Your Guide To Mexican Chili Peppers

Chili peppers are fundamental to Mexican cuisine. Many people think of chilis as having one simple purpose: to add heat. This however, is beyond incorrect! There are over 150 different varieties of chili peppers and hundreds of ways to prepare them. Whether it’s sweet, fruity, smoky, earthy or hot, the chill forms the base of Mexican cuisine.

Chili, Chile, or Chilli?

Chile is commonly used in parts of the US, especially nearer to Mexico, and is identical to the Spanish spelling. It’s also the same as the name of the country, which causes some confusion. Chili is commonly used in much of the rest of the English-speaking world, however this spelling causes some confusion and overlap with the spiced stew-like meal of the same name. Chilli seems to be something of an attempt to avert that confusion, but this spelling variant seems to be primarily limited to the UK, where it shares usage with chili.


Originating in the state of Puebla, the poblano is a large green chili most commonly used for chile rellenos: peppers stuffed with meat and cheese and sometimes served with a spicy tomato-based sauce.

Spice Level : Mild to medium


Ancho chilis are dried poblano peppers. Ancho chilis are generally low in heat, with a distinctively sweet and raising-like fruity flavor. Ancho chilis are among the most popular chili peppers. They exist across a broad range of Mexican, Tex-Mex fusion dishes and they tend be a little easier to find than other chili peppers.

Spice Level : Mild


Habanero chili peppers are rated 100,000 – 350,000 on the Scoville scale, these are one of Mexico’s hottest chili peppers. Whilst most commonly red or orange, they can be white, brown, yellow, green or purple, depending on how early they’re picked. They’re commonly used for fiery-hot salsas.

Spice Level: Crazy hot!


The guajillo, a dry, 10- to 15-centimetre (four- to six-inch) chilli with a deep red colour, is considered to be pretty mild by Mexican spice standards, and is mainly used for making rich, sweet sauces or meat marinades. Guajillos contribute a sharp, fruity, somewhat tangy favour to dishes without contributing a great deal of heat The dried chilis are deseeded, soaked in water and then blended together to make a thin paste ready for cooking.

Spice Level : Mild


The puya, a tiny, bright-red chilli with tough skin, is very similar to the guajillo pepper, only spicier and smaller in size. Just like the guajillo, puya chillis are commonly ground up into a paste and used for sauces and meat marinades. It can also be lightly ground as a chilli dust and sprinkled over dishes for that extra fiery finish. Spicier than the jalapeño, but not as hot as habanero peppers, puya chilli is perfect for those wanting to step it up a little, without the risk of your lips going numb.

Spice Level : Mild to high


Mulato chilis, are dried versions of the poblano pepper, picked when very ripe. Mulato chilis are moderately hot, with a sweet, fruity, slightly smoky flavour. They’re highly appreciated for the distinctive chocolate/cherry/licorice notes that they impart to a dish.

Spice Level : Mild to moderate


You’re most likely familiar with this name: it is one of the most famous sauces to have come out of Mexico. The name, of course, comes from the vital ingredient that gives the sauce its smoky, medium-spice flavour: the chipotle chilli. Not many people know this, but chipotle is actually just a smoked, dried version of the jalapeño. It’s picked at the very end of the ripening process and then placed in a wood-fire box for several days, turning the fresh, green jalapeño into a dark red, shrivelled chipotle chilli.

Spice Level : Mild


The Pasilla chili, (aka chile negro) is a dried, ripe, chilaca pepper. Pasillas are elongate, thin, and tapering, with wrinkled, nearly black skin. Their flavour is fairly similar to that of an ancho chili, with raisin and coffee notes. They also tend to be a little hotter than ancho chilies. Pasilla chilies are the victims of frequent mis-labeling, and are often confused with anchos and fresh poblanos. True pasilla peppers can be a little harder to find than some of the other peppers on this list.

Spice Level : Mild to moderate

Chiles de Arbol

With their long, bright-red bodies and even brighter green stems, have captured the imagination of Mexicans for centuries. Because of their beauty (and because they don’t lose their colour once dried), they’re often used as wreath decorations or as a colorful dish garnish. But they’re not just a pretty face: with a heat index of up to 30,000 Scoville units, these potent chillies pack a huge punch. Most similar to cayenne pepper in spice, flavour and aroma, chiles de arbol are popular for adding some fiery heat to salsas.

Spice Level : Hot


Cascabel can be found fresh or dry, but the dried version (small, round and a dark red-brown colour) is the most common. The name cascabel, meaning ‘jingle bell’ in Spanish, comes from the sound the dried chillies make when the seeds rattle inside the hard skin. With a mild, earthy and sometimes smoky flavor, cascabel is most often blended with tomatillo (a small, green Mexican tomato) and served as a side salsa.

Spice Level : Mild

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