Did you ever look at those colorful bins of chili peppers and think which one is for stir fry and which one is for making salsa? Have you ever mistaken serrano for jalapenos? There are several varieties of chili peppers, and apparently, there is an ardent race of breeding hotter and hotter peppers. But aside from the level of hotness it has, most of us just want to figure out how to identify what chili are we purchasing, what they look like, and the different ways to use them. That’s why we are here to give you a guide on chili peppers so you would be sure you’re reaching for the right chili pepper in the grocery store.
Where Does All the Heat Come From?
Before we talk about the types of chili peppers, let’s talk about where their heat is coming from. For starters, the compound that gives chili their heat is called capsaicin. 80 percent of the chili peppers capsaicin can be found in its membranes and seeds. That’s why if you cannot handle a lot of heat, it’s better to trim these parts off.
Take note that freezing and cooking the chili pepper won’t lessen the capsaicin’s power. Also, remember that the mouth is not only the part of our body that is sensitive to the heat of capsaicin. That’s why whenever you’re chopping chili peppers, always make sure that you wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after.
Also, take note that larger chili peppers have a milder heat level and smaller chili peppers can contain a higher amount of spicy membranes and seeds. That’s why they are much hotter.
How Do You Measure the Heat Level of Chili Peppers?
The heat level of chili peppers is measured using the Scoville scale. This scale was invented in 1912, and it has been the most popular measurement of heat ever since. The scale is created based on human taste buds that are trying to sense heat in an alcohol-based extract that is made with diluted chili pepper. The notch of dilution converts into Scoville heat units or SHU. The higher the SHU, the hotter the chili pepper is because it needs to be diluted more to reduce and eliminate heat.
Types of Chili Peppers
Now that you know where the heat of chili peppers is coming from and how it is measured, here’s a guide to the different types of chilis. So that you can buy the right chili pepper that will suit your cooking needs and heat sensitivity.
Peppadew is a chili pepper that is native to South Africa. This was first cultivated in the ‘90s, and it has been one of the most popular chili peppers ever since. Peppadew is a name that is trademarked in South Africa to control its commercial growing. This chili pepper has a unique taste along with hints of sweetness and spice, and it has a Scoville rating of 1100 to 1200 SHU. Peppadews are often sliced and used on bread, pizzas, salads, and pasta. Peppadews look like cherry tomatoes, and they are mostly sold pickled with their seeds removed. That’s why it has a generally milder flavor.
Poblano peppers come from the Puebla state in Mexico, and its name means “an inhabitant of Puebla.” This is a large pepper that can grow from 7 to 15 cm long and it has a Scoville rating of 2500 to 5000 SHU. Poblano chilis are more potent when they are red and ripe compared to when it’s raw and green. They develop a dark and almost brownish-red color as they mature. Poblano chilis are often used to make the sauce enriched with bitter dark chocolate called mole poblano. It happens to be one of the most popular dishes in Mexico.
Guajillo peppers are often sold deseeded, dried, soaked, and ground into a thin paste because they are often used in soups, salsa, and stews. It is commonly used to make salsa for dishes like tamales because they add an aromatic and rich taste. The guajillo chili can grow as much as 5 to 10 cm in length, and they have a Scoville rating of 2500 to 5000 SHU. This chili requires a little bit more time of soaking to unlock its flavors compared to other dried chilies because they have thick and leathery skin.
This is probably of the most popular chili peppers in the world. Jalapeños have a broad Scoville rating that ranges from 1000 to 20,000 SHU. Because it has a broad heat range, eating it can be quite a gamble because you will never know what you’re going to get. Take note that as jalapeños matured, they tend to turn red and become hotter. Experts say that hotter jalapeños have white stretch marks on them which tells you its age and hotness. Aside from being a scorching chili pepper, jalapeños can be an excellent addition to your diet because it also contains vitamins A and C.
Serrano peppers look like jalapeños, but they are much hotter. They have a Scoville rating of 10,000 to 25,000 SHU. This pepper originated in Mexico, and it is one of the most common peppers in the world. It can grow up to 5cm long, and they have a crisp taste. Serrano peppers are often eaten raw, and they have thin skin which makes them easy to eat but tricky to dry. When they are raw, they have a green color, but when it ripens, they can turn into different colors such as brown, orange, red, and yellow.
Bird’s Eye Chili
This type of chili pepper is very small, and their seeds are often spread by birds; that’s why they are called Bird’s Eye chili. Birds cannot taste capsaicin that’s why they can eat this chili and spread their seeds. Even if they are small, the bird’s eye chili is packed with hotness because their Scoville rating ranges from 100,000 to 225,00 SHU. Aside from being one of the hottest chilies, the bird’s eye chili has surprising benefits such as helping to control stomach pain, arthritic pain, and even toothaches. In fact, the bird’s eye chili is used as an antibacterial agent that helps prevent infections in India.
Habanero is named after the capital city of Cuba, Havana. This is a very hot chili, and it has a Scoville rating of 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. The habanero pepper comes in different colors. But growers consider the orange one as the real habanero. If it’s your first time trying this chili, remember to be careful because this can be very intense.
Also called as Bhut jolokia, the ghost pepper is one of the world’s hottest pepper. It has a Scoville rating of 1 million SHU. This scorching chili pepper was first cultivated in India and today, it grows in the north-eastern regions of Assam and Nagaland. Ghost peppers that grow outside this region tend to have lower hotness potency. But even if it has lower power, it can still be scorching hot. It’s so hot that even touching its flesh can cause skin burns.