Chilis (Capsicum) are yet another branch of the diverse and powerful Nightshade family. New varieties are constantly popping up with all nightshades, but for Chilis it borders on the absurd. They vary distinctly in flavor, fleshiness (thickness of pod wall), size and shape, but more than anything they vary in "hotness".
Spelling: "Chili" is common in English speaking North America. "Chile" is Mexican Spanish. "Chilli" is the English spelling outside North America. There is a movement originating in Texas to spell the peppers "Chile" and the stew "Chili" to avoid confusion. We don't think non-Texans are likely to confuse pods with stew and will stick with "Chili" for both.
Aji is a Caribbean word for chilis. The Spanish carried this name
through most of South America, so many chili names from that region start
with "Aji", as in Aji lengua de pajaro (bird's tongue chili).
The chili, including bell peppers ("capsicum" in GB) are all descended from plants native to Central and South America. They were in general use there when Europeans first landed in the New World. A botanists misnamed one species "chinense" for some reason that we can never know.
The Portuguese are most responsible for inflicting chili peppers on the world. They took to them right off and transported them to Africa and to their trading post in Goa, India. Dried red chilis are light, long lasting and contain mature, eager to sprout seeds so chilis quickly spread everywhere traders traded.
Some maintain, particularly regarding Eastern Europe, that some chilis came to there from China and point to differences between paprika and pimento peppers, but those chilis probably entered Eastern Europe through India and Turkey, descendants of those brought from Brazil by the Portuguese (and would differ from Spanish chilis brought from Mexico).
The hottest chilis are particularly appreciated in the tropics because they induce sweating which makes the body feel cooler. This is less appreciated in the frozen north but heat-free bell peppers are appreciated everywhere.
Today it's as difficult to imagine Thai or Indian cuisine without chilis as it is to imagine Italian cooking without tomatoes or Irish without potatoes, but chilis, tomatoes and potatoes were all unknown in Europe and Asia before 1500.Varieties
Our list covers mostly chilis you are likely to find available for purchase in the U.S. (particularly California) or which are important to a particular cuisine. It's just a fraction of the known varieties - trying to list them all is as futile as the ancient Egyptian priest's trying to catalog all the gods and goddesses of the Nile Valley - new ones appeared and the old ones changed before the catalog was done. That doesn't stop some people from trying though (A7).
The chilis pictures and the hotness ratings (H#) are from Southern California and Mexican grown examples and results may differ elsewhere. Caution: The heat ratings are typical, but actual variation is wide depending on soil, weather and the perversity of chili plants. Always test to avoid disappointment (or devastation).
Aji Amarillo -
[C. baccatum var. pendulum]
This chili is most commonly associated with Peru but is also used in Bolivia. The baccatum species originated in Peru and/or Bolivia and still dominates the Andes region today. The name means "Chili Yellow". It ripens to a bright orange. Some sources say they turn yellow ("amarillo") when cooked, but they actually stay pretty orange. This is a moderately hot variety (H4) and grows to 3 to 6 inches long. In Peru they are used mostly fresh, but in Bolivia they are dried and ground. A number of products are made from this chili, see Details and Cooking.
The photo specimens were from my own plants, grown from seeds of a
dried aji amarillo imported from South America. The plants didn't do all
that well here in Southern California, producing only a few chilis which
ripened very slowly and unevenly. I have purchased frozen ones that were
from a shorter fatter cultivar. The largest of the photo specimens was
6 inches long and 7/8 inch diameter, and was significantly hot.
Aji Limo -
[C. baccatum var. pendulum]
This chili is most commonly associated with the north coast of Peru,
where it is essential to the proper flavor of the Ceviches made there.
It is also used in other dishes, particularly rice dishes. It is
described as having a "citrus spice" taste when cooked.
It is smaller and a bit hotter than the Aji Amarillo and can be green,
yellow or red, and white and purple varieties are known.
Aji Panca - [C. baccatum var. pendulum]
This is the second most common chili in Peru, after the Aji Amarillo.
It is similar, a bit larger, but deep red and very mild, with a sweet,
berry like, slightly smoky flavor. Popular for use in stews and with
fish, it is available in North America in paste form and dried.
Anaheim - [Long
Green, California Green, Chili Verdi, Chili Colorado (when ripe),
California Chili (when red ripe and dried); C. Annuum]
Fresh green or red ripe (Chili Colorado) or dried red (usually called California), 6 to 11 inches by 2 inches. These mild (H2) chilis are most common green but are also excellent red, with a taste and sweetness similar to a red Bell Pepper but with a definite bite to them. They are were originally brought from New Mexico to much more populous California and were renamed. Other similar chilis also fit the "long green" description.
