There are more than 200 varieties of chilies or hot peppers. Sometimes the names of chilies can get a bit confusing because often the same pepper will be known by two or even three different names.
Here’s a quick users’ guide to about four dozen very popular chilies and how you can used them in the kitchen. All of these peppers are member of the genus Capsicum. The species name is given in parentheses. The Scoville heat unit (SU) or pungency rating is listed for many.
Ají amarillo (C. baccatum): Pointed, thin-fleshed with yellow to orange-red skin. Fragrant fruity to raisiny aroma. Use fresh or dried; when dried called cusqueño. Use with potatoes and other root vegetables, in sauces, stews, seviches, and other seafood dishes. Popular in Peru. 30,000 to 50,000 SU.
Ají dulce (C. annuum): Sweet, mild and musky herbal-like flavor. Used especially with beans. Popular in Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela.
Anaheim (C. annuum): Also called New Mexico pepper (Anaheim is a cultivar of New Mexico), Rio Grande pepper, long green chile, or California pepper: Green matures to red pepper, slender, 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) long with blunt end. Considered mild green or red. Use fresh, roasted, fried, or dried and ground. Use to make chiles rellenos: fried, cheese-stuffed chiles. Use dried and ground for chili powder and paprika. Developed in Anaheim, California about 1900. 500 to 1,500 SU.
Ancho (C. annuum): Large to about 5 inches (13 cm) long, lobed, heart-shaped fruit colored green maturing to dark brown to brick red. Sweet, mildly pungent, fruit flavored flesh. Ancho is a ripened and dried Pablano pepper. Sometimes the fresh pablano is misidentified as the Ancho. Used ground to thicken cooked sauces such as mole. Perhaps the most popular chili in Mexico; named for the valley of Puebla south of Mexico City. Looks like a dried mulato chile. 1,000 to 1,500 SU.
Arból chile (C. annuum): Also called chile de arból: Bright red fresh or dried, slender curved and pointed with thin flesh and smooth skin, 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) long. Somewhat tannic flavor Use in salsa and soups. Soaked and puréed used in stews and as a table sauce. Popular in Mexico. Arbol means tree in Spanish. 15,000 to 30,000 SU.
Banana (C. annuum): Yellow-green ripening to red, curved with a waxy skin. Use fresh in salads, stews, roasted whole with legumes or potatoes, pickled and used as a garnish. Mild chili related to the hotter Hungarian wax. 0 to 100 SU.
Bird (C. frutescens): Also called bird’s eye chile and Santaka. Tiny, green, orange, and red skinned. Thin skinned. Used as a finishing flavor. Popular in Asia. 40,000 to 60,000 SU.
Cascabel (C. annuum): Round to button mushroom-shaped with brown-red, smooth, translucent skin about ¾ inch (1.9 cm) in diameter at maturity. Lightly acidic, smoky flavored; nutty tasting after toasting. Cascabel means “jingle bells” because the seeds rattle in the pod. Blend with tomatoes or tomatillos to make salsas. Use crumbled in stews. Popular in Mexico. 1,500 to 2,500 SU.
Cayenne (C. annuum): Sometimes mistakenly called Chile de arból or Thai pepper. Slender, thin, tapered pods 4 to 12 inches (10-30 cm) long, green maturing to red and wrinkled. Dried cayenne can be soaked in vinegar and salt for a few days to make a pungent, liquid hot red-pepper sauce. Dried and ground is made into powder to used in sauces such as Tabasco or as cayenne pepper. Named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana where it may have originated. 10,000 to 50,000 SU.
Cherry (C. annuum): Also called cherry hots. Meaty, somewhat flattened, cherry-shaped, light green maturing to orange to bright red. Mahogany colored when dried. Lots of seeds. Fruity, sweet flavor. Harvested at green or red stage. Pickled and bottled. Use added to salads, antipasto platters, or sandwich platters.
Chilaca (C. annuum): Thin, 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) long, deep red-brown and shiny, with vertical ridges; blackish green when immature. Deep flavor has a hint of licorice. Roasted and peeled used in vegetable dishes with cheese and in sauces. Use in salsas. Sometimes available pickled. Hard to find in dried version. Popular in Mexico. 1,000 to 1,500 SU.
Chipotle (C. annuum): Dried jalapẽno. Tan to coffee-colored, wrinkled and leathery; smoky, sweet, chocolate smell and taste. Use to flavor soups and stews. Soaked and pureed, use in sauces. In a light pickle, use as a condiment. Popular in Mexico.
Chiltecpín (C. annuum): Also known as chilipiquin and tepín. One of the so-called bird peppers. Red, very small, egg-shaped fruit; oval to elongate about the size and shape of a cranberry. Use fresh and dried. Chiltecpín in the Nahuatl language of Mexico means flea-chilli because this chili is very small with a sharp bite. Believed to be the oldest of the Capsicum genus. 50,000 to 100,000 SU.
