pepper that resembles a serrano, only even slimmer. The pepper, which grows to be no more than two or three inches long, starts out green, then ripens to red, with a hairpin-thin stem. Chiles de árbol may be used fresh or ground into a powder; when dried, they are often put to decorative use as well.

Habañero Chilis

100,000-350,000 Scoville units

Although habañero chilis have a fruity, citrusy aroma, beware: they're piercing and fiery. These peppers, which are thought to have originated in the Yucatán Peninsula, are picked at an unripe green, then color to orange, red, white, brown, or even pink when ripe. They're often puréed and used in salsa [5], or to add a kick to mezcal and tequila.

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