Anaheims are said to be somewhat milder than their New Mexico relatives
but hotness varies. They are often used by restaurants for Chili Rellenos
and other recipes that should be made with Poblanos
because they are large enough to stuff, available, low cost and because
Poblanos can sometimes be hotter than they think their customers want.
The Anaheim lacks the dark flavor of the Poblano, but is otherwise a fine
Arbol - see de Arbol.
Armenian / Turkish -
Fresh yellow-green, up to 8 inches by 2 inches but more commonly
stubbier at 5 to 6 inches by 2 inches diameter, tapered with a usually blunt
end. These are noticeably sweet when they start to yellow but can have
detectable hotness (H0 to H1). They have
thinner walls and a more subtle flavor than Bell Peppers but can be used in
similar ways. With thin skins they are good for frying and roasting. They
are very like the sweet Hungarian Green pepper,
which stands to reason, since the Hungarians got their peppers from
Banana Peppers -
[Yellow Wax Pepper; C. annuum]
This name covers a number of similarly shaped waxy yellow peppers which
may vary in heat and color, but they are most commonly yellow and of very
moderate heat (H1). The ones commonly sold under the
name here in the Los Angeles region mostly thick walled (much thicker
than Hungarian peppers) and elongated with thin skins. They are very much
like yellow Anaheims, but not as hot - good for roasting, stuffing or in
recipes where Bell Peppers just aren't quite spicy enough or too strong
in flavor. In contrast, those sold around here as "Yellow Wax Peppers"
are usually much hotter. The photo specimens were typically 7-3/4 inches
long and 1-7/8 inches diameter at the big end.
Bell Peppers -
[Capsicum (British); Shimla mirch (India); Prik Pasom Sot (Thai);
C. annuum var. grossum]
Fresh ripe red, yellow and orange, H0. Bells
are always available fresh and are only dried for use as industrial food
additives. Box shaped to heart shaped, these large (up to 5 inches across) chilis
feature thick, crisp and flavorful flesh with no heat, making them popular
in nearly every cuisine worldwide.
Baby Bell Peppers -
[Capsicum (British), C. annuum]
Fresh red, green, yellow and orange, H0. These look a
lot like Gypsy Peppers and other frying peppers but
have much thicker walls, more flavor and are usually very sweet. The
photo specimens were 4-1/2 inches long, 2-1/4 inches across and weighed
Bird Peppers - [Bird's Eye Chili]
Bishop's Crown -
[C. baccatum var. pendulum]
This oddly shaped chili is probably native to the region around Bolivia,
but is now grown, mainly as a curiosity, in North America, the Caribbean
and Europe. The flesh is thin but crisp and it has rather little
heat (H2), all of which is concentrated up near the
stem. It has no characteristics that would encourage culinary usage,
but as a decorative the plant puts out a lot of bright red chilis that
hang like little bells, about 1-5/8 inches across the widest part.
Canario - See Manzana.
Carolina Reaper -
[HP22BNH,; C. frutescens x C. chinense]
Originating in South Carolina in 2012, this chili still holds the world
record for hotness (2015). Depending on growing conditions, these
range from Scoville 1,150,000 to over 2,200,000.
Photo by Dale Thurber distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
Cascabel - [Chili
Bola; C. annuum]
Normally sold dried red, these are smallish round or heart shaped chilis up
to about 1-1/2 inches diameter. They are used mostly in Mexican cooking, giving
sauces a nutty flavor, and are readily available in the US Southwest.
Moderately hot (H5).
Cayenne - [Prik khee fah (Thai);
Originating in French Guiana, this famous chili is used to make the
Cayenne chili powder used in many cuisines - except that powder is at least
as likely to be made from some other variety and just labeled "Cayenne".
The Cayenne pod is fairly large, to 10 inches long, and is quite hot
Photo by André Karwath distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic.
Fresh red spherical to slightly pointy, 1 inch in diameter, H0-H1.
Cherry peppers are used for salad plates and mild pickles. Hot Cherry Peppers
look exactly the same but will knock the socks off the unwary at
H4 or hotter and can be used same as
Chilaca - [C. annuum]
Poblanos are often called "Pasilla" in error
so be sure which a recipe actually calls for - if it's for stuffing it
probably actually wants Poblanos. Subst: Chilacas are rather scarce here
in Southern California, but for many recipes Poblanos can be used. They
are thicker walled, heavier and more intense in flavor and heavier, so
adjust as needed.
