Chile Peppers 101: How Hot is HOT?

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Chile peppers can be found in many recipes. Find out the right amount of "heat" for your palate.

Most everyone in the world has tasted at least one Chile (often spelled Chili) pepper in their lifetime. Sometimes, it is a wonderful experience; other times, it is a nightmare. Read this short guide to pepper “heat” to find the right temperature for your palate.

Black Pepper is the spice discovered by Christopher Columbus. When he found chiles, he named them peppers and the rest as they say is “history.”


(0) Bell Peppers come in green, yellow, and red. They are large enough to stuff with meat, cheese, or vegetables and can then be baked or broiled. They have a mild flavor and no heat. Great for the beginner who has never tasted peppers. You can use them with confidence in no-burn recipes from meatloaf to spaghetti.

(1-3) Hungarian Cherry peppers are small and dark red. These mild, flavorful peppers can be used dried or fresh. They are an adventurous addition to eggs or in salads.

(2-4) New Mexico or “California” red and green peppers are ground up for chili powder. Whole peppers are often fashioned into a traditional ristra for drying purposes, and displayed as a decorative wreath seen at restaurants and in many kitchens. They are light green until ripe and can grow up to 4 inches long.

(3) Poblano peppers come in green or red, are triangular, and can be cooked whole or roasted; but never eaten raw. They are commonly put in sauces, salsas, and stuffing. When it is dried out, you may see it packaged as ancho.

(5) Pepperoncini is an Italian pepper that is usually orange-red and dried to spice sauces. It is sometimes referred to as Tuscan sweet or Greek gold. This pepper is used mostly in antipasto and salads and is grown in Sardinia and Louisiana. The Greek variety is sweeter and less bitter than the Italian ones.

(5.5-6) Jalapeño is the most familiar pepper that is used in sauces, meat seasoning, and can be eaten raw. It comes in green and red and is available almost worldwide.

(7) Serrano peppers are very hot and come in red, green, brown, orange and yellow. It is one of the hottest chiles available in the United States, but is grown mostly in Mexico in Hidalgo or Puebla. For the seasoned pepper enthusiast, these can be eaten raw. This pepper is most often found in pico de gallo.

(8) Thai peppers from Thailand, California and parts of Asia; also known as the “Bird’s Eye” pepper. This pepper is not for the timid. It is about one inch long and either red or green. The green ones are not yet ripe, but the red ones are ready to cook or dry. These peppers can be frozen for years after being dried and are more easily sliced when frozen. You can get 4 plants to grow your own from many websites including either this major shopping site or this specialty store.

(9) Tabasco peppers are little red-orange chiles used in the famous Louisiana Tobasco sauce seen in many restaurants and are also used in the preparation of peppered vinegar. Until weather climates changed within the last two decades, all Tabasco peppers were grown in Louisiana. Now, to ensure a year-round growing season the peppers themselves are mostly grown in Central and South America, with only the seeds coming from Avery Island, Louisiana.

(9-10) Scotch Bonnet peppers sound like they come from Scotland, but actually they are mainly grown in Jamaica and are a relative of the Habanero pepper. Yellow and irregular in shape, Scotch Bonnets are used in Latin American dishes and handled only by specialty chefs who know what they are doing. You often taste these peppers in Jamaican jerk sauces used with pork and chicken. If you are determined to prepare them yourself, be sure to use gloves when handling these hot peppers! The intensity of this pepper can cause severe skin and eye irritation. Wash your hands after handling, even if you wore gloves. If you take a bite and it’s too much for you, eat something sugary to counteract its acid content. If you can stand the heat, you will notice a flavor similar to apricots.

(10) Habanero. This pepper’s name means “from Havana”; handle this one with greatest care! It comes in red, yellow, green, pink and orange and will blow your socks off. Don’t let its floral aroma fool you; this pepper is 50 times hotter than a Jalapeno. Some vendors put Habanero peppers in their tequila for a spicy drink.

So there you have it…a list by degree of 10 of the world’s most popular peppers. Since there are over 100 varieties, this list by no means encompasses every available pepper, only the ones the general American population has become familiar with over the last 30 years. Whether you are dining in a restaurant, or looking for a new way to spice up dishes at home, it’s always best to consider how much heat you want in your recipes and how much your guests or family can endure.

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1 comment

DeviPriya Maharana
Posted on Mar 15, 2012