These fresh Mexican peppers guide is just a tiny sample of the variety found in Mexican gastronomy. So, If you would like to learn more about some of the chiles used in Mexico, their uses and characteristics, keep reading. Here I will tell you all about it.
Types of Fresh Mexican Peppers:
Fresh Mexican peppers are an essential ingredient and the base of Mexican cuisine besides corn. Mexico is not the only country that grows and eats hot peppers, but Mexico hosts more than 65 varieties of fresh chilies. The number grows to 145 different types of chilies when adding the dried and smoked versions.
Unfortunately, around 16 varieties of the fresh Mexican peppers are currently considered endangered. Several factors contribute to this problem, such as the need for more infrastructure and favorable conditions for the production of specific chillies, as well as the general population's lack of awareness. If there is no market for these varieties and producers cannot sell them, the harvesting and production may stop at some point.
Moreover, cultivating certain chili varieties outside their endemic region has yielded disappointing results, such as chilies grown with a different flavor or level of spiciness than those cultivated in their original area.
This is particularly critical in the state of Oaxaca, where the Mixtec people of the Sierra Madre Occidental have carefully preserved their Chile Pasilla Mixteco, a unique chili that not even researchers or connoisseurs know how it looks fresh, and the drying method remains a mystery to many.
Fresh Mexican Peppers (Chiles) in History:
After the discovery of what is now America, the Spaniards encountered this rare variety of vegetables and called this new ingredient "pimiento" (pepper) since the only similar taste they knew was that of black pepper, or "pimiento" in Spanish.
Eventually, the Nahuatl name "chile" transformed into "chile" in Spanish by the children of immigrants born in Mexico. In English, the new species was introduced through a combination of two words: Chile-Pepper.
As an interesting fact, in pre-Hispanic times, fresh Mexican peppers were used as food, medicine, weapons of war, and a method of punishment. We won't delve into many details on this topic, but we are also fascinated to learn much about using our famous chilies.
Chilies are a vital ingredient in Mexico. This spice is part of our everyday cuisine, whether we use them to prepare sauces, mix them with other ingredients, or simply eat them raw to add a spicy flavor to our food. Mexicans are recognized worldwide for our peculiar taste for chillies and their spiciness.
How many varieties of fresh Mexican peppers are there?
There are about 68 types of chilies in Mexico, some of which are in danger of extinction. The topic of chilies is very extensive, and this is just a tiny summary of the most popular fresh chilies in Mexico.
Fresh Mexican Peppers:
1. Serrano Chili (Dried: Dried Chili)
SCOVILLE: Approx. 23,000. The most popular of the fresh Mexican peppers is bright green color with a pointed tip. It measures, on average, 6 to 7 cm (2-½ to 2-¾ inches) in length. Also known as "Chile Verde."
The Serrano pepper is one of the most popular chilies throughout Mexico. One way your find it is in raw sauces like Salsa Mexicana or Pico de Gallo. Also in cooked and roasted sauces, and in everyday stews. Additionally, it is very common to eat it in small bites.
This chili grows in the mountainous region of the State of Puebla, from which it gets its name. This Chile is an excellent addition to your salsa for enchiladas.
2. Jalapeño Chili Green and Ripe (Red) (Dried: Chipotle)
SCOVILLE: 2,500 - 8,000. Jalapeno peppers is bright green color with thicker skin than Serrano chili and measures between 7 to 9 cm (3 to 3/12 inches) in length. Sometimes found in stores as green chile and occasionally as red when ripe.
This chili from the State of Veracruz, where other varieties of the Jalapeño chili exist. It is a great pepper for fresh salsa, just with enough heat. When dried, it becomes the famous Chipotle chili. These chilies are perfect to prepare pickled vegetables or pickles with carrots and onions. After pickled we love to eat them in our sandwiches and other Mexican dishes.
If you like appetizer with a bit of heat, this is the pepper for you. One way to prepare them is by stuffing them with cream cheese, coating them with beaten eggs, and frying them. Another way is by wrapping then in bacon and placing them on the grill.
