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J's Pepper Guide

Posted Aug 24 2008 7:20pm
As I'm sure many of you know, I love Mexican food. More pointedly, I love spicy Mexican food, and really, just spicy food in general. Therefore, I use a lot of different peppers throughout the year, especially during the summer when I grow them myself and there is an awesome local hot pepper purveyor at the Farmer's Market. Many people might not be as 'fluent' in peppers as I am, so I thought I'd make a guide including pictures and flavor/heat descriptions of all the peppers I use.

I will be adding pictures of the peppers as I get different ones for the visual guide.

A couple of notes: Hot peppers are not vital to many dishes, unless of course you are making jalapeno salsa. :-) If you are heat sensitive, you can always substitute a milder pepper or omit them completely. Also, they tend to get hotter as they mature, turning from green, to yellow, to orange, to red, which is when most peppers are at their spiciest. Seeding and roasting most of the mild to medium peppers removes most of their heat and just leaves their pleasant flavors. Seeding and roasting the spiciest peppers results in a reduction of their heat levels too, but if you are talking about a habanero, it will still be very spicy once roasted. Finally, but very important , please wear gloves when working with fresh peppers . I cannot stress this enough, I have learned the hard way. Let's just say there was an incident involving fresh habaneros and my hand literally turning red and burning for hours. Just be careful when working with hot peppers.

One more thing before I get onto the guide, a pepper's heat is measured in what are called Scoville units. I will not use those here, but if you would like a more technical guide including the Scoville units or information on peppers not listed here, you can check out this website .

The Pepper Guide


Anaheim Peppers:

Anaheim peppers are a mild pepper similar to the New Mexican chili pepper. I generally use Anaheim in place of New Mexican chilies as I have been unable to find fresh ones in Missouri. These are mildly spicy, less so than a jalapeno, more so than, say, a sweet banana pepper. These peppers are often used to make green chili sauces, sautéed or roasted, and many who do not like very spicy food can tolerate the Anaheim pepper.

Banana Peppers:

These peppers are very mild and more sweet than spicy (though they do come in a hot variety, which is what is pictured above, the hot variety is about as spicy as a jalapeno, maybe a little less). They are often eaten fresh or pickled. I like to use fresh or slightly sautéed banana peppers on nachos, tacos and tostadas, or pickled on pizzas.

Black Hungarian Peppers:

Black Hungarian peppers are a gorgeous, mildly spicy pepper. They are much less spicy than "regular" Hungarian Wax Peppers. The plants produce beautiful foliage and purple flowers. This is a "rarer" pepper, and is a great complement to Mexican food.


These fiery little orange guys are one of the hottest peppers there are. Spice intolerant people should steer clear of this one. They have a deep smoky flavor and are very potently spicy. I use habaneros in sauces, fresh salsas, sautéed in flavoring beans, among other things. I particularly like this pepper because of it's unique flavor. The flavors cannot be easily replaced by other peppers, so if you don't like spice, completely omit the habanero and don't worry about substituting something for it.

Hungarian Wax Peppers:

These peppers are very versatile. They are mild, similar in spice level to Anaheim peppers. These peppers are excellent in fajitas, sautéed for tacos, tostadas, nachos or taco salads. They are also good on pizzas, sandwiches and green salads.

Jalapeno Peppers:

Jalapenos are one of the most commonly used hot peppers, at least here in the United States. I personally prefer jalapenos when they turn red, but their spice level intensifies as the pepper matures, so keep that in mind. Jalapenos have a wide variety of uses. I love to roast jalapenos and add them to burritos or burros, enchiladas, fajitas, and tamales. They are excellent sautéed and added to nachos, tacos, tostadas and taco salads. Many like pickled jalapenos on pizzas and sandwiches. Seeding and roasting jalapenos reduces their spice level and makes them a pleasant addition to a dish that even spice sensitive people can enjoy.

Long Red Cayenne Peppers:

This is another hot pepper. Spicier than a jalapeno, but not as spicy as a habanero. These bad boys are good in sauces, roasted in burritos or burros, enchiladas and tamales. Their most common use is dried and ground into a powder. These, like many other very spicy peppers, go best with bland accompaniments such as smashed beans, rice, quinoa or millet. Use sparingly.

Poblano Peppers:

These are one of my favorite peppers. They are commonly used in chile rellenos (roasted stuffed peppers). These are a very mild and flavorful pepper, similar to Anaheim in their spice level. They are excellent in sauces and is a key ingredient in authentic chili chocolate mole. These are good sautéed and added to pretty much any Mexican food, and would probably also make an excellent addition to an Asian stir-fry.

Purple Bell Peppers:

Purple bell peppers are a non-spicy traditional bell pepper. They are sweeter than many common varities, but are really prized for their gorgous color. The flavor is very similar to that of a very sweet green bell pepper.

Red Savina Peppers:

These little red lantern shaped peppers are also called Caribbean Red Habaneros or just Caribbean Peppers. These are one of the hottest peppers in the world. They are hotter than habaneros. Despite their fire, when used in moderation, they add a flavor and depth to Mexican dishes that no other pepper can. These should be used very sparingly though, I love spicy food, but will never use more than half of one, seeded, in a dish.

Serrano Peppers:

Serranos are another favorite of mine, probably actually my favorite pepper. They are a fairly spicy pepper, hotter than a jalapeno, but not as hot as a habanero. These are very popular in Mexico. They are good in salsas, especially salsa verde, they are also good roasted or sautéed in pretty much any Mexican dish. Seeding and/or roasting these peppers, like any hot pepper, reduces their spice level significantly.

Thai Chili Peppers:

These are generally eaten once the peppers have matured and turned red. These are very spicy peppers and as the name implies, are often used in Thai food. They are good in cooked sauces or salsas (which is actually the Spanish word for sauce, but many of us think of tomato, onion, and pepper based concoctions when we hear that word, again, at least in the US, so I like to distinguish the terms). I also like them sautéed, served with roasted potatoes. They are good sautéed or roasted in enchiladas, fajitas and tamales.


New Mexican Red Chile Peppers:

These peppers are very mild and sweet and very common in authentic Mexican cooking. Most often used in sauces, these peppers can also be used in dry rubs and crushed in seasoning mixes.

Chiles Japones:

These are, as the name implies, an 'Asian' pepper. These are a fairly spicy pepper, in line with the hotness of a serrano. These are most commonly used in Asian stir-fry sauces, but can also be used to fire up guacamole, crushed to add fire to a dish (as crushed red pepper would be used), and rehydrated for sauces.

There may be more added here, and this list in no way exhaustive nor are my uses of the peppers, but it's probably sufficient for the peppers you would see used in any of my recipes.

'Til next time!
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