[Chiltepe, Chili Tepin; C. annuum]
These tiny (about the size of a pea or smaller) but intensely hot
(H9) chilis arose in Bolivia and southern Brazil, and were
scattered throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean by birds
long before humans invaded the Americas. They are found as far north Arizona
and New Mexico and are still harvested wild (thus are quite expensive - U.S.
$8.00 / ounce here in Southern California). They are valued for their heat,
complex flavor and medicinal uses.
Chipotles will generally be somewhat less hot than the H5
jalapenos, so figure around H4. Chipotles with Adobo Sauce,
with their smoky flavor, are absolutely wonderful with scrambled eggs and in
other egg dishes.
Choricero - See Nora
[Cahabonero, Chile Coban; C. annum var ceraciforme or C. annuum
Named for the city of Coban in central Guatemala, these tiny bird
chilis have been the chili of choice in the region since Mayan times.
They are used both fresh and dried smoked. The dried smoked are
particularly used for making sauces. Being smoked, they are similar
to Chipotles but are considerably hotter. The
dried chilis are typically 0.60 inch long by 0.38 diameter, with
hotness about H6, but fresh ones would be
hotter. The photo specimens were purchased from the Central American
section of a large Hispanic market in Los Angeles (Burbank) - 3 oz for
2016 US $1.69.
Colorado (Chili Colorado) - this is a red ripe Anaheim Chili - not nearly as common as the green ones.
[Italian Frying Pepper; C. annuum]
This chili is very much favored in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic
and Cuba, regions where hot chilis are not appreciated. It can surprise,
though. While usually solidly within H1 it can
occasionally get to the high end of H2. They are usually
harvested while still yellow-green, but turn bright red if allowed to
ripen. They.have rather thin walls and grow to about 6 inches Subst:
preferably the very low heat Hungarian or Armenian / Turkish chilis.
Anaheims are second choice (thicker walls, more intense flavor, usually
a little hotter) and green bell peppers are a distant third (very thick
walls, different flavor). Photo
by United States Department of Agriculture = public domain.
de Arbol -
[Rat Tail Chili; C. annuum]
Meaning "Tree Chili", de arbols are grown primarily in Mexico but are common
in dried form (and less common fresh) north of the border. Shown are fresh
green, fresh ripening and dried red. It is a fairly hot chili
(H7), 2 to 5 inches long and easily recognized from it's
long, slender, sharply pointed shape. Dried de arbols are excellent when you
want a bit more heat than the commonly available Japones
provide but not so much as dried Thai bird chilis..
Diente de Perro - [Dog's Toot Chile;
Chile Bolita, Chile Chocolate, Guaque, Largo, Zambo;
C. Frutecens ]
Dutch Red - see Holland Red.
["Red Jalapeno" (supermarkets); C. annuum]
Fresh red ripe, almost never green, H4-5. A conical, medium walled chili about 2 to 3 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Fresnos are fast becoming the standard for hot red chilis and are found in all the Southern California ethnic markets (as well as in the big supermarkets where they're often called "red jalapenos").
Fresnos are highly available, have good flavor and a hotness that's
close enough to hot chilis used in Korea, Southeast Asia, India and other
regions. I have also seen Fresnos listed on European sites so they are
apparently becoming common there as well (Fresno is 220 miles north of
Los Angeles). The less commonly available Holland Red
is a good substitute though it is thinner walled and seems more perishable.
Greek - see Italian.
Green Chili - the mythical "green chili", H0-H10. One of the most common stupidities of cookbook writers, particularly ethnic cookbooks, is to call for "three green chilis". Really? What kind of green chilis do you have in mind? I propose cookbook writers use a "Serrano equivalent" so we have some idea where we're supposed to be on the heat scale at least.
[Yellow Hot, Caribe, Goldspike; C. annuum]
This conical chili is of moderate heat (H4) and appears
similar in size and shape to the red Fresno,
though usually not as pointy. Flavor is not nearly as good as the Fresno
in my opinion. The photo specimens were typically 3.0 inches long and
1-5/8 inches diameter at the big end.
Gypsys are currently much admired by chefs and yuppies though
I really don't see the point. They have thin skins so can be fried and
roasted and cook quickly (important in restaurants), but also have less
flavor and a less favorable skin to flesh ratio than the much more
flavorful Baby Bell Peppers which are available in a
similar range of even more intense colors. Select dark red ones carefully,
they tend to go quickly to rot after achieving that color.
