Your Guide to 5 Common Mexican Peppers
The pepper is an iconic ingredient of Mexican cuisine, and yet it seems that many people don’t really know the differences between the many of varieties. These differences are so much more than color, size, and spice level—each pepper also has its own distinct flavor. Understanding these common Mexican peppers will make you a better chef, and a better consumer!
Chili de Arbol
These narrow, bright red chilis can be consumed either fresh, dried, or powdered. They have a medium-intense heat and a somewhat smokey flavor, and they’re often crushed to add spice and flavor depth to salsas and dishes. They’re also commonly woven into wreathes because they are one of the only chilis that keeps its color after being dried.
This chili is perhaps one of the best known types by Americans, and we put jalapeños in many dishes that have nothing to do with Mexican cuisine (such as Mac and Cheese, sandwiches, and innumerable Vietnamese and other Asian dishes). Small but thick with a shine to their surface, jalapeños are one of the most flavorful chilis, combining sweetness and heat. Interestingly, though most of us have only ever seen green jalapeños, they will actually become red if allowed to ripen!
Serrano chilis are often confused with jalapeños because they are similar in size, texture, and both are bright green (though like the jalapeño, the Serrano will change color if allowed to ripen). Serranos can be spotted because they are narrower than jalapeños, making them difficult to seed, which is unfortunate because they are quite a bit spicier.
The habanero is typically the hottest pepper easily available at American grocery stores, and it’s also one of the easiest to spot. They grow in a kind of lantern shape, similar to bell pepper but much smaller and less firm and regular. Habaneros are typically about half the length of a jalapeño, but much, much spicier. They’re frequently found in hot salsas. Typically harvested when they are bright orange, the habanero has a slight floral, tangy flavor.
A good rule of thumb for understanding the heat intensity of peppers is that the smaller they are, the hotter they are. The poblano is one of the larger peppers, and therefore one of the least spicy, very much akin to a bell pepper but typically narrower. Poblanos are often dried, but likely the most famous recipe involving poblanos is the chile relleno, in which the pepper is stuffed with cheese and other savories, dipped in an egg batter, and fried. Poblanos have fruity flavors that come out when roasted.
We hope this guide has been helpful for you, and encourages you to go out and try each pepper for yourself! Check out our menu to see what kind of pepper-based dishes you can try out at Los Agaves!
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