How Well Do You Know Your Chiles
How Well Do You Know Your Chiles

Here at Spices, we believe that chile peppers can be added to (almost) anything. We recently made chocolate bark with Ancho chile powder, cinnamon and nuts and boy was it delicious! Just a pinch of chile flakes can turn up the heat in almost any dish and whole chile peppers are great for salsas and chili.

There are so many different varieties of chiles, but they all come from the same family, Capsicum to be exact. From there, there are five species with unlimited specific types within the species. What sets these peppers apart from the bell peppers that you put in your salad or find in a veggie tray? The capsaicin. Capsaicin is where chile peppers get their heat. It runs through the veins of the peppers, not the seeds which are believed by many people.

While we’re on the subject, let’s clear up one small letter that can be a little confusing. Chile with an “e” and chili with an “I”. Chile with an “e” describes a pepper that is in the Capsicum family and is scored by its heat on the SHU (Scoville Heat Unit) scale. Chile powder, therefore, is the ground powder of a chile pepper. Chili with an “I” on the other hand describes a type of dish prepared in a pot or slow cooker that includes chiles, meat, and sometimes beans. Chili powder, however, describes a seasoning that is a combination of chile pepper and other spices.


Chile peppers originated in the Americas before the year 7500BC. They are said to have been domesticated in Mexico over 6000 years ago and were also the first self-populating plant to be grown in Mexico. Not only is Christopher Columbus credited with discovering America, but he is also one of the first Europeans to encounter them and call them “peppers”. These chiles were quickly brought back to Europe and were grown by monks in Portugal and Spain. They then spread through trade to many countries around the world.

Japones Chiles

Capsicum Annuum

Capsicum annuum are the family of pepper that grow well in areas void of frost. The plants can live all year round and can grow into a large perennial shrub. Annuums range in flavor from sweet to hot. The fruit is actually a berry and can be green, yellow or red. There are thousands of Capsicum annuum cultivars found around the world. Some of the more popular varieties include:

Ancho - The most commonly used dried chile in Mexico, the Ancho Chile, is actually a dried Poblano pepper. Ancho peppers are a deep, reddish brown to black in color and the texture is wrinkled. They have a mild fruity flavor with undertones of plum, raisin, tobacco and a slight earthy bitterness. This is considered a mild heat chile, measuring 1,000-1,500 on the Scoville Heat Scale.

Chipotle “Meco” - These Jalapenos are also known as chile meco, chile Ahumado, brown chipotles or chipotle tipico. Chipotle chiles are left on the vine for the longest amount of time possible until they turn a deep red and lose most of their moisture. The “Meco” is stiff with a grayish-tan coloring and is best described as resembling a cigar butt. This is a smoked jalapeno which is smoked twice as long as the Chipotle “Morita”. This causes it to be extremely stiff and not very pliable. The flavor profile is smoky with a slightly spicy, grassy fruitiness. Our “Meco” Chipotle powder is harvested in Mexico and is considered a medium heat chile at 2,500 - 10,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units).

Chipotle “Morita” - Chipotles are also fully ripened and then smoked dried jalapenos. It takes 10 pounds of fresh jalapenos to make one pound of dried Chipotles. The end result is a dark brown to black colored, shriveled pepper that has a smoky and slightly sweet chocolaty flavor and aroma. These peppers are leathery and pliable. They have a bit of a kick to them and are considered a medium heat chile coming in at 2,500 - 10,000 SHU.

De Arbol - De Arbol means “tree like” in Spanish and was named that because of its instantly recognizable long woody stem. While growing they are green and mature to bright red at which point they are harvested. De Arbol have a natural, grassy flavor with a hint of nuttiness and they have a searing, acidic heat. It is considered a hot chile that comes in at 15,000 - 30,000 SHU.

Japones Chile  - Also known as Hontaka, Santaka, Oriental chile peppers or Chinese Chiles. While very popular in Chinese and Japanese recipes, these chiles are native to Mexico and are widely used in Caribbean and Latin American cuisine. The Japones chile has a very clean and biting taste. Considered a hot chile, the Japones comes in at between 15,000 and 30,000 SHU

Korean Chile Flakes  -  Korean Chile Flakes are also called "gochagaru". They are used to provide flavorful heat in Korean dishes such as Kimchi. While Korean Chile flakes look much like red pepper flakes, they should not be substituted because Korean Chile flakes do not include seeds which creates a different flavor profile.

Pasilla "Negro" Chile - The Pasilla Negro is the dried version of the Chilaca Chiles which are dark green chiles that feature a similar heat profile to the more popular Poblano pepper.