[Aji' panca, Aji' limo; C. chinense]
Habaneros are typically thin walled and when ripe are commonly red, orange or yellow, but white, pink and brown varieties also exist. They are named for Havana, Cuba, but hot chilis are no longer much used in Cuba. They have a unique fruity flavor, which, combined with their intense hotness (H10), makes them popular for hot chili sauces. Though they have very thin walls, they tend to rot quickly so are difficult to dry, but they are available in that form. When you buy them fresh, keep them loosely wrapped in the refrigerator and plan to use them up in 5 days or so.
Holland Red -
[Dutch Red, Cabai Merah (Indonesia); C. annuum]
A cayenne type pepper sold fresh and red ripe. They are 4 to 6 inches long
by 5/8 inch diameter and tapered to a sharp point, hotness
H4-5. They have thicker flesh than some long narrow
chilis and sweet taste. These are popular in Holland and its former colonies
in Indonesia as well as other parts of Europe and California. Probably would
be about right for Sichuan and Hunan recipes and are a good choice for most
ethnic cuisines. Fresnos are a good substitute,
though of different shape and thicker walled, and are much more readily
Hungarian Green -
These yellow-green chilis have medium thick walls with crunchy texture and
little or no heat (H0 - H1 ). The center photo specimen
was 5-7/8 inches long, 2-1/8 inches across and weighed 4-1/4 ounces.
Allowed to fully ripen they become bright red-orange.
Details and Cooking.
Hungarian Wax -
These long, medium hot chilis, tapering to a slightly rounded tip, are
sold fresh when yellow green. They have fairly thin walls and hotness is
usually H4,H5. They are extensively used in European
cuisines, particularly that of Hungary. Allowed to fully ripen, they
become orange-red. The largest of the photo specimens was 7-3/4 inches
long, 1.2 inches diameter at the big end and weighed 1-5/8 ounces.
- [Mirch (India); C. annuum and others]
Chilis were introduced to India by the Portuguese through their colony of
Goa. Today India is the largest producer and exporter of chilis in the world.
Many varieties are grown, particularly in the south, with the majority left to
ripen to red and then sun dried
List, Details and Descriptions.
Italian Sweet Peppers -
Fresh green, 2 to 7 inches long by 3/4 inch in diameter, H0-H2
and easily recognizable by their wrinkly tops. They come in two varieties,
smooth and wrinkled. They are fine for munching on or using in salads or
Italian recipes. Red ones are sweeter but not nearly as available
[Cuaresmenos (Mexico); C. annuum]
Fresh green, 2 to 3 inches by 1 inch diameter, dark green with blunt tip, H5-H6. The skin is dark green (or red), smooth and shiny but often has faint stretch marks (corking). The Jalapeno, with its thick flesh and distinctive flavor is the preferred chili for many Mexican salsas and for hot pickled peppers.
Red ripe Jalapenos are very rare even in Southern California, probably because Huy Fong Foods buys them all up to make their famous (though not precisely authentic) Sriracha sauce. They don't have jalapenos in Vietnam but the owner of Huy Fong loves them.
Plant breeders have recently developed a special "low heat" variety of
Jalapeno so "Mexican" restaurants in New York can advertise
"real Jalapeno peppers" without devastating the population. Fortunately, if
we grow any of those here we export them all to New York.
Japanese Chile - See Shishito Chili
Dried red, hotness H5, H6. This is the most common dried red chili and seems to be sold everywhere in the Mexican sections of markets. In Southern California they are also sold in Indian, Korean and other Asian markets and are often available bulk from bins. Note that they are almost always missing their caps and stems.
Japones are very much used for Asian dishes, having good flavor and
darkening easily in hot oil. I've found a rather wide spread in hotness,
so check them out before committing a lot of them to a dish. They are
often compared to the de Arbol. Here in North America
these are the accepted dried chilis for Sichuan and Hunan cuisines.
Long Green Chili -
Fresh green, 6 to 11 inches, H2. Commonly
Anaheim in Southern California, but could be New
Mexico or any other variety of large mild green chili. Often used for
stuffing in "Mexican" cooking, but Poblanos
(hotter and deeper flavor) are usually more authentic. Long greens are
excellent for just munching raw.
Manzana - [Rocoto,
Locoto (Peru), Manzana, Canario (yellow ones), Peron (Mexico);
Manzano, Chile de Caballo, Qsacyol (Guatemala); C. pubescens]
Native to southern Central America and northwestern South America where they have been cultivated for about 8000 years, these chilis are now grown from Mexico to Chile. They are popular in mountainous regions because they can stand colder weather than most chilis. The bush can live 15 years and grow as tall as 10 feet.
