It is often complicated to give a good description of how hot chillies are. There are many factors that affect the level of spiciness on peppers such as the spiciness on each individual chilli pepper developed during the growing process, the cooking method and how people handle spicy food. What’s hot for me could be barely mild to someone else and vice versa.
Luckily, there is a way to officially rank heat units in peppers. The Scoville scale is a tool to scale the spiciness in them. The units can be wildly different even for the same pepper but in general, it gives a good idea of how hot a particular chilli can be.
When talking about Mexican food, it is quite common to think of spicy food and to have the idea that our salsas and sauces are quite hot. It is not always the case. A lot of our chillies are all about the flavours more than the spiciness.
Here is a list of our most commonly used chilli peppers with a little bit of information about their flavour and where they rank on the Scoville scale.
Ancho 1,000 - 1,500 Scoville units
Poblano peppers become ancho chillies when dried. Whether fresh or dried, this is one of the most traditional chillies in Mexican gastronomy. Ancho peppers have dark, wrinkly skin, a fruity scent and flavour, even sweet. A basic ingredient in many rich sauces such as mole. Ground ancho pepper or flakes are lovely to be used in many dishes since it brings depth to sauces without any spiciness.
Pasilla 1,000 - 2,500 Scoville units
Chilaca peppers become pasilla chillies when dried. Pasilla chillies are long, thin and their skin is dark and very wrinkly like a raisin. Hence the name pasilla could be translated to raisin. The flavour is fruity and smokey at the same time. Almost no spiciness, only lovely flavours.
Cascabel 1,000 - 3,000 Scoville units
Cascabel chillies, roughly translated to rattle chilli, is called that way because it's shaped like a ball and the seeds inside make a rattle noise when shaken. The flavour is quite mellow and even sweet. Used in many sauces for its flavour instead of spiciness.
Mulato 2,500 - 3000 Scoville units
Mulato peppers are very similar to ancho peppers and their main difference is the flavour but not massively different from each other.
Guajillo 2,500 - 5,000 Scoville units
Guajillo peppers come from Mirasol peppers. Guajillo peppers are long and red, usually mixed with other chillies in sauces or dishes for their colour and mild spiciness. One of the most common dried chillies from Mexico.
Arbol 15,000 - 30,000 Scoville units
One of our most beloved chillies that happens to be also one of the hottest but with a lot of flavour too. A basic chilli that can be found in a lot of salsas. A small, long and brightly red chilli that we love.
Fresh Chillies & Pickled
Jalapeño 2,500 - 8,000
One of the most popular peppers out there. When fresh, jalapeno peppers have a fresh flavour similar to that of Padron or green bell pepper but spicy ones, of course. The level of spiciness in them depends on so many factors such as how long they were left in the plant, how much sun the plant received and others. This is why two equally looking peppers can be wildly different in spiciness.
Serrano 5,000 - 15,000
Serrano peppers are smaller and thinner than jalapenos and even when they can be interchangeable in some recipes, they have a different flavour and these ones are much spicier. They have certain acidity that makes them perfect for fish and seafood dishes.
Habanero 100,000 - 350,000
Another very popular pepper out there. Found often in different colours such as green, yellow, orange or red. The flavour has fruity notes, some sweetness and freshness. Very commonly found fresh and in many salsas around the world. While being a very hot pepper, it also packs a lot of flavour which makes it the favourite of many.
-Cooking and pickling chillies does not increase their spiciness, if anything, it makes them milder.
-Hot peppers love the sun, a stress-free life and plenty of water. Sounds like they are like any of us, doesn’t it? The element that produces spiciness in chillies is capsaicin and is produced by the plant as a defence mechanism. So, in order to get chilli plants to be spicier, there are methods that include cutting back the water give, for example, to stress the plant. Less aggressive methods are to give more sun and to leave the peppers for longer in the plant.
-The capsaicin is concentrated around the seeds and veins so removing them from the peppers can bring the spiciness down. This applies to fresh and pickled chillies.
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