12 Essential Mexican Peppers for Spicy Traditional Cooking

If there is one vegetable that is a staple of Mexican cuisine, it would be the Chili Pepper. It is unbelievable the range of mexican peppers you can use, and the best part is that once you start using them, you will want to experiment with them more and more in other recipes.

So today, we are taking the mystery out of cooking mexican peppers with our 12 essential Mexican peppers for spicy traditional dishes.

12 Essential Mexican Peppers

12 Mexican Peppers You Have to Learn About

We have tried to include as much information below to give you a piece of good basic knowledge but do not be afraid to experiment and substitute where ever you like. Most of the fresh chili peppers in this list can easily be found at most grocery stores. The dried varieties may be more difficult to locate depending on your locale, but they store well, so once you find them, you can purchase a fairly significant amount at one time.

If you are looking for basic recipes for your Mexican cooking, we shared many ranging from classic guacamole to homemade flour tortillas and beyond basics in our Mexican recipes.

1. Chiles de Arbol

Chiles de Arbol

  • heat index 15,000-30,000 Scoville units
  • Primarily used in powdered form to make sauces, but can also be used in soups and stews.

Chile de Arbol is also known as either bird’s beak chile or rat’s tail chile. They are a very distinctive bright red color when mature, even that they are a fresh green before that.

Moreover, one of these peppers’ main benefits is their versatility. They can be found either dried fresh or powdered and are often used to decorate wreaths because they do not lose their red color after they are dried. Not only is this pepper terrific as chili powder or in hot sauces, but it is also skinny and tiny enough to flavor foods, olive oil, and beverages as a whole dried pod. You can substitute Cayenne pepper, its more popular cousin, with Chile de Arbol in most recipes.

2. Jalapeno – The Most Popular Mexican Pepper

Jalapenos

  • heat index 2,500–10,000 Scoville Units
  • It is the most widely used chile pepper.

Jalapeno is a medium-sized chili pepper, which is 2–3½ inches long at maturity and is commonly picked and consumed while still green. It is occasionally allowed to ripen fully and turn a beautiful crimson red. After harvest, if Jalapenos are stored at 45°F, they have a shelf life of up to 3-5 weeks. Moreover, nutritionally speaking, jalapenos are one of the best sources of vitamin C. 

They are also one of the most, if not the most common, chiles in the United States. Not to mention they were the first peppers that traveled into space on a NASA shuttle. So, they are obviously loved and popular enough.

3. Cascabels

Cascabels - mexican peppers

  • heat index 1,000-3,000 Scoville units
  • Cascabel is perfect for adding a touch of heat to soups, salsas, stews and sauces.

Cascabel chile, also known as the rattle chili, is a Mirasol variety and gets its name from the tendency of loose seeds to rattle inside a dried cascabel when shaken. The Cascabel is a plump, round, smooth, and small chile that ripens from green to red. When dried, the color darkens to a deep reddish-brown with almost transparent but thick skin.

4. Habanero

Habanero - mexican peppers

  • heat index 100,000–350,000 Scoville units
  • They are often the main ingredients in bottled hot sauces.

Unripe habaneros are green, and they color as they mature. Common colors are orange and red, but white, brown, and pink are also seen. They are the hottest commonly used chile in Mexican cuisine, so be careful when preparing them.

There are also at least eighteen varieties of Habanero Peppers, and new types are being grown. Here are only a few of them, the most popular ones:

  • Red Habanero
  • Orange Habanero
  • Caribbean Red
  • Habanero Condor’s Beak
  • Hot Paper Lantern
  • Red Savina
  • Datil Peppers
  • Peach Habanero

5. Poblano

Pablano

  • heat index 1,000-2,000 Scoville units
  • It is commonly used in mole sauces.

The poblano is a mild chili pepper. So dried, it is called a chile ancho. The ripened red poblano is significantly hotter and more flavorful than the less ripe, green poblano. The flavor and heat can be unpredictable; also, occasionally, they can have significant heat.

Moreover, Poblanos are particularly rich in vitamins A and C. These two nutrients act as antioxidants in your body and help fight underlying damage from free radicals, which may lead to disease

6. Pasilla

Pasilla one of the 12 most popular mexican peppers

  • heat index 250-4,000 Scoville units
  • It mixes great with fruits, duck, seafood, lamb, mushrooms, garlic, fennel, honey or oregano.

Pasilla or “little raisin” refers to the dried chilaca pepper. Keep in mind that many times grocers miss label these for Ancho chiles. The Pasilla chile is normally 8 -10 inches long and narrower than Ancho. Also, it is named for its dark, wrinkled skin, and it is a mild to hot, rich-flavored chile.
Featuring a rich smoky taste and earthy flavor, the pasilla often turns up in whole dried form or as a powder in Mexican salsas as well as in mole sauces and adobo sauces. Also, the Mexican pepper can even create an interesting twist in the flavor and appearance of the standard red chili enchilada sauce.

7. Anaheim

Anaheim

  • heat index 500-2,500 Scoville units
  •  The mexican pepper is commonly used in salsas, and can be roasted and stuffed to make rellenos.

The mildest variety of chili pepper, also called California chili, because of its origin, or Magdalena. Since Anaheim peppers originated from New Mexico, they are also known as New Mexico peppers. It would help if you kept in mind that some varieties of the pepper grown in New Mexico tend to be hotter than those grown in California.

In addition, Anaheim peppers are a mild variety of chile pepper typically used in Mexican and Southwestern cooking. Mainstays of American-Mexican cuisine, canned green chiles are made from Anaheim peppers and provide a nice flavor and added heat.

8. Morita

Morita

  • heat index 2,500-8,000 Scoville units
  • The mexican pepper has a rich slightly fruity flavor.

