Chili Pepper Varieties, Uses and Benefits Guide

Chili peppers aren’t for everybody and when used to spice up food it becomes somewhat of an acquired taste. Personally, the hotter the dish, the better I like it. With that said, I still have my limits.

When I get Thai food carryout I ask them to kick it up a few notches but not all the way to the “5 stars” my favorite restaurant measures their heat by. The same goes for a hearty chili recipe…just enough heat but not too much.

I will always add jalapeno peppers to my favorite chili recipe… guaranteed to break my forehead out in little beads of sweat but not so hot I’m gulping a cold beverage to cool my mouth.

So how do you know which chili peppers to use when cooking so you get just the right amount of heat? This post will break it down so you can make the right selections.

How Many Chili Pepper Varieties?

There are over 100 varieties of chili peppers just from Mexico alone. The general rule is the smaller the chili, the hotter it is.

This is because by it shear volume, the smaller chilies contain more “capsaicin” which is the actual “heat” in the chili pepper.

Some of the most commonly used chilies are listed below with their “hotness” rated between 1 and 10. The heat numbers are shown in parenthesis ( ) with 1 being the coolest and 10 being the hottest.

Tips for Using Chili Peppers

Before cooking with chili peppers, here are a few tips that will help you to get the most out of your chilies based on how you use them.

  • When using fresh chilies, remove the veins and seeds before roasting
  • Dry roast dried chilies in a hot dry pan for 3 to 4 minutes and then soak them 20 minutes in enough hot (not boiling) water to cover them
  • Blend chilies and use them in cooking sauces, dipping salsas, soups and stews
  • Do not store chili peppers in a plastic bag
  • Use gloves and cut under cold water since juices and fumes can burn your skin
  • Sparingly and at the end of cooking is better. Chilies get more potent as they cook
  • Roasting will bring out the flavor and make their skin easier to remove

Benefits and Varieties of Chili Peppers

Chilies are high in Vitamins A, C and E. They have no cholesterol, are low in sodium and produce endorphins that give you your sense of well being. They are also great for promoting good digestion. Here are the most popular in alphabetical order.

  • Anaheim (2.5) – This is a relatively mild long, narrow green pepper.
  • Cascabel, Chili bola (4) – This is a small round brownish red chili that rattles when you shake it. It has a smoky, nutty flavor.
  • Cayenne (8) – This best known chili is long, narrow and bright red when ripened.
  • Chilaca (4) – This is a long dark green to brown medium hot chili also known as “chili negros”.
  • Fresno (6.5) – A bright green to red chili is equal to a jalapeno in hotness.
  • Guajillo or Travieso (8) – This is a variety of the cayenne and deep red in color.
  • Habanero or Scotch Bonnet (9) – A very hot yellow to maroon chili and has a roundish, acorn shape.
  • Jalapeno (5) – These peppers are hotter if they are preserved in oil. The fresh version are dark green. The smoked, dried ones are reddish brown chipotles.
  • Jamaican Hot (9) – This is a red to green chili with an odd shape and as hot as a habanero.
  • Pepperoncini (4) – There peppers are wrinkled and are usually pickled and used as a garnish.
  • Mulato (3) – This is a dried poblano variety used in mole and is fruitier and smokier than an ancho chili.
  • Poblano (4) – There long green to black chilies are used often in cooking. The dried variety are called “anchos”, look like prunes and taste like plums.
  • Serrano (7) – This chili is green when fresh and red to orange when dried. They are commonly used in hot sauces, salsas and guacamole.
  • Thai Chili (9) – Only about 1/4 inch wide, this green to red chili is very hot and used most in Asian dishes.