What are Chiltepin Peppers
Chiltepin Pepper (pronounced "chil-te-pin"), Capsicum annuum, are also called chile chiltepin, chile tepin, or just chiltepin.
There are approximately 225 chiles per ounce.
Chiltepin chiles look more like a small round berry than a chile. They possess a bright scarlet red color and are slightly larger than a peppercorn coming in at about 3/8" in width. The only chile indigenous to the U.S., the Chiltepin, is the state pepper of Texas. It is believed to be the oldest of the Capsicum annuum species. This wild chile pepper grows on shrubs in canyons throughout parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico.
In Mexico these are often called arrebatado, which translates to "violent" or "rapid", and suggests an intense heat that diminishes quickly.
What does Chiltepin taste like?
Chiltepin chiles have a distinctive sharp flavor with hints of earthiness and smokiness. The upfront heat dissipates quickly.
What is the Difference Between Chile Pequin and Chiltepin?
Pequin Chiles, which are native to Mexico, are sometimes incorrectly sold as Chiltepin chiles. While Chiltepin peppers are round with an intense but short-lived heat, Pequin chiles are oblong with a milder but longer lasting burn. Often the confusion is understandable, as both chiles are indigenous to North America, are small and a favorite of migrating birds. But from a chilehead’s perspective there is no comparison!
How Hot is a Chiltepin Pepper
These chiles are considered a crazy hot chile and come it at 100,000 to 250,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units).
How do You Use Chiltepin Peppers
According to Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobiologist and agroecologist at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center and one of the co-authors of the 2014 study on the origins of chile domestication “Chiltepines are undergoing a renewed popularity among chefs and bartenders and food providers,” says Nabhan. "In Mexico, Chiltepin Chiles are often paired with fish, where the quickly passing heat is reminiscent of wasabi, something that has caught on with chefs north of the border"1.
Chiltepin peppers are often added to cream sauces and soft cheeses or fermented and made into a hot sauce. Its signature flavor is at home in Mexican recipes and is ideal if you crave salsa, hearty stews or spicy hot Texas chili.
In northern Mexico, Chiltepin peppers have been used as a preservative for meat (typically cattle or deer).
We recommend you remove the seeds prior to using as the core of the chile pepper contains many seeds which will leave a bitter flavor. To rehydrate , rinse these chiles off with warm water and then soak in hot water for 10 minutes. Once rehydrated, dice, or puree and add to a recipe. You can also add directly to recipe with enough liquid that will cook at least 10 minutes.
Chiltepin Pepper Substitution
Given that the heat level is so high on the Chiltepin Peppers (100,000 – 250,000 SHU) your best bet as a substitute would be either Thai Bird Chiles (70,000 – 130,000 SHU) or Dried Birdseye Chiles (100,000 – 250,000 SHU). There will be some flavor differences with these other two chiles.
History of Chiltepin Peppers
Chiltepin is derived from the Aztec language (Nahuatl) words "chile" + "tecpintl", chiltecpíntl (pronounced cill-tech-peen), which translates to "flea chile". The word was corrupted by the Spanish to chiltecpin (pronounced chill-tech-peen). In South Texas it is called chilpequin or chilipequin2.
Bernardino de Sahagun, a Franciscan friar, missionary priest, and pioneering ethnographer arrived in Nueva España (Mexico) in 1529. He quickly learned the Nahualt language and spent the next 50 years studying the Aztecs and their culture. He wrote of the typical Aztec market as having as many as twenty varieties of chiles - "hot green chiles, smoked chiles, water chiles, tree chiles, flea chiles and sharp-pointed red chiles. To further illustrate the importance that the Aztecs placed on chiles they classified them into six categories based not only on level of pungency (low to high) but also on type of pungency (broad to sharp)"3.
The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley of Mexico is the arid or semi-arid zone with the richest biodiversity in all North America and is located in central-southern Mexico. This area is considered the originary habitat of Mesoamerica4. Mesoamerica is one of the five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently and is considered by historians to be as significant as ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China. A study released in 2014 shows the Chiltepin was likely the first domesticated chile pepper in the Central-east Mexico region. The oldest macro remains (relatively large items that generally comprise the bulk of plant remains) identified as Capsicum pepper were retrieved from preceramic layering deposits found in dry caves in two states of Mexico: Puebla (Coxcatlán Cave, Tehuacán Valley) and Tamaulipas (Ocampo caves). These chile remains were found with domesticated macro remains of maize, squash, and other species used by humans, all of which, at both sites, were indirectly dated through associations in archaeological strata, suggesting a rough date for the chili pepper macro remains of around 9000–7000 B.P. (Before the Present)5.
“Identifying the origin of the chile pepper is not just an academic exercise,” said UC Davis plant scientist Paul Gepts, the study’s senior author. “By tracing back the ancestry of any domesticated plant, we can better understand the genetic evolution of that species and the origin of agriculture — a major step in human evolution in different regions of the world,” he said6.
With the Chiltepin being the wild ancestor to modern day domesticated chile peppers, it is often referred to as the “mother of all peppers.” In earlier times, the Papago Indians of Arizona traditionally made annual pilgrimages into the Sierra Madre range of Mexico to gather Chiltepins7.
