Types of Peppers
There are as many pepper types as can grow wild and
thrive wild in different parts of the world. Here's
an assortment of the most commonly available in American
New Mexican chile.
Ancho: see Poblano.
Banana pepper (0 to
5): Pale yellow-green to yellow (maturing to
bright red); it's about 6 inches long, a fat finger,
that tapers to a point. Aka, Hungarian wax, when it's
Bell pepper (0):
A big chambered sweet "box" that comes in
green (unripe), yellow, red, orange, brown, and purple...but
mostly green in the stores.
Cascabel (hot, 4):
A cherry- or mushroom-looking thing, 1 x 1 inch, that's
mostly used in dried, ground form. When it's dry, the
seeds rattle around, making it "cascabel"
or "jingle bell."
Cayenne (plenty hot,
7-8): A dark green or red--and bony, skinny witch's-finger
looking thing with a pointed end. Usually about 5 inches
long, 1/2 inch in diameter.
Cherry (sweet to hot,
0-4, 7-8): Medium green to red, thick fleshed,
and shaped like a big cherry (running from 3/4 inch
to an inch and a half).
Chilaca : see
Chiltpin or Chiltecpin
or Pequin or Thai bird peppers (very hot, 8-9):
These 1/4 x 3/4-inch oval peppers are glossy and range
from red to green to nearly black. They make a good
kitchen plant: you can mash these little guys into soups
and salad dressings--or you can pickle them in vinegar
in a little kitchen counter bottle and spritz the vinegar
into the soups and sauces.
can be any pepper, but dried by smoking. Jalapenos are
commonly made into chipotles.
Cubanelle (sweet, 0):
Pale yellow-green to orange to red, sometimes a mix
of all three. They're glossy, long cylinders with defined
seams and a sunken, inverted end point. They are thick
fleshed and more flavorful than bells--a classic wax
Datil (very, very hot,
10): One of the capsicum chinense peppers that
will blow the top of your head off. They're wax types,
shaped like baby fingers (2 x 3/4 inch)--a little wrinkled
and pointed at the end. Generally yellow green to golden
De Arbol (hot, 7):
green to red colored, 3 x 3/4 inches, shaped like skinny
fingers with a very pointy end. Usually found dried
and whole in packages.
Fresno (hot, 5-7):
Yellow-green to red, these glossy cones are about 3
inches long, an inch and a half at the base. A thick
wax type that's only used fresh because its too fleshy
to dry properly.
Guajillo (dried) / Mirasol
(fresh) (hot, 4-5): Truly variable--it can be
little or big, smooth or wrinkled. Generally, it's green
to red (red brown, dried), peapod shaped with pointed
ends. Its thin skin makes it excellent dried--as which
it both flavors and colors dishes beautifully and in
Beautifully colored (green, yellow, orange, and orange
red) and shaped like lanterns, with points at the end,
they have completely distinctive aromas and flavors.
They're smallish, 1-2 x 1-2 inches, but pack a huge
punch. Originally from Yucatan, they're associated with
Cuba--"from Havana." They're in the capsicum
Jalapeno (hot, 1-5+):
Bright green to black green, maturing to red, this is
found in most supermarkets. It's smooth, thickfleshed,
sometimes blistered. When marketers found out people
picked blistered-looking jalapenos over smooth ones,
they cultivated ones with blisters. No taste difference
whatsoever. Jalapenos are generally shaped like big
Christmas tree lights, including their blunted pointy
end. They're named for the Mexican city of Jalapa in
the state of Veracruz.
NOTE: When smoked, jalapenos are called chipotles.
Mulato: see Poblano.
New Mexican Chile, AKA
Anaheim (mild to hot, 1-4): Bright green to red
when fresh; brownish red when dried. This long (7-10
inches), thin-skinned flat tube tapers to a blunt point.
It's probably best known as the chile of choice for
stuffed rellenos. It traveled from Mexico to New Mexico
in the late 16th century--then moved made a historic
move 300 years later with Emelio Ortega to his California
ranch. Ortega made such a commercial go of it that it
became known as an Anaheim, despite New Mexico's steady
cultivation and improvement of the pepper. When scientists
of the National Pepper Conference recently called for
a new name designation for the type, New Mexicans girded
their loins and did not stop crusading until it was
recognized in the Congressional Record as the "New
Mexican chile type."
fresh (medium to hot, 3-4): "Pasilla,"
meaning "little raisin," looks just like that--warm
black and wrinkled--but long (6-12 inches) and skinny
with a pointed end. In its fresh form, "chilaca,"
or "old-looking," also fits, as it's also
wrinkled and bent--but it's chocolate colored from the
green chlorophyll sustaining itself into the mature
stage when red pigments are produced. Don't confuse
these with mislabeled anchos and mulatos--and enjoy
the mellow flavor.
Pequin, see above
to mild, 0-1): Most often found green, pickled,
and in salads, this 2- to 5-inch-long pointy tube is
wrinkled, thin-fleshed, and can be grown in a home garden
to a red color.
Pimento (sweet, 0):
Heart-shaped and thick-fleshed, this glossy chile ripens
from green to red and grows to about 4 inches long.
It's got a nice mellow flavor and is great for adding
Poblano (fresh); Ancho
and Mulato, dried ( both are mild to hot, 3):
The fresh Poblano is a 4-inch-long dark green (ripening
to dark red or brown) cone that tapers to a blunt end.
It's flesh is undulating and nicely thick. It gets its
name from the city of Pueblo, Mexico, where it is a
chile of choice--and often used as a relleno shell.
It has two dried forms. The "Ancho" is dark
brown, which turns brick red after soaking (don't soak
it more than an hour...and save the juice to spice soups).
The "Mulato" is dark brown that stays brown
after soaking--and it has a sweeter, richer, and hotter
finish that has also been described as chocolatey.
Rocoto (worse than habanero,
10++): This capsicum pubescens is a fireball
of unbelievable proportions. Generally not available
outside of Latin America, since its fragile fruit is
grown only in high altitude, cool climates, it comes
in green, yellow, and red globes, about 2 x 2 inches,
and has a hairy stem.
Sante Fe Grande (medium
to very hot, 6): This glossy wax-type pepper
comes in pale greenish yellow, orange, and red and looks
like big Christmas tree lights--with smooth, thick flesh,
about 3 inches long. Very similar to the Fresno pepper.
Scotch Bonnet (habanero
hot, 10+): A lot of people think this capsicum
chinense IS the habanero, but it's not. The big difference
between the two is the tip: the Mexican habanero is
pointed; the scotch bonnet (from the West Indies) is
deeply inverted with a distinctly round bottom--thus
making it look like a tam o'shanter with a great big
pompom. It comes in green, yellow-orange, and orange.
Serrano (hot to very
hot, 6-8): These glossy green/red tubes are about
2 inches long and blunted at the end. Their name comes
from serranias, meaning "foothills," because
they're believed to have originated in the foothills
north of Pueblo. They don't have to be seeded or peeled--and
they have a fresh, crisp finish.
Tabasco (very hot, 8-9):
These little pointy tubes are about 1-inch-long and
come in pale yellow-green to yellow to orange to red.
A capsicum frutescens pepper, it was commercially developed
into a hot pepper sauce by the McIlhenny family in Louisiana--and
soon took on the name of the sauce itself. To this day,
the McIlhenny family fiercely protects its rights to
Thai bird peppers,
see above under Chiltpin.
Tomato pepper (sweet,
0-1): This 3-inch pepper is shaped like its name
and is thought to be the precursor of the bell pepper.
It's thick-fleshed, comes in green and red, and is best
known red as a primary source of the spice paprika,
in its powdered form.