There are so many types of chilli peppers hailing from around the world. Let’s talk about varieties of chilli peppers and their taste levels, ranging from mild to spicy. We explore some of the more commonly known chili peppers used in cuisines all around the world, as well as some surprisingly new ones you may not have heard of.
Measuring a Chilli’s Spiciness or Heat
A chilli pepper’s spiciness comes from a chemical called capsaicin. The heat of the chilli is measured in Scoville heat units. This is determined by what level of concentration of capsaicinoids are present in the chilli. Each type has a different heat level or Scoville heat unit which is because of different levels of capsaicinoids. The spiciness you feel when you eat a chilli is not actually from heat but it is your pain nerves detecting the capsaicinoids. Capsaicin does not dissolve in water, which is why water cannot quell the burning heat you feel when you eat a chilli. Reach instead for something fatty or oily, such as full cream milk or cream.
Bell peppers have zero heat – they’re actually mild and sweet. Bell peppers are fruits – botanically classified as berries – and are common in some of our favorite meals. This type of chilli goes great in dishes such as a pizza topping, an addition to stews and stir frys, sprinkled on salads or mixed in an omelette. Bell peppers come in various colors, commonly in green, yellow, orange or a bright red. The colors indicated how ripe or unripe one is, and doesn’t affect the flavor drastically. For example, a green bell pepper is simply in its young stage.
Introducing another mild type of chilli pepper, banana peppers are tangy and slightly sweet. Being typically in bright yellow – hence the name – and maturing to a green, red or orange. It’s Scoville heat units range from 0 to 500 SHU, therefore it’s not considered a hot pepper like jalapenos are. Banana peppers are commonly used in salads, salsa, or stuffed with meat and/or cheese.
A chilli pepper native to Mexico, poblano peppers are also classified as mild chilli peppers. They are typically dark green in color, although the red ones are a little spicier than you would expect. In Mexico they are called chile anchos, and they’re packed with Vitamin C. Poblano peppers are the main ingredients to some of Mexico’s most popular dishes such as chile relleno and chiles en nogada.
Pimientos are deep red, heart-shaped chili peppers that are mild-tasting, succulent and sweet. The world “pimiento” literally translates to “pepper” in Spanish. In Portugal, they’re called “pimento”.
Pimientos are great for stuffing because of their size – they’re about 3-4 inches long and 2-3 inches wide. They’re also a key ingredient to making chili powders. In fact, paprika is made from dehydrated pimiento peppers mixed with other mild or sweet peppers. Paprikash, a traditional Hungarian dish, features paprika with chicken. A popular condiment we all know and love is pimiento cheese, perfect as a sandwich spread
If spicy is what you’re in the mood for, but don’t want too much heat, jalapenos are perfect. Jalapenos are one of the most popular chili peppers in the world, with its spiciness level averaging around 5,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). That’s hot, but it’s a tolerable kind of hot. They’re usually served green, and the red ones (ripened) have a sweeter tang to them.
Jalapenos are sometimes eaten as they are (as a snack), or mixed in with other food. Whether in powder form, sauce form, or as it is, they are a staple in the kitchen these days. Fresh jalapenos have a bright, vegetable-like flavor, with a tiny hint of heat. However, you get the most flavor when they’re roasted. Roasted jalapeno peppers are earthy and smoky, with just the right amount of heat that makes you want more.
With a Scoville heat unit ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, cayenne peppers are another favorite that’s spicier than jalapenos. It’s a main ingredient in hot sauces and commonly sold in powdered form. Its powdered form is also popular in a variety of dishes, condiments and flavorings. Majority of chili flakes sold in the market are made from dried cayenne peppers
Thai Chili Peppers
A Thai chilli pepper is typically small in size and high in heat, but there are actually at least 79 separate varieties of the pepper that originated from three species in Thailand. One of the many varieties include the Kashmir, also called Sriracha and used to make sriracha sauce. Thai chilies are key ingredients to southeast Asian curries, pastes and sauces.
Similar to a jalapeno pepper’s appearance, serrano peppers have a green color, though they’re smaller than jalapenos. They are 1-4 inches long, and 1/2 inch wide. Serranos are spicier than jalapenos, ranging from 10,000 to 23,000 SHU, but people love putting this in salsa (like Mexico’s pico de gallo), sauces, relishes and garnishes. Like jalapenos, they also taste great roasted, and they’re perfect with spicy recipes. They’re also enjoyed freshly picked, despite a high level of spiciness.
Originated from Havana, Cuba, the habanero busts your chops with a whopping 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units and a fruity, citric flavor and a flowery aroma. In Mexico, habaneros are soaked in tequila for days to give it that flare. A young habanero is green in color, but matures to yellow-orange to bright red. It can even appear pink or dark brown depending on its age.
Due to its extreme levels of spiciness, it’s not advised to handle this pepper with mere hands alone. Even gloves are insufficient – the habanero’s capsaicin sticks to the skin for a long time, and is enough to damage your taste buds (or your skin) immediately. When handling a habanero pepper, wash the gloves and cutting board with bleach and/or detergent after to avoid further spread of the spicy chemical.
Despite its extreme spiciness, green habaneros are edible. However, you will get the fruity, flowery taste with mature habaneros.
What’s your Favorite Chilli?
These are only some of the many other varieties of chilli peppers consumed around the world. Which one is your favorite? Experiment with different types and mix them in your favorite meals and sauces, like hummus! Create spicy hummus spreads and pair them with pita bread, chicken, tortilla chips or crackers. The possibilities are endless!