Ranging from green through yellow and bright red, round to bell shape and
1 to 2-1/2 inches diameter, they are fairly hot (H8), and
have black seeds. They have fairly thick walls so they do not dry well.
Rocoto is the only widely cultivated variety of C. pubescens.
Morita - a variety Chipotle (smoked Jalapeno) but smoked when red ripe rather than green. Usually a smaller variety is used, about 2-5/8 inches long by 7/8 inch wide. See Chipotle for more information.
Mulato - dried -
Negro (Chile Negro) - see Pasilla.
Naga Jolokia - [Ghost Pepper,
Bih Jolokia, Bhut Jolokia Borbih Jolokia, Nagahari, Naga Murch,
Raja Mirchi, Dorset Naga, C. frutescens x C. chinense]
Recently (2007) the hottest chili known with a Scoville rating of
around 1,041,427 (depending - it can be half that in a drier climates).
It was displaced in 2012 by the "Trinidad Moruga Scorpion" at about
Scoville 1,200,000, which was itself displaced in 2013 by the
"Carolina Reaper" from U.S. South Carolina at over Scoville
2,200,000. This chili was found in northeastern India and grows to
about 3 inches long and 1 inch across. It appears to be a cross between
C. Frutescens and C. chinense. This chili is of interest
mostly to Western chili-heads and makers of "death sauces". It is not
much used for cooking in India, but in Nagaland there is a famous
chili eating contest using it (ambulances stand by).
Photo by Gannon Anjo distributed under
GNU Free Documentation License v2.1.
New Mexico -
Nora - [Choricero; C. annuum]
A small heart shaped dried sweet pepper about 1-5/8 inch diameter or smaller. It's very important to much Spanish cooking, particularly from the Basque region. It's quite sweet with almost no hotness and can be had from Spanish emporiums in the U.S. at a stunning $3.50 per ounce or so. Cascabels look similar but have a thinner, much less sweet flavor and more hotness.
My formula for a substitute for Nora Peppers is this: 3 parts California
Chilis, 2 parts Ancho Chilis and about 1/8 teaspoon of Lemon Juice for each
chili used - Noras have a definite sour tang to them. This mix is a shade
darker in flavor and has a little more heat than real Noras but it's
Padrón - [Pimientos de
Padrón (Spain); C.annuum]
From the concello of Padrón in the northwest corner of Spain,
these peppers are wrinkly in shape and erratic in heat. The saying is,
"Padrón Peppers, some are hot, some are not". They are most often
served simply fried with olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Those
in the photo were grown in Southern California and were just a little hot.
The largest was 2-3/4 inches long and 1-1/2 inches diameter. In weight they
run from about 1/2 ounce to 1-1/4 ounces.
Large pointy pods of this sort (6 to 8 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide)
are allowed to ripen fully, then dried and ground into Paprika powder in
Hungary (American paprika is made from dried Anaheim type pods). Originally
all Hungarian paprika was hot, but non-hot versions were developed to serve
demand from neighboring countries. The Hungarians probably got their chilis
from invading Turks, who probably got them from the Portuguese. In any case
paprika chilis were being planted in private gardens by 1569.
Photo by Josip Rodin
distributed under GNU
General Public License v3.
[Chile Negro; C. annuum]
These are properly whole dried chilis, usually about 6 inches long by 1 inch with a blunt end - hotness H2 - H3 - also called Chile Negro. The photo specimens (upper pair) are dried. The fresh green ones (lower pair) are properly called Chilaca, but are often called "Pasilla" in error. The dried ones are commonly available in Southern California, with the fresh only occasionally seen. Pasillas are often called for in Mexican stews and salsa. Subst: for green pasillas, Poblanos (different shape, thicker flesh), for Subst: Ancho (sweeter, thicker flesh, so use fewer if by count).
[Peperoni, Friggitelli (Italy); Greek Peppers, Peperoncini (American
English); C. annuum]
Pickled peperoncini are a mainstay of sandwich making and are often used in
salads, particularly Greek salads. They are very seldom seen in North America
except in pickled form, as in the photo. Greek varieties (the photo
specimens were from Greece) are reputed to be sweeter than the Italian.
They are picked fairly small, typically 2-1/2 inches long by 1-1/4 inches
across, and they are rather mild (H1). In Italy the
name "peperoncini" is not used for these but only for hotter chilis.
- [Sili (Philippines); C. annuum and others]
"Sili" is Filipino for Chili. In Philippine cuisine the chilis used are almost always either Sili Mahaba or Sili Labuyo, but there are others, and complications. The really hot Sili Labuyo probably came from Southeast Asia, developed from hot chilis brought there by Portuguese sailors. The ancestor of the milder Sili Mahaba was probably brought from Mexico by the Spanish.