3. Poblano Peppers (Dried: Ancho)
SCOVILLE: 1,000 - 1,500. Dark green color, fleshy skin, and conical shape. Measures, on average 12 centimeters (5 inches) in length.
The most famous stuffed chili in Mexico is undoubtedly the Chile en Nogada. But did you know that The Poblano pepper is stuffed with meat, cheese, beans, or other fillings?
But to enjoy the poblano's best flavor, the chile must first be roasted. Some methods are on an open fire, broiler, or oven. This is the case for dishes like "rajas con crema" (strips of Poblano chili in cream sauce), "rajas con papas" (Poblano chili strips with potatoes), or in various stews, such as "Pollo a la Crema" (Chicken in Cream Sauce).
When dried, it becomes the Chile Ancho.
4. Chilaca Chili (Dried: Pasilla)
SCOVILLE: 1,000 - 2,500. Dark green color with a slightly wavy skin, long, and pointed. Measures between 15 and 25 cm (about 6 inches) in length.
The Chile Chilaca has very similar uses to the Poblano chili, and likewise, there are cooks who roast it before using it in their dishes, although it's not necessary if you prefer not to. But by roasting them, you add more flavor.
Like the poblano pepper, this Chile is perfect in "rajas con crema" (pepper strips in cream sauce), cut into small squares with stews or broths, and also fill with other ingredients. In some parts of the central region of the country, they call it "chile para deshebrar" (shredding chili) because they cut it into little strips to use in their dishes.
Its flavor is mild and not very spicy.
5. Güero or Xcatic Chili
SCOVILLE: 2,500 - 5,000 approx. Pale yellow color, measuring about 10-11 centimeters (2-½ to 2-¾ inches) in length.
This chili is widely popular in the gastronomy of the Yucatán Peninsula. One popular way to eat this chilie is by getting it roast slice and combine with onions and lime as a garnish. Another popular method is adding it to stews with chicken, fish, or seafood.
There are recipes where it is stuffed and coated with egg batter.
It is similar in shape to the banana pepper in the United States.
6. Bell Pepper (Green, Red, Yellow, and Orange)
SCOVILLE 0. Its mild, almost sweet taste makes it suitable for various recipes like in stews and raw in salads. You may think that bell peppers are only a fajita companion. The truth is that red bell pepper in jars or cans is more popular. These roasted peppers are a great addition to dressings or mixed with cheeses and creams for pasta and sandwich fillings.
7. Green Chili or Northern Green Chili
SCOVILLE: 500 - 2,500 SHU. Light green color, long, and pointed, measuring about 15 centimeters (6 inches) on average. It has a medium spiciness and is characteristic of Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango, and parts of the southern United States.
It is customary to roast, just like Poblano chilies, and cut them into strips to prepare the famous northern dish, "chile con queso," and one of the essential dishes is the potato and cheese broth. After the pepper is dry, it is known as "chile colorado."
In the United States you may know them as "Chile Anaheim" or "Chile California" in the United States.
8. Habanero Chili (Dried: Habanero)
SCOVILLE: 100,000 - 350,000. This pepper grows green and changes to yellow and then red as it ripens. This is one of those fresh Mexican peppers is medium size and measures an average of 4 cm (1-½ inches) in length. The Habanero is famous in Yucatán cuisine, and one of the sides complements the famous cochinita pibil.
The essential accompaniment to enjoy the famous cochinita pibil is a series of habaneros. The pepper is first diced into tiny cubes and mixed with a little lime juice to prevent them from dehydrating. They provide an acidic (and spicy) flavor to the achiote accompanying the delicious marinated pork.
My favorite way to use habaneros is by adding it to a homemade mayonnaise to combine with Baja-style tacos. But if you like spicy, try the Habanero Aguachile, a delicious and intense chili dish.
Sauces like Ha' Sikil P'ak, whose name describes the necessary ingredients, also include habanero chili (seedless) and cilantro.