Choricero (C. annuum): Large bell shaped. Use to flavor chorizo and other meats.
Cuban: Also called Cubanelle or Italian frying pepper. Large, irregular and blocky shaped; light green to yellow to red at maturity. Thin skinned. Harvest at all stages. Mild flavored excellent for frying.
De arból: same as Arból chile above.
Fresno (C. annuum): Wide, stubby to cone-shaped, 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) long, green when immature and red when ripe; thick fleshed but not as thick as the jalapeño. Use green for seasoning and in sauces. Use in salsa and cooking and for pickling. Named for the city in California where first grown in the early 1950. 5,000 to 10,000 SU.
Guajillo (C. annuum): The red dried form of Mirasol. Also called “little gourd” because the seeds in a dried pod, rattle. Large, tapered fruit; 4½ to 5½ (11.3-14.3 cm) long with a blunt point; maroon with brown tones, and smooth, leathery tough skin. High acidity gives a tangy and pleasantly sharp taste. Use dried and ground in chili, soup or salsa. Soak and blend for enchilada sauces. Crumble into stews. Popular in Mexico. 2,500 to 5,000 SU.
Güero (C. annuum): Pale yellow, smooth, conical to 3 to 4 inches (7.5-10 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide with thin flesh. Taste is lightly floral. Use fresh in salsas and moles. Popular in Mexico. Mild to medium-hot.
Guindilla (C. annuum): Deep red and smooth, long and tapering. Use dried. Large pieces are soaked and added to dishes for extra piquancy. Remove before serving. Popular in Spain.
Habaneros (C. chinense): Squat, lantern-shaped pods 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) in diameter; mid-green ripening to yellow, orange, and deep red. Thin fleshed and tropical fruit flavor. Use raw or roasted to flavor beans and sauces. Use to make hot sauce: blend roasted habaneros with salt and lime juice. May have originated in Cuba; name means “from Havana.” Very popular in the Yucatan region of Mexico. Related Scotch bonnet. 100,000 to 500,000 SU.
Hungarian yellow wax (C. annuum): Also called banana pepper, hot wax pepper. Uniform, tapered, shiny, yellow pepper growing to about 6 to 7 inches (15-18 cm) long. Medium thick walls. Popular for pickling and canning. 5,000 to 50,000 SU.
Jalapẽno (C. annuum): Small, cylindrical to blunt oval pods or torpedo-shaped, about 2 inches (5 cm) long with smooth, green-russeted thick skin, often striated with brown lines; usually harvested green. Often pickled with carrots and onions served as a table relish. Use minced in salsa or spilt and deveined stuffed with cheese or fish and served as appet
izer. Sometimes used roasted and peeled. Called chipotle when dried and smoked. Adds zest to taco, hamburgers, cheese dishes, pizza. Popular in Mexico and southwestern United States. Named for the town of Jalapa in Veracruz state Mexico. 5,000 to 10,000 SU.
Jamaican hot (C. chinense): Bright red and squat with thin flesh; tastes sweet and very hot; Use in salsas, pickles and curries. Popular in the Caribbean.
Kashmir (C. annuum): Deep red with sweet notes and a distinct bite. Grows in Kashmir and in other part of India. Called lal mirch in India.
Korean (C. annuum): Bright green, cured. Use fresh cooked in fish, meats, and vegetable stews, in stir-fries or stuffed and fried. Related to the Thai pepper.
Long Wax (C. annuum): Long and tapered to a point, although some are blunt; tolerates low and high temperatures; harvested at green, yellow, and red stages. Mildly pungent.
Malagueta (C. frutescens): Small, tapered, and thin-fleshed with pale to mid green skin. Native to Bahia in Brazil, and widely used in Afro-Brazilian cooking and as a table condiment. In Portugal, the name is used to describe small hot chilies pickled in vinegar.
Mirasol (C. annuum): Fresh, yellow form of Guajillo (see above). Use green, yellow or at ripe red-brown stage. Fruity and lively, color dishes well. Good with meats, beans, and vegetables; stews and sauces. Fruit grows pointing up at the sun. Spanish name means “looking at the sun.” Popular in Peru also used in Mexico. 2,500 to 5,000 SU.
Mulato (C. annuum): Flat wide, wrinkled, about 4 inches (10 cm) long, chocolate brown color with full-bodied, sweet flavor with notes of dried cherries. Similar to Ancho. Use toasted and ground for sauces such as mole. Use in salsa, soups, and stews. Popular in Mexico. Mild to medium-hot.
New Mexico (C. annuum): Slender, tapered, 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) long; harvested green, yellow, orange, and red. Has a sweet, earthy flavor. Use stuffed. Green is good in guacamole, tacos, and tamales; red in sauces, soups, relishes, and chutneys. Roast and peel. Keeps well if frozen after roasting. Dried has rich, dried-fruit flavor. Anaheim is a popular cultivar. Popular in the Southwestern United States; mainly grown along the Rio Grande River. 500 to 1,000 SU.