The Chiltepin has a more recent rich history along the US and Mexico borderlands. It has been used as a food, medicine, and legendary icon. Historically, throughout this region, kitchen tables would always have a bottle of dried Chiltepins on them.
In 1997, Texas designated this little chili pepper the Official State Native Pepper of Texas.
Chiltepin Pepper Cultivation
Chiltepin is a wild variety of chile pepper grown in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America and as far south as Colombia. In Mexico, Chiltepin grows along the Pacific and Mexican Gulf coasts, from Sonora to Chiapas and from Tamaulipas to Quintana Roo8.
Today, there are fewer than fifteen natural habitats in America where these chiles are grown, and they are protected in three different National Parks in the Southwestern United States. Established in 1999 in an area of approximately 2,500 acres, and located in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, Arizona is the Wild Chile Botanical Area. This botanical area was established to protect the Nation’s largest known population of a wild Chiltepin Chiles9 and grows the largest amount of Chiltepin peppers north of Mexico.
The Chiltepin Chile plant can grow to a height of two to eight feet. The flowers are small, white, and star shaped. The fruit can be pale green or deep green when immature and ripens to deep orange or dark red.10.
Chiltepines need more moisture and shade than their desert environment can provide, so they have found a way to adapt they grow under what are called nurse plants — vegetation that gives Chiltepines shelter from the intense sun, wind, desert creatures, and other dangers. Mesquite, ironwood, and hackberry are the most common nurse plants for Chiltepines11. Chiltepins grow hidden in the shade of the underbrush, utilizing the moisture conserved by the deep roots of the cover plants. The summer rains feed their flowering and fruiting cycle12.
Chiltepin Chiles are picked by hand because of their small nature and challenging growing environment. The wild harvest is a seasonal ritual in many rural communities to this day, where families make chile-harvesting camps in the mountains during the heat of September and early October to harvest the wild peppers13. Once picked, they are most often dried in the sun.
Numerous attempts to commercially cultivate Chiltepins has been unsuccessful. In captivity, the "domesticated" Chiltepin does not do well with too much moisture which leaves it susceptible to fungal infections. While drought tolerant, the Chiltepin lacks the natural resistance to diseases that invade row crops as they have evolved and thrived in extremely low densities14.
Where are Our Chiltepin Peppers From?
Our Chiltepin chiles are wild harvested and depending on supply may come from Texas or Mexico.
|Also Called||Chile chiltepin, chile tepin, or just chiltepin|
|Recommended Uses||Use in chili, cream sauces, soft cheese, hot sauce, salsa or hearty stew|
|Flavor Profile||A distinctive smoky bite with an upfront heat that dissipates quickly|
|Scoville Heat Units||100,000 – 250,000 SHU|
|Botanical Name||Capsicum annuum|
|Cuisine||Mexican or southwestern US|
|How To Store||Airtight container in a cool, dark place|
|Shelf Life||1-2 Years|
|Country of Origin||Mexico or US|
|Dietary Preferences||Gluten Free, Kosher, Non-GMO|
Hungry for More Information
1, 11 LeVaux, A. (2017, April 4). One Man’s Quest to Find the Wild Origins of the Chile Pepper.Outside Online.
2 Andrews, J. (1999). The Pepper Trail: History and Recipes from Around the World (Revised, Subsequent ed.). University of North Texas Press.
3 Sahagún, B. D. (2021). Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España I (Spanish Edition). Linkgua Ediciones.
4 UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (2018). Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica. United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization. Retrieved December 6, 2021.
5 Kraft, K. H., Brown, C. H., Nabhan, G. P., Luedeling, E., Luna Ruiz, J. D. J., Coppens d’Eeckenbrugge, G., Hijmans, R. J., & Gepts, P. (2014). Multiple lines of evidence for the origin of domesticated chili pepper, Capsicum annuum, in Mexico. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(17), 6165–6170.
6 Birthplace of the domesticated chili pepper identified in Mexico . (2016, January 24). UC Davis. Retrieved December 6, 2021.
7 Dewitt, D. (2011). Southwest Table: Traditional Cuisine From Texas, New Mexico, And Arizona (1st ed.). Lyons Press.
8 Razo-Mendivil, F. G., Hernandez-Godínez, F., Hayano-Kanashiro, C., & Martínez, O. (2021). Transcriptomic analysis of a wild and a cultivated varieties of Capsicum annuum over fruit development and ripening. PLOS ONE, 16(8), e0256319.
9 Coronado National Forest Monitoring and Evaluation Report Trends Analysis: 1986 to 2010. (2011, July 29). Forest Service U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved January 3, 2022.
10 Chiltepin Chili - Arca del Gusto. (2019, February 10). Slow Food Foundation. Retrieved January 3, 2022.
12, 14 Nabhan, G. P., Kraft, K., & Friese, K. M. (2011). Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots along the Pepper Trail (Illustrated ed.). Chelsea Green Publishing.
13 Chiltepin Pepper - Arca del Gusto. (2018, December 8). Slow Food Foundation. Retrieved January 3, 2022.
Serving Size10 chiles, 1.3g
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*