Pequin Chile - Pequin Chiles are a common ingredient in liquid hot pepper seasonings and with their rich flavor they add a fiery zest to beans, sauces, soups and stews. The flavor profile of the Pequin chile is citrusy and nutty with a hint of smokiness and they are considered a hot chile, with their SHU rating coming in between 30,000 and 60,000.

Urfa Biber - Most commonly used in Turkish cuisine, Urfa Biber chiles play a starring role in lamb kebobs. Their tangy flavor also works in a variety of savory dishes such as roasted vegetables, braised meats and hearty stews. The flavor profile of the Urfa Chile is well rounded and complex with a smoky earthy edge and undertones of coffee, chocolate, tobacco and raisins.

Tien Tsin - Tien Tsin chile peppers are also known as Chinese Red Peppers or tianjin pepper. You’ll also find them referenced as Tientsin, as they are named after the province in China where they are native.

Annuum cultivars: Aleppo, Anaheim, Ancho, Banana Pepper, Bell Pepper, Bird's Eye, Cascabel, Cayenne, Chilaca, Chungyang red pepper, Cubanelle, Chile de Arbol, Dundicut, Facing Heaven, Fresno, Guajillo, Hungarian Wax, Italian Sweet, Jalapeno, Korean Chile Flakes, Medusa, New Mexico, Padron, Pasilla, Peperoncini, Peter, Pimento, Poblano, Santa Fe Grande, Serrano, Shishito

Capsicum Baccatum

The most well known chile in the Capsicum Baccatum species is the Aji Amarillo. It has its origins in ancient Peru and is the star of many Peruvian dishes. The pepper is part of the Peruvian condiment trinity along with red onion and cilantro.  Aji is the Caribbean word for chili and/or peppers. The Spanish colonizers spread the term throughout much of South America. There are around 5 cultivars of Capsicum Baccaturm. The most popular chiles include:
Chocolate Habanero Chiles

Aji Amarillo - "Aji" means chile pepper in Spanish, and "amarillo" means yellow. While these are called “yellow chile peppers”, they actually mature to a deep orange color and turn yellow when cooked. This thick skinned, bright orange chile has a raisiny aroma and offers a lot of fruitiness for its heat. The fruity flavor has hints of mango and passion fruit while the fruitiness is different from other chiles, like Anchos, as it is less sharp, with more of a subtle full body.

Brazilian Starfish  - The Brazilian Starfish, also known as Aji Brazilian Starfish, is a very unique pepper because of its shape, very short and squat. The pepper matures from green to a bright shade of red and is considered a hot chile coming in at 30,000-50,000 SHU.

Baccatum cultivars: Aji Amarillo, Bishop's Crown, Brazilian Starfish, Lemondrop, Peppadew

Capsicum Chinense (Super Hot)

Capsicum Chinense chiles are also known as “yellow lantern chiles”. Chiles that come from the genus Capsicum Chinense are known for their extreme heat and originated in the Americas. Many of the hottest chiles in the world fall into this category. Some taxonomists consider peppers from this species to actually be in the C. annum species, but their drastically different heat levels set them apart. There are around 14 cultivars of Capsicum Chinense. The most popular are:

Aji Panca - Aji Panca has the same appearance and shape of the Aji Amarillo chile but with a fresher, lighter flavor.  Aji Panca chiles have a fruity, berry like flavor with an aromatic, smoky taste and a mild lingering heat which is similar to chipotle chiles, but not near as overpowering. The Aji Panca goes from a yellowish green and ripens to a dark red burgundy color. Even in its native Peru, you are more likely to only find these as dried chiles and very rarely fresh.

Carolina Reaper - In November 2013 the "Carolina Reaper" was recognized by Guinness Book of World Records as the world's hottest chile pepper and tips the scales in the range of 1,400,000 - 2,200,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). If you can get past the “burn your face off” heat the Carolina Reaper Chili has a pleasant flavor with undertones of chocolate and cherry.

Chocolate Habanero  - The Chocolate Habanero Chile is also known as “Congo Black”, “Black Habanero” and “Jamaican Chocolate Habanero”. They start off an emerald green and mature to a luscious chocolate brown color approximately 100 days after transplanting. The Chocolate Habanero thrives in hot climates and is especially popular in Mexican Cuisine.

Ghost Chile - The name Bhut Jolokia translates to ‘ghost chile,’ and chile heads say that is because this chile is so hot, you give up the ghost when you eat it! The Bhut Jolokia comes in at just over 1 million (yes 1,000,000) Scoville Heat Units (SHU). This chile doesn’t have much of a flavor profile other than “burn your face off” hot.