Ñora (C. annuum): Mild and earthy. Soaked and used to flavor rice dishes and stews. Essential to romesco sauce and sweet paprika.
Pasilla (C. annuum): Long, narrow pods to about 6 inches (15 cm) long with 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide shoulders; fresh is dark green to near black color which dries black and wrinkled; thus the name which is the diminutive form of pasa which means raisin. Fresh pods that reach Latin markets are called chile chilacas. Fresh ones are toasted and skinned before using in recipes; often cut into strips for use in soups, stews, and casseroles. Dried form is mild, chewy, and smoky-sweet. Use dried and ground to thicken mole sauces. In California, the term pasilla is incorrectly attributed to pablanos. Popular in Mexico. 1,000 to 1,500 SU.
Pablano (C. annuum): Large, shaped like a long, pointed heart range from 2½ to 6 inches (6.4-15 cm) long, deep green. Dried and smoked form is called Ancho. Mistakenly pasilla in California. Use roasted and peeled in some recipes, cut into strips for casseroles, soups, and sauces. Thick walls are ideal for stuffing; used to make stuffed chile rellenos. Originated in Puebla region south of Mexico City. 1,000 to 1,500 SU.
Pepperoncini (C. annuum): Small, slender, and wrinkled, often curves with thin flesh. Use fresh, green ripening to red. Sweet flavor. Use in pickles and tomato-based dishes. Serve pickled on green salads and antipasto plates. 100 to 500 SU.
Pequín: Also called piquin. Tapered to 2 inch (2.5 cm) long with orange skin. Use dried. Similar to cayenne in flavor but much hotter. 50,000 to 100,000 SU.
Piri piri (C. chinense) or peri peri: Small; Portuguese name for “small chili pepper.” Name used in parts of the world colonized by the Portuguese. Originated in Brazil. In Africa, used in jindungo chili similar to bird chili. Sold marinated in oil, as a power and as a purée. Add to meat, vegetables, and fish. Best known dish is frango grehado con piri-piri or grilled chicken marinated in piri-piri. 30,000 to 50,000 SU.
Piment d’Espelette (C. annuum): Bright red, wide-shouldered and tapering. Available dried, whole, or as a powder and also as a purée or coulis. From the Basque country. Sweetly fruity and mildly piquant.
Pimiento (C. annuum): Also called pimento. Red heart-shaped, fleshy, mild and sweet pepper. Use roasted or to stuff green olives. Use dried and ground to make paprika. 500 or less SU.
Rocotillo (C. chinense): Squat to squashed looking resembling a tiny pattypan squash, 1 to 1½ inches (2.5-3.4) inches in diameter; green to gold to bright red at maturity. Deep red when ripe. Use as a condiment with corn, beans, root vegetables, and roast meats. Use fresh in hot sauces and salsa; mild enough to use raw. Originated in the Caribbean. 1,500 to 2,500 SU.
Rocoto (C. pubescens): Plump and rounded, yellow to orange-red. Used fresh in sauces and condiments or as a vegetable. Often stuffed with meat and cheese. Popular in South America. Native to the Andes.
Scotch bonnet (C. chinense): Yellow to orange-red, similar in appearance to the habanero with wrinkled top and flattened base. Light green to yellow to red at maturity. Deep fruity, smoky flavor. Use in Caribbean hot sauces and jerk seasoning. Popular in the Southwestern United States. Widely used in Yucatan and Caribbean cuisines. 200,000 to 300,000 SU.
Serrano (C. annuum): Small, tubular pods to about 2 inches (5 cm) long; usually harvested medium-green, ripens to bright red; crisp-textured, concentrated fresh, grassy, acidic flavor, very pungent seeds and veins. Use raw in guacamole and some salsa crudas. Use in stuffings and pickles. Named for mountain ridges (serranias) in Mexico where they originated. 10,000 to 25,000 SU.
Tabasco (C. frutescens): Small, slender fruit to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, thin fleshed, yellow, turning orange to scarlet when ripe. Sharp biting taste with a hint of celery. Mostly used to make the famous Louisiana Tabasco hot sauce from seeds first brought from Tabasco, Mexico in about 1848. Popular in the Southwestern United States.
Thai (C. annuum): Also called Thai dragons: Thin, meaty, cone-shaped, ¾ to 1 inch (1.9 to 2.5) long dark green ripening to bright red pods. Use fresh and dried. Add to curries and stir-fries or chop for pastes and dips. Popular in Asia. 50,000-100,000 SU.
Yellow Wax Pepper (C. annuum): Also called Hungarian wax pepper or chile guero: Pale, waxy yellow maturing to light red, elongated with pointed tips to about 5 inches (13 cm) long. Use raw in salsas; use toasted and seeded in salads and cooked in stews. Mild to medium hot.