Choosing Chile Peppers

Whether you want refreshingly mild or mind-altering hot, the guide below will help you pick the perfect pepper.

Chiles come in many varieties, offering a wide array of colors and sizes and a range of heat and flavor.

Banana, jalapeno, habanero, Thai chile, serrano, poblano, Fresno, and Anaheim peppers

L to R: Banana, jalapeno, habanero, Thai chile, serrano, poblano, Fresno, and Anaheim peppers | Photo by Meredith

Colors can be anywhere from light green to dark green, red to purple or dark brown, and yellow to