Chile peppers, many in the same species of the Capsicum genus, are native to Central and South America. The Spanish and Portuguese introduced them to Europe, Asia, and India, and today almost every culture has its own favorite varieties. Here are some we love to use and eat.
The popularity of Tex-Mex food owes much to the jalapeno. It adds heat (ranging from mild to potent) and an undertone of sweetness to salsas, nachos, and more. Dried, smoked mature (red) jalapenos are called chipotles.
The large, thick-fleshed poblano (ideal for chiles rellenos) has a nice amount of heat and full-bodied, complex flavor. Its earthy, savory richness after being roasted is a true taste of Mexico. When dried, it becomes an ancho.
Although a serrano can be used interchangeably with a jalapeno, its boldness is more consistent, and it can even be a bit hotter. It also has a sharpness that cuts the richness of guacamole. A red serrano has a sweeter heat.
In this mature (ripened) form of the green Thai chile, the heat is sneakier; it tends to build as you work your way through a curry, noodle soup, or other dish. The red and green chiles are often harvested and sold together.
This ripe form of the Indian green finger hot is slightly less pungent but still adds punch and color. Green chiles are high in vitamin C; as they mature to red, the C content drops, but their vitamin A increases dramatically.
A manzano is a type of rocoto chile, domesticated in the Bolivian highlands about 6,000 years ago. It combines the juicy crunch of a bell pepper with a blast of heat. It’s also called a caballo ("horse") because of its kick.
Try manzano chiles in Roast Pork with Fennel, Chiles, and Olives.
"Wax peppers" like this thick-fleshed, moderately hot variety are yellow when immature. This one’s Spanish name is guero, meaning "blond"; it is excellent for pickling (in escabeche) and in salsas and pepper vinegar.
Try Santa Fe Grande chiles in Grilled Peppers and Chiles.
The long, sweet Cubanelle (a.k.a. Italian frying pepper) is the bedrock for a Cuban sofrito, or flavor base. It’s also delicious sauteed with onions and served with grilled meats.
Try Cubanelle chiles in Linguine with Boquerones, Peppers, and Breadcrumbs or Grilled Cubanelles, Tomatoes, and Scallions.
Capsaicin is found not just in the seeds and ribs but also in the placenta, the central area where the seeds are attached. Wear rubber gloves when handling hot chiles. The best remedy for a too-spicy bite is to follow it with a thick dairy product, such as sour cream.