A Beginner's Guide to Chile Peppers

First, a few words about CHILES and CHILIS. For the record, CHILI is that wondrous steaming-hot bowl of beef and perhaps beans that may or may not include a chopped-up CHILE or two. "CHILI POWDER" is a blend of ground red chiles and added seasonings that help to make your chili hot. "GROUND CHILES" is the pure stuff that Southwestern chefs prefer over the blended stuff; however, this is always a matter of personal taste.

Now, a word of CAUTION! When working with fresh chiles, either fresh or dried, please be careful! Especially if you have sensitive skin, gloves should be worn to see and chop chiles (I use inexpensive disposable surgical gloves). If you do happen to get any of the chile oils or juice on your skin, wash it off immediately with a mild bleach solution which neutralizes the capsaicin. Also, be sure not to rub your eyes, nose, or other sensitive locations while working with these incendiary little guys! Always wash your hands well after you've finished working with any fresh or dried chile.


ANAHEIM: 4-5 inches long, tapering to a pointed tip, usually green but sometimes red. They range from almost bell-pepper-like to mildly warm in taste.

FRESNOS: 2-3 inches long, pointed tips, green ripening to red. They look and taste almost like jalapenos escept they are usually found red and range from mild to hot in taste.

HABANEROS: 2 inches long and about 1 inch wide, rounded shape, bright orange in color, and the very hottest of the hot chiles. Originally from Jamaica and Ycatan, they are gaining popularity with the craziest of chileheads everywhere.

JALAPENOS: 1-1/2 to 3 inches long, rounded tips, green ripening to mottled green and orange. They range from mild to vwery hot in taste, and are gaining popularity in international cuisine.

POBLANOS: 3-5 inches long rounded shape, dark green ripening to red-brown. They always have a little bit of a bite, and can range to quite hot. These are the chiles usually used in the dish "Chiles Rellenos".

SANTA FE GRANDES: 3-4 inches long, wider at the stem and curving to a tapered end, pale green ripening through orange to deep red (sometimes called Big Jims). These can sometimes be mistaken for anaheims, so be warned.

SERRANOS: About 1-1/2 to 22-1/2 inches long and about 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide. green ripening to bright red and mildly hot to fiery in taste.

YELLOW WAX (GUEROS): 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches long, wider at the stem end and tapering to a rounded end, pale yellow ripening to mottled yellow-orange. They can be quite mild to qutie hot, and have a distinctly bell-pepper taste (Sometimes called banana peppers).

ANCHOS: Dried, 3-1/2 to 5 inches long and about 1/2 inch wide; definite brown color and mild to medium in taste; a dried version of Poblano chiles.

CHILE DE ARBOL: About 2-1/2 inches long, very thin (about the size of your little finger), and quite hot in taste; used frequently to spice up a pot of cooked pinto beans.

CHIPOTLES: Tapered, 2-3 inches long and about 1/1 inch wide; definite brown color and quite hot. These are smoke-dried jalapeno chiles and impart a fiery smokey flavor to sauces and stews.

GUAJILLOS: 2-3 inches long, about 3/4 inches wide; brown with touches of orange-gold; medium hot in taste with a pleasant tart fruity flavor.

JAPONES: About 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide; bright orange-red and fiery hot.

MULATO: Similar to ancho chiles in size; color is deeper brown, almost black; these can be used interchangeably in recipes calling for ancho chiles.

NEW MEXICO/CALIFORNIA: 6-8 inches long and 1 tp 1-1/2 inches wide; bright to dark red, from almost sweet to mildly hot; a dried from of Anaheim chiles.

PASILLAS: 5-7 inches long and about 1 inch wide; very dark red-brown to almost black; mild to warm in taste; an execellent complement to Ancho chiles.

PEQUIN: Tiny red dried "bullets" that are super potent. Just crumble the dried pod between thumb and forefinger and add to other ingredients of a dish.

Some facts are from "The Well-Filled Tortilla" by Victoria Wise and Susanna Hoffman

El Camino de los Chiles
(That's The Chile Highway to Gringos!)

Copyright 2009 Shaboom's Kitchen, Carol Stevens, All Rights Reserved