Hot Stuff: A Guide to Chiles Part 1

June 14, 2011

We are crazy for spicy foods.  It may be because when the spice agent, capsaicin, meets our tongue, receptors are sent to our brain to release endorphins because it believes our body is in pain.  A chile's heat is measured by the Scoville scale, ranging from zero (bell pepper) to over a million (ghost pepper).  Whenever handling fresh chiles, take care to wear gloves and DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES!  To reduce heat in fresh chiles, remove the seeds along with the membrane.  Here is a guide to the most common chile peppers you will find in your local supermarket.

Poblano:  These are large dark green peppers used extensively in Mexican cooking.  They have tough skins, so they must be roasted and peeled before using.  Poblanos are typically used to make chile rellenos, stuffed with cheese, battered, and  fried.  Scoville Units: 1,000-2,000

New Mexico:  Called an Anaheim pepper in California, these medium sized light green peppers are often roasted and added to a variety of foods.  You will find New Mexican chiles used in enchilada sauce, stews, and the famous green chile chesseburgerScoville Units: 2,500

Jalapeno:  The most used chile in the United States.  These versatile peppers can be used fresh for salsas, pickled to top nachos, baked potatoes, and hot dogs, or smoked.  A jalapeno's heat depends on its cultivation or preparation, thus some will be spicer than others.  Scoville Units: 2,500-8,000

Serrano: Serranos are typically eaten raw and used mostly in salsas.  They have a bright and herbal flavor.  Serranos are significantly hotter than jalapenos so be careful.  Scoville Units: 15,000-25,000

Cayenne: This chile is most often used in its powdered form; the fresh chile is as hot or hotter than that.  Delicious in stir fries and in dipping sauces. Scoville Units: 30,000- 50,000

Thai: You can find these red or green peppers in Asian markets.  Mostly used in Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly for curry. Scoville Units: 60,0000

Habanero: The hottest pepper on the market.  They are approximately 100 times hotter than a jalapeno.  Habaneros are popular in Caribbean cuisine.  One pepper is more than enough to make any dish sizzle. Scoville Units: 200,000-300,000

Image Sources: