How to Pick the Best Chile Pepper to Suit Your Meal

If you like spicy food, you are probably already familiar with and love chile peppers.  Although the common theme among chile peppers is their heat, there are many different flavors, colors and textures of chile peppers, and some are more befitting to certain recipes and complement certain ingredients better than others.


So how do you pick the best chile pepper for your meal?

Although there are literally hundreds of varieties of chile peppers throughout the world, here is a breakdown of the most commonly used chile peppers available at supermarkets and health food stores.  It’s important to note that some chile peppers can have a multitude of different names, especially in different cultures.  When shopping for chile peppers, and the name you give the grocer or the name they give you doesn’t sound right, make sure you ask if there are other names it may be called.


Anaheim peppers are commonly called California fresh chiles.  They are 6-7 inches long, pointed and bright green.  Their flavor is usually mild to medium, and are best used in dishes when fresh, although you can use them dried if necessary.


Ancho peppers are dark red in color, sometimes purple, and are among the sweetest chiles.  Ancho peppers are actually dried poblano chiles, which are fruity and sweet in flavor and mild in heat.


Cayenne pepper is usually used in ground powder form or as red chile flakes. This pepper is bright red and has a hot, dry flavor.


Chipotle peppers are dark brown chiles that are a dried form of red jalapenos.  Chipotle peppers have a smoky and fruity flavor, but also have medium-hot heat, making them a versatile pepper used in sauces and stews.  When chipotle peppers are canned, it is known as adobo sauce.


Habañero peppers are among the hottest peppers in the world.  They are small in shape and range in color from bright orange to lime green.  Because of the heat they pack, it’s best to use these sparingly, and make sure to taste a dish before adding additional peppers.


Jalapeño peppers are the most popular of all chile peppers due to their flavor and versatility.  They are called for in many Latin dishes and are available fresh, canned and dried.  They are dark green, juicy and have medium-hot flavor.  Slice fresh on nachos or stuff with cream cheese and bacon for perfect party snacks.


Pasilla peppers, or chilaca peppers when fresh, are usually found dried.  These peppers are long and very dark, almost black, and used primarily for sauces.  Their dark color has also given them the name chile negro.


Poblano peppers are triangular, dark green chiles that are most commonly used in making chiles rellenos.  They are mild to medium in flavor and are often used in mole sauces.  Dried poblanos are known as ancho chiles.


Serrano peppers are often used interchangeably with jalapeños.  They have a citrus undertone and are hot in flavor.

Chile Pepper Tips:

– Don’t judge the heat by the size. Smaller chile peppers are generally hotter than larger varieties.

– When handling fresh chiles, especially super hot chiles, wear thin rubber gloves and don’t touch your face or your eyes before washing your hands first.

– A chile’s hot oil, called capsaicin, is concentrated in the white ribs and seeds of the pepper. By removing the seeds and the ribs, you can greatly reduce the heat.

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