Morita is a smoke-dried jalapeno, commonly referred to as a chipotle. The main difference is that Moritas are smoked for less time, leaving them softer and retaining their slightly fruity flavor. These dried chile peppers are approximately three to five centimeters long and have soft, shiny skin, which ranges from dark red to brown. The mild smoking process they are exposed to maintains their subtle fruity characteristic while enhancing a rich tobacco and chocolaty aroma. 

9. Guajillo

Guajillo

  • heat index 2,500-5,000 Scoville units
  • They are most commonly used in pastes, butters or rubs to flavor all kinds of meats, especially chicken.

The Guajillo chili is characterized by its thin, deep, red flesh. It also has a mild green tea flavor with berry overtones, and its amount of heat is moderately small. They are sometimes used to make salsa for a sweet taste with a surprisingly hot finish. 

Moreover, like the Ancho, the Guajillo is one of the holy trinity of chilies that are commonly used in authentic Mexican mole sauces. Its unique sweetness, too, makes it a fun chili to experiment with around the kitchen.

10. Ancho

Ancho - Mexican Peppers

  • heat index 1,000-2,000 Scoville units
  • Ancho, along with Pasilla and Guajillo, make up the “holy trinity” widely used in mole sauces.

Ancho is the dried form of Poblano chiles and the most widely available dried chiles. Different peppers from the same plant have been reported to vary substantially in heat intensity. However, ancho chile pepper is the dried, ground fruit of Capsicum annum. These Mexican peppers are made from poblano chile peppers grown in Mexico.

Do not forget that Ancho has a mild paprika flavor, with sweet to moderate heat, so it became one of the most favorite pepper of them all.

11. Puya

Puya

  • heat index 5,000-8,000 Scoville units
  • A Mexican pepper that is great pureed, mashed, or diced, and then made into a spicy sauce.

It is very similar to the Guajillo but smaller and hotter, and it may be soaked in water to pull out the flavor. Puya pepper is often used more for its fruity flavor rather than its flesh, which means it is great pureed, mashed, or diced and then made into a sauce.

Even that these peppers are most commonly used for preparing chili dip, they can also be used for seasoning soups and stews, breakfasts and dinners, and anything in between.

12. Serrano

Serrano

  • heat index 5,000-25,000 Scoville units
  • It remains perfect for salsas, sauces, relishes, and garnishes.

This is a smaller version of the jalapeno, similar in color and matures from a dark green to reddish-orange, even yellow. It is a very meaty flesh pepper and is not suitable for drying. However, these peppers are typically eaten raw, but we agreed that they are best when roasted. Not to forget that serrano peppers are also commonly used in making pico de gallo.

What Is Your Favorite Mexican Pepper?

Finally, it is your turn to share your best and also worst experiences with Mexican hot peppers in the comment section. It can be a delightful and interesting adventure when cooking with hot peppers, but the risks are also pretty high. 

However, this article has the purpose of teaching you some basics about the twelve most popular hot peppers from the Mexican kitchen, but the more you learn about the topic, the easier it would be for you to try and experiment. Once you have done your research about the ingredients you want to use, you are ready to put your own mark on your dish. We would be really delighted to see how that came out!

Comments

  1. What a great lesson on peppers! I get confused on which are mild and not hot, so this is fantastic for me! Will print and keep handy for shopping. Thanks for sharing.

  2. And whatever you do, don’t pick your nose after chopping upsome serrano chilies. Whew!

  3. Hi!! Iv’ made chili like many others with powder but would like to try dried chili’s. I know how to make basic chili paste in a blender. I would like to know which chili’s would be best in chili(the kind with beans) and about how many I would need to use to make 2-3gal. of chili?
    Thanks for Your Time!!!
    Tom

  4. What’s the best mild pepper for cooking…I’m looking for something that will soften up quickly when I add it to a pot of beans. I’ve tried Anaheim, but they take forever (days) to soften. Jalapenos take a while but have a very good taste when they finally get soft. So far Poblano is the quickest to soften, but still takes a while. Is there a pepper, with a good cooked taste, that meets my need?

    John

    • Hey John – There are two peppers that I would recommend you give a try. The mildest one would be banana peppers, but it may not solve your issue with it cooking down and softening to your taste. So my choice is pepperoncini peppers. They will soften faster than any pepper and shouldn’t overpower the other ingredients in the recipe.

    • Doug, thanks for the ideas. I happen to have a banana pepper growing (no fruit yet) and a languishing pack of pepperoncini seeds which will now get some extra attention.

      John

    • Rob Northen says

      I use New Mexican 64 chiles in my pinto bean recipe. You can use Anaheim’s or other peppers of that type. Just roast and peel off the skin and they’ll soften up just fine.

  5. 1LocoPollo says

    We grow several acres of chilies for restaurants and stores.I am expanding that acreage substantially in 2016. The info you provide, along with many other sources has been instrumental in our success.
    Our best return per acre has been with the mild to medium hots. And there are NO CHEMICALS used at all.
    Thank you much.

  6. Mr Justin Ellis says

    Hello, I was wondering if you could help me. I’m a chilli enthusiast and in particular, Mexican chillies and their uses. I’ve recently come across some recipes calling for the ‘Puya’ chile but they don’t seem to be available here in the UK. I grow around 30 different types of chilli at home and would preferably see if I can grow some at home or would like to buy some fresh or dried Puya chillies. Please can you help me?

  7. I enjoyed reading about these peppers. I am going to grow them in my garden. I’m also learning how to prepare Mexican Dishes, so that I can get to know my Mexican Brother’s and Sisters.
    Daniel Williams

  8. Violet Gutierrez says

    Ok im looking for Chile Colorado, whichwould that be? A little confusing.

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