Habanero Chiles - Habaneros ripen into one of a variety of colors including red, orange, pink, white or chocolate. Habaneros are some of the hottest chile peppers and rate around 200,000 - 300,000 Scoville Units. While these pack a nice burn that heat seekers crave they also have a bit of a fruity taste to them. The flavor profile of the habanero has the noticeable tropical fruit flavors of coconut and papaya, with berry undertones, and an acidic and intense, fiery heat.

Red Savina Habanero Chiles - The Red Savina packs more heat than a typical habanero and was first grown in California through selective breeding to produce a hotter and larger version of the typical orange habanero. The flesh is a medium thickness and it matures from green to red. Fun fact - The extract of the Red Savina is often used in police-grade pepper spray. Red Savinas have an almost exhilarating fruity apricot aroma and flavor.

Scotch Bonnet - The Scotch Bonnet chile gets its name from the shape of the pepper that with its squashed appearance resembles a Scotsman's bonnet (known as a Tam o’Shanter hat). The Scotch Bonnet isn’t quite as hot as a Habanero and is slightly sweeter with a flavor profile that is more reminiscent of tomatoes with hints of apple and cherry while also being slightly smaller. The SHU for the Scotch Bonnet comes in at 100,000 - 300,000.

Chinense cultivars: Adjuma, Aji Dulce, Carolina Reaper, Datil, Fatalii, Habanero, Hainan Yellow Latern Chili, Madame Jeanette, Naga Jolokia, Red Savina Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Trinidad moruga Scorpion, Trinidad Scorpion 'Butch T'

Capsicum Frutescens

Capsicum frutescens is a species of chile pepper that is sometimes considered to be a part of Capsicum Annum. These chiles are very small, growing less than one inch long. While growing, the fruit is yellow or green and turns to a bright
red as the pepper matures. One of the most well known chiles of all time belongs to this species, the Tabasco pepper.

African Birdseye - The African Birdseye Chile is also called African devil, Monbassa chile, African Chile or Zanzibar chile. The immature fruit is green in color and when fully ripened the chile turns a bright red. Birdseye Chiles have a clean flavor but lack the complexity of some of the more popular chiles. With undertones of dry hay they have a nice bite.

Tabasco -  Tabasco peppers are named after the Mexican state of Tabasco where they grow. They are the only chile pepper that is considered juicy, because it is not dry on the inside. Tabasco peppers rate between 30,000 and 50,000 on the SHU scale. They are also the pepper used to make Tabasco sauce.

Thai Chiles  - Thai Chiles are also known as Thai chili pepper, Thai miniatures and bird’s beak chiles. The flavor profile of Thai chiles is a slightly fruity taste with a strong spiciness. It has a thin but tough textured outer skin and packs a fiery heat that lingers with cooking. The Thai chile comes in at 70,000 - 130,000 SHU and is considered to be a hot chile. This chili is used in the popular Sriracha sauce that was originally used in Thailand and Vietnam. Sriracha sauce is typically made with Thai chiles, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt.

Frutescens cultivars: African Bird's Eye, Siling labuyo, Malagueta, Tabasco, Thai Chiles

Capsicum Pubescens

Capsicum Pubescens are interesting because they are among the oldest domesticated peppers, and are also reproductively isolated from the rest of the Capsicum species. They are also known as rukutu, ruqutu and luqutu and can be found growing in Central and South America. What sets these peppers apart from others in the Capsicum family is their leaves. The name pubescens means hairy which refers to the hairy leaves of the peppers.
These peppers are rarely grown commercially so it can be quite difficult to find them in a store or market.

Capsicum Pubescens

Canario - Canario pods are yellow when fully ripe, named after the canary bird. The walls of the pepper are thick and they can grow to the size of a small apple. Canario peppers are grown in South America and thrive under cool growing conditions. These are a medium heat chile.

Manzano - The name Manzano translates to "apple" and is also know as Chile Peron, Chile Caballo, and Chile
Ciruelo. This pepper is typically used in its fresh form because the flesh is extremely thick which makes it hard to dry.
The Manzano turns a yellow/ orange color when it reaches maturity.

Rocoto - The Rocoto chile pepper is also known as the locoto pepper, rocote, or the caballo or "horse" pepper. The seeds of the Rocoto pepper are very dark or black, much like the other cultivars in the Pubescens family. There are two types of Rocoto chile peppers, small red peppers that are more common in Bolivia and large red peppers that are grown in Peru.

Pubescens cultivars:Canario, Manzano, Rocoto

This list has a lot of peppers on it, but not all of them. There are some lesser-known chiles, and of course, new cultivars are being created all the time, so we decided to stick to the most popular ones.

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