Give your warm-weather meals an extra kick with chiles: Hundreds of varieties are available this time of year, each with a distinctive flavor and heat level. Start experimenting with them using our tips for choosing, prepping and cooking.
What to Look For
Select firm, bright chiles that are free of blemishes, moldy stems, soft spots or wrinkling. In general, the smaller and more pointed the chile, the hotter it is.
Here’s a guide to some of the country’s most popular chile varieties.
- Anaheim: This long, green, mild to moderately spicy chile is found in most markets.
- Banana: Also known as a wax pepper, this variety has a mild and tangy flavor, and is ideal for pickling and stuffing.
- Cayenne: The pepper, which originates from South America, is very hot; it’s frequently ground and used as a spice, or utilized as a whole pepper in Asian cooking.
- Fresno: The fresno, which is similar ito a red jalapeño in appearance, flavor, and heat level, is often used in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine.
- Habanero: Renowned as the hottest of all chiles, this 2-inch (5-cm.) lantern-shaped variety combines its intense heat with flavors of tomatoes and tropical fruits. It can be found in unripe green and ripened yellow, orange and red forms.
- Jalapeno: The most popular and widely available of fresh chiles, this tapered chile, 2-3 inches (5-7 1/2 cm.) in length, has thick flesh and varies in degree of hotness. You can find it in green and sweeter ripened red forms.
- Padrón: Padrón peppers, which originate from Spain, have a sweet, nutty flesh, thin skin, and no seeds, which makes them ideal for eating whole. While they’re generally mild, the occasional padrón has been known to be fiery.
- Piquillo: Another Spanish pepper is the piquillo, which possesses a flavor that resembles bell peppers. It’s often fire-roasted, then stuffed and served as tapas.
- Poblano: This broad-shouldered, tapered, moderately hot chile is 5 inches (13 cm.) long and a polished deep green.
- Red Thai: Thai bird chiles, as they’re sometimes known, are medium-hot peppers that that lend a mellow, gradual spice to Asian dishes such as Thai and Indian curries.
- Serrano: These slender chiles measure 1-2 inches (2 1/2-5 cm.) long and are very hot, with a brightly acidic flavor; they’re available in both green and ripened red forms.
- Shishito: Much like padrón peppers, shishitos are generally mild but occasionally spicy and are often eaten whole.
- Ancho: The ancho is a dried poblano, measuring 4 1/2 inches (11.5 cm.) long, with wide shoulders and a wrinkled, deep reddish brown skin. It has a mild, bittersweet flavor reminiscent of chocolate.
- Pequin: Oval-shaped, light orange-red and small (about 1 1/2 inches/2 1/2 cm.), this chile is fiery, but the heat is short-lived.
- Chipotle: The smoke-dried form of the ripened jalapeno, this chile is rich in flavor and very hot. Sold in its dried form, it is typically a leathery brown, although some varieties are deep burgundy.
- Guajillo: Moderately hot, this burgundy chile is about 5 inches (13 cm.) long and tapered. It has brittle smooth skin and a sharp, uncomplicated flavor.
- Arbol: This smooth-skinned, bright reddish-orange chile measures about 3 inches (7 1/2 cm.) long, narrow in shape, and fiery hot.
- Pasilla: This skinny, wrinkled, raisin-black chile is about 6 inch es(15 cm.) long, with a sharp, fairly hot flavor.
After you buy them, store all types of chiles in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. A compound called capsaicin gives chiles their heat. It is concentrated inside the chiles, so to lessen their heat, trim off membranes and scrape away seeds. Since the heat from chiles can linger for hours on your skin, wear thin gloves or thoroughly wash your hands along with the cutting board and the knife as soon as you’ve finished working with them.
Quick Preparation Ideas
In addition to contributing heat and depth of flavor to sauces and salsas, chiles can be stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables and then fried or baked. Roasted and sliced into ribbons, milder chiles can be stirred into soups or tossed with shredded meat for tacos, sandwich fillings, or egg dishes.
Check out our visual guide below, and pin it as a bookmark for later!