9. Manzano Chili
SCOVILLE: 12,000 and 30,000. The Manzano is Another spicy pepper perfect for salsas. This pepper is a favorite in Mexico City mixed with potatoes and crema.
Manzano peppers when it ripens, it turns yellow or red. This chili is very popular in the central area of the country; it has a cylindrical shape and the peculiarity of having dark, almost black seeds.
The chile manzano is the direct cousin of the habanero chili; it is like an enlarged copy but with reduced intensity. People often prefer this pepper over habanero, mainly due to its color to garnish dishes like cochinita pibil.
It is also common to find it in mixiote taco shops, pickled chilies, sometimes with pineapple or usually as yellow strips, which is a predominant color in the chile manzano. In some places here in the United States, you can find them ripe when they turn their color to orange or red.
10. Chiltepín Chili (Dried: Chiltepín)
SCOVILLE: 50,000 - 100,000. Bright green color, changes to red when mature, measuring between 1-1½ cm (½ inch or less). Also known as piquín or chile de monte, it is very small and similar to other small chilies found in different regions of Mexico.
In the Garmendia market (the central market of Culiacán), we knew it was raining in the mountains because the chiltepines had already arrived. In the Garmendia market (the central market of Culiacán), we knew it was raining in the mountains because the chiltepines had already arrived. During raining season, people place sheets to collect the peppers. The rain helps the ripe chitelpin peppers to hold into the sheets.
The price, I believe, is one of the highest among the national chili peppers due to their demand, size, and the fact that their collection is not so simple. They can be sold for up to $1500 MXN per kilogram.
It also serves to season soups and broths in any of its forms, fresh or dried, and for the brave ones, the salsas "tatemadas" with chiltepín are dangerously delicious. One favorite way to make salsas is by adding chilpines, garlic and onion in a comal and roasting it to perfection. Then the ingredients are mixed in a mortar with lime or orange, pepper, and salt. The perfect salsa for any meat, chicken or taco.
11. Arbol Chili Fresh
SCOVILLE: 15,000 - 30,000. Bright green color, changes to red when mature. Contrary to its name, it does not grow on a tree, but the plant grows slightly taller than other chilies. It is long and thin, measuring about 7 centimeters (2¾ inches) in length.
This chili is long and slender, approximately 7 centimeters long and one centimeter wide. There is another chili very similar and also called "chile de árbol" or "cola de rata" (rat's tail) because it is slightly longer.
This chili has a flavor similar to the serrano chili but is spicier. This pepper is perfect in sauces and stews. However, as mentioned above, it is not very common to find it in markets when it is fresh.
12. Caribe Chili
SCOVILLE: 5,000 - 15,000. Also known as Chile Güero or Chile Caloro. It is a pale yellow chili with a smooth, shiny, and thick skin. Measures between 6-7 centimeters (2¼ to 2¾ inches) in length. Yes, the name comes from being a native to the Caribbean islands.
One favorite way to use this pepper is by roasting it and pickling It. Another way is in vinegar marinades, sauces, and stews. One of the most common preparations is roasting the chilies, chopping them finely, and mixing them with chopped onion, lime juice, and salt. It is served as a garnish in some taco stands. It tastes delicious as an accompaniment to fish and seafood. They are also prepared similarly to "chiles toreados."
How do you preserve Fresh Mexican peppers for a longer time?
The possibilities and combinations with chilies are endless, as they can be roasted, boiled, fried, dried, or used fresh, giving a twist even to already familiar dishes, but allowing us to open up and venture into preparing new things.
To preserve fresh chilies for a longer time, you can store them in the refrigerator in a plastic bag with a paper towel inside to absorb moisture. This way, they can stay fresh for a couple of weeks. For longer preservation, around two or three months, you can store them in the freezer in a plastic bag. However, it's essential to note that chilies stored in the freezer may lose some of their spiciness due to the reduction of capsaicin, the compound responsible for their heat.
By Mely Martínez with the collaboration of Manuel Arciniega