There are more types of chili peppers than “red” and “green.” Each has distinctive characteristics and spiciness level, which are important to know if you want to use them correctly in cooking. Every cook worth their salt must understand the characteristics of chili peppers before using them properly, especially if you want better control the spiciness level in your dish.
Chili Peppers and Heat Levels
All chili peppers fall under the Capsicum genus, producing substances called capsaicin that contribute to the heat and pungent flavor. Chili peppers’ taste differs between cultivars because capsaicin production is affected by various conditions, such as the soil, growing conditions, and varieties.
Capsaicin makes us feel heat and discomfort because it binds with pain receptors. The heat level in chili peppers is measured using Scoville units, created in 1912 by pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. The hotter the chili peppers, the higher the Scoville units.
Popular Chili Peppers Types
What is a red chili pepper? Is it a “true” chili type?
Red chilis are the most popular types of chili peppers. However, these red peppers come in different varieties. Other peppers have orange, yellow, or even dark colors—knowing about the most popular chili pepper types is basic knowledge for every decent cook.
Here are some of the most popular chili peppers and their characteristics.
A popular Mexican chili, jalapeño peppers are usually consumed when they are still green. They have a medium heat level, ranging from 4,000 to 8,500 Scoville units. Some newer jalapeño varieties are even cultivated, so they taste sweeter. These peppers are ideal for stuffing like cheese-stuffed jalapeños, pickles, or smoked peppers.
Serrano is similar to jalapeño because it mostly comes in green varieties and has a medium heat. However, serrano peppers are smaller and ideal for sauces, relishes, or garnishes. Roasted serrano peppers add a unique flavor profile to various dishes.
3. Scotch Bonnet
Hailing from West Africa and the Caribbean, Scotch Bonnet is a variety with strong heat, ranging from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units. These peppers have varieties with different colors when ripened, such as red, peach, yellow, and brown. The heat makes Scotch Bonnet popular as a hot sauce and condiment. It is also cooked in various rice and meat dishes.
4. Bird’s Eye
Bird’s eye chili peppers hail from the Southeast Asian region. They are tiny but pack a serious punch, with heat levels ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville units. Bird’s eye chili peppers usually turn red when reaching maturity, but some varieties may develop purple, yellow, or even black colors. Bird’s eye peppers are popular in Southeast Asian cuisines like Indonesian, Thai, Cambodian, and Burmese dishes.
Habanero is famous for its floral aroma, citrusy, and high heat level, ranging from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units. When reaching maturity, habanero can turn red, yellow, or orange. The heat level makes it ideal for hot sauce and condiments. However, the floral and citrus notes are perfect for salsas, glazes for chicken or meat, and various Central and South American dishes.
6. Ghost Pepper
Bhut jolokia, also known as ghost pepper, is one of the spiciest chili pepper types in the world, with a heat level that reaches 1 million Scoville units. The heat is so intense many people turn the peppers into a thrill-eating competition. However, the searing heat and fruity sweetness make ghost pepper perfect for hot sauces, stews, and thick soup dishes.
The slim, red cayenne pepper is a cultivar with moderate heat levels, ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. It is famous for being made into ground chili peppers or chili powder. Cayenne is a versatile chili pepper used in various dishes, from a simple fried egg to stews and meat dishes. Various chocolate products, including hot chocolate recipes, are also known for mixing cayenne pepper into the concoction.
Poblano is known as a mild, green variety pepper. The heat level is just around 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville units. Therefore, these peppers are perfect for whole consumption, such as fried, roasted, and stuffed peppers.
Best Ways to Utilize Chili Peppers
Red chili uses are versatile, and you can utilize them in various ways. Making Indonesian-style sambal is the easiest way to get spicy condiments. You get all the capsaicin flavor by frying the whole chili peppers briefly in oil before grinding them in mortar and pestle, along with the seeds.
Another way is to make homemade chili powder, preserving the natural flavor while making them last longer. Remove the stems and cut the peppers open to get the seeds out. Toast them again until the peppers smell smoky, and place them in a spice grinder or food processor to create a powder.
Pickling is another way to preserve chili peppers. White vinegar with five percent acidity is the best choice since it preserves the peppers’ colors. You can keep pickled peppers for a long time and mix them with herbs like rosemary or oregano to add aromatic elements.
Are There Health Benefits?
Chili peppers are great sources of heat and immune booster during cold weather, rainy season, and winter. Their capsaicin is also known for improving digestion because it stimulates gastric juices. Chili peppers also contain a huge amount of vitamin A and C, which further improve the immune system and protect you from common diseases, like cold and flu.
Chili peppers also have side effects. Aside from the discomfort, excessive chili pepper consumption can cause nausea, vomiting, swelling, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. People with acid reflux should not consume chili peppers since they can trigger heartburn. The chili pepper heat can also cause discomfort on the skin, especially if you handle extremely hot peppers without gloves.
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Chili peppers have many varieties with different heat levels and flavor profiles. Knowing your types of chili peppers can help you find the right pepper for your cooking needs. Make sure you find your correct chili peppers before ordering them from Spices and Co.