For details of some named varieties with the best information I could
gather on them (Filipinos are not very informative about their chilis).
see our Sili - Philippine
Pickled Red Chilis - Asia
Red ripe, round or heart shaped to 4 inches in diameter with thick walls
making them substantial and attractive for food processing uses where
appearance is a factor. Hotness H0, they are very tasty
and sweet, similar in flavor to red bells but more intense. Unfortunately
they are seldom seen in stores in the US.
Pimientos del Piquillo -
["Little Beak"; C. annuum]
Red ripe pimento type peppers grown around Lodosa in the Spanish state of Navarra and strictly regulated by Denominacion de Origen. They are flame roasted over open wood fires, seeded and peeled by hand and put up in jars and cans. Spanish chefs who otherwise would never consider something from a can to be edible dote over these. Similar peppers are grown and similarly prepared in Peru.
Piquillos are often stuffed and served as tapas. They have very low heat
(H0) and are very tasty and sweet. Fresh they look like a
Fresno chili, but lack the heat. As canned they measure about 2-1/2 inches
long and 2-1/4 inches across. They can be ordered from Spanish import
emporiums or from various on-line sources.
Piri Piri -
[Pili Pili, African Bird's Eye Chili, C. frutescens]
Small very hot (H9) chilis used in sauces in tropical
Africa, the sauces also called pir piri. These chilis are pretty much
interchangeable with Thai chilis which are much more available in North
America, but not quite as hot.
Photo by unknown distributed under license Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
Poblano - [not
Pasilla; C. annuum]
Fresh green H3, rarely red ripe - dried red it is called Ancho. This large (4 to 6 inches), very dark green conical chili has fairly thick flesh with a unique flavor, but hotness and shape can vary widely.
Poblanos are the correct chili for Chili Relleno, but many restaurants
use the less flavorful Anaheim for reasons of cost, availability and for
fear of the somewhat erratic hotness of the Poblano. When a recipe calls
for "Pasilla" chilis it almost always actually means "Poblanos",
particularly if it calls for stuffing them. Real fresh green "Pasillas"
are properly called Chilacas, "Pasilla" is the
properly the dried form. Chilacas are not only hard to find in
Southern California but are long, narrow and relatively thin of flesh.
They do have a similar but less intense flavor.
Red Savina - see Habanero.
Rocoto - See Manzana.
Scotch Bonnet - Nearly identical to the orange Habanero but a little more rumpled in shape.
[Prik e noo kaset (Thai); C. annuum]
Fresh green, H6. This is our "standard" for hot green chilis. It is hot on just about anyone's scale, is widely available, reasonably reliable as to how hot it actually is, and has been adopted by many immigrant communities. The Serrano has a distinctive flavor, moderately thick flesh and can be up to 4.5 inches long by 0.8 inch in diameter, with a rounded point. Years ago they were smaller, maybe to around 3 inches long.
Thai restaurants in Southern California adopted Serranos for their condiment trays in the days before California ramped up production of Thai chilis. People became so accustomed to the flavorful Serranos, many Thai restaurants have now added a fourth condiment bowl to provide Serrano and Thai chilis side by side. Serranos are now grown in Thailand - folks returning from California wanted them. Their prominence in Indian markets indicates the Indian community in Southern California has adopted them as well.
Mexicans use Serranos wherever Jalapenos just aren't hot enough to do the
job. They also put up cans of pickled Serranos in the same manner as
Jalapenos, but I consider pickled Serranos just a bit too hot to enjoy
Shishito Chili -
[Japanese Chile; C. annuum]
Fresh slightly yellowish green, 2 to 3 inches long by 1/2 inch in diameter, H1. These
chilis have unique lengthwise ridges and blunt ends. They have excellent
flavor but usually no heat - but a few will be hotter in any batch. This is the
same as with the much stubbier but similarly wrinkled Spanish
Padrón pepper. Like them, shishitos are frequently fried briefly and
served as an appetizer. Korean markets very often have these peppers
(Japanese markets are few and far between even here in Los Angeles).
Sili Mahaba / Sili Labuyo / Siling Bilog / Siling Parasco
Tepin - See Chiltepin
- [C. frutescens mostly, but also C. annuum]
Many kinds of chilis (Prik) are grown in Thailand, and terminology, by time it's translated to English, is very confusing and sometimes just plain wrong. Details of size and hotness are difficult to find for those not available in California. Asian sources don't bother with these details because "everyone already knows". Several of the smallest chilis are called "Bird Peppers", but this name is not at all unique to Thailand.
While all chilis originated in Central and South America, chilis
are so variable unique varieties have been developed in Thailand for
local use. For details and culinary usage of the most important varieties,
See our Thai Chilis page.
Turkish Peppers - See Armenian Peppers - same thing, but I live across the street from Yeravan West, so I have to list them as Armenian :)
Tuscan - see Italian.
Verdi (Chili Verdi) - see Anaheim.
Yellow Wax, Long -
Yellow green, 6 to 9 inches by 2 inches diameter, H4.
Similar in size and shape to the green Anaheim, but these are much hotter.
These start out yellow-green, turn yellow at the point they're usually
marketed, then turn orange as they fully ripen.
Pretty much interchangeable with and easily confused with hot
Ground Chilis and Mixes
Aji Amarillo -
[C. baccatum var. pendulum]
In Peru this chili is usually used fresh, but in neighboring Bolivia it
is most commonly used as dried powder. This powder is orange in color
and moderately hot at about H4. I have yet to see
this powder here in Los Angeles, but dried whole chilis are available
from Latino markets, so I just grind them in my spice grinder.
[pul biber (Turkey (flake pepper)); Capsicum annuum]
Aleppo Sweet powder, hotness H1 is certainly one of the
finest low heat powders available. It is much sweeter, tastier and a little
hotter than American paprika. Aleppo Extra Hot (H3) is also
available, and while hotter still has excellent flavor. This chili is grown
in northern Syria and is suitable for Lebanese, Turkish and Persian cooking.
The photo is of "extra hot", the samples of sweet I've encountered have been
a bit more maroon in color. Subst: Korean Flake
(not powder) is less sweet and somewhat hotter, but a decent substitute.
Hotness H8 a distinctly hot powder, usually without much
flavor, Cayenne is the "standard" for adding heat to recipes without
greatly affecting the flavor, including adding heat to California and New
Mexico chili powders mixes. Sometimes it's made from actual Cayenne chilis
but often not. It varies in color and is often of a duller and less red
color than the version in the photo which was made by one of the big
Mexican chili companies.
Caution: this comes two ways - American and Mexican. The
American is a seasoning blend, generally made from California or New
Mexico chilis, cumin, cayenne, oregano, salt, onion powder and/or garlic
powder. The Mexican will be plain ground California chilis and will list
no other ingredients.
Ground chipotle chilis (smoked jalapenos). It has a stronger smoke flavor
than Spanish smoked paprika and is considerably hotter
This is the hottest, up to H8, of the
chili powders sold in the Indian markets here in Southern California
(Paprika, Kashmir, Reshampatti and India Extra Hot). It is most likely
ground from Guntur Chilis and is about as hot as
Cayenne with better flavor than most cayennes. Use it for the cuisines
of southern India and on the west coast from Goa on south, or wherever
Cayenne is called for.
Kashmir - [Kashmiri Mirch (India)]
Hotness H3. Less sweet and quite a
bit hotter than Aleppo, Kashmir chili powder is widely used in Indian
cooking, particularly in the relatively softly spiced meat dishes of the
north. It is rarely made from actual Kashmiri chilis, which are in very
short supply, but from other mild, intensely red chilis.
Korean - Flake and Powder
- [Gochu-garu (flake); Gochujang-yong-gochu-garu (powder)]
Hotness of the flake varies, but is usually between H2
and H3, sweet and tasty. The powder tends to be
quite a bit more variable, and can be as low as H3
and as high as H5. Unless you read Korean there will
be no hint on the package, you have to try it and see. In general, for
powder, the brighter the red color the milder it will be, but that's
not totally reliable. Both flake and powder are used liberally for kimchi
and other Korean dishes, so turnover at Korean markets is quick and the
product is generally of excellent quality.
Korean Chili Threads -
These threads are used as a garnish for some Korean dishes.
They are around H3, sweet and tasty. They used to be
laboriously cut with scissors, but it's now done by machine. The photo
specimens, about 0.019 inch wide and up to 4-1/4 inches long, were
purchased from a Korean market in Los Angeles for 2015 US $14.19 for
6.5 ounces ($34.93 / pound). The weight usd in a recipe is minuscule,
so 6.5 ounces will last a very long time (they didn't have any smaller
Caution: This comes two ways, American and Mexican. The
American is a seasoning blend invented in Texas in the 1800s. It is
available in mild and hot versions and is generally made from New Mexico
chilis, paprika, guajillo chilis, black pepper, onion powder and garlic
powder. Cayenne may be added for hotter formulas. The Mexican will be
plain ground New Mexico chilis and will list no other ingredients.
Hotness H0. Undistinguished to slightly bitter in flavor
and lacking any heat, U.S. Paprika is pretty much for decoration only, but
often dull in color too. It is usually ground from New Mexico type pods.
Obtain genuine Hungarian or Spanish paprika if at all possible.
Hungarian paprika is sweet, flavorful and brilliant red. "Sweet" (H0) and "Hot" (H2) versions are sold. Today, when a recipe calls for "paprika" it means sweet - hot is used mainly as a "sprinkle" at serving, but originally all Hungarian paprika was hot.
Though now the signature spice of Hungarian cooking, paprika was little
used until after 1850. It is said the technique for grinding chilis into
fine powder was first developed in Hungary.
Paprika, Spanish -
Spanish paprika is made from an entirely different chili than the
Hungarian, coming directly from the New World rather than through Turkey,
and it has a different flavor. It comes in several versions, including
Dulce (Sweet), Agridulce (bittersweet) Picante (Hot, about
(H3)), Ahumado (Smoked, about (H2)).
Hungarian paprikas are reasonable substitutes for Dulce and Picante,
but the others are unique to Spain.
Though whole reshampatti chilis are not much seen in North America, the
ground version is very common in Indian markets here. This chili powder,
actually usually a fine flake, is a bit less sweet and a bit hotter
(H4) than Kashmir, and a good choice
for all-around Indian cooking.
Hot Chilis are safe. Experiments have been conducted squirting chili oils directly onto the stomach lining and no adverse effects were seen. Scientists working with pure capsaicin do so in filtered rooms wearing hazmat suits, but the pure stuff is 16,000,000 Scoville and real chilis you are actually likely to encounter top out at about 500,000 Scoville (A2).
The pain of hotness is entirely a nerve signaling thing and is not a real pain from damage of any kind. Birds do not have appropriate receptors and are immune to chilis so eat them and spread their seeds efficiently. The upshot of this is you can treat the seed in your bird feeder with chilis so the squirrels can't eat it, but it doesn't bother the birds at all. There are commercial products for this.
Tolerance: For the uninitiated a modest amount of chili pepper causes unpleasant pain when consumed and will mask the flavors of the dish it is included in. Repeated exposure, however, causes the chili specific nerve receptors to become much less sensitive to chili heat. Once you have paid your dues you can really enjoy hot food. For details see our article Chili Heat and Tolerance.
Afterburn: If you notice stinging at your nether orifice a day or so after eating hot chilis you are not eating enough hot chilis. The digestion adjusts and this problem goes away. For instance, I eat enough hot chilis I was not bothered by exit sting after testing (and guzzling) hot sauces for the articles on this site.
Vitamins: Hot red chilis are extremely high in vitamin A, but have good doses of vitamin C as well as folic acid, potassium and antioxidants. They are low sodium and very low carb (A3). Due to the high vitamin A content, fresh or dried red chilis are said to be effective in improving night vision. Vitamin C levels decline greatly when chilis are dried.
Diabetes The capsaicin (the hot stuff) in chili peppers have been shown effective in controlling blood glucose levels in persons suffering from type-II diabetes, with the effect still evident in fasting levels in the morning. It has been reported that injections of capsaicin have cured diabetes in mice, but there is not yet any information on effectiveness and/or safety for humans.
Endorphin Rush: Chilis have been found to provide many people with an "endorphin rush" similar to that achieved by joggers but with a lot less effort, risk and damage to the joints (A2). It is reported this can be achieved with hot chili varieties when they are too young to be hot so people who like this effect can get it without the pain if they plant their own chili plants.
Sweating and Digestion: Hot chilis are very popular in practically all tropical areas because they induce sweating which cools the body. They are also a digestive stimulant which helps a lot in hot weather (A4).
The official measure of chili hotness is the Scoville Unit, which ranges from 0 (green bell pepper) to 16,000,000 (pure capsaicin). A few years ago, the hottest known actual chili peppers were between 350,000 and a bit over 500,000 Scoville. Today,
Remembering big numbers is difficult and the chilis don't cooperate either, forcing you to remember a range of big numbers. A single variety can show wide variation in heat depending on soil, weather and the chili plant's mood at the time.
Here we use a simple 0 to 10 hotness scale with the 10 spot held by the Habanero family. "Close enough for government work", as the saying goes. Keep in mind the wide variation and the fact that when dried, ripe red chilis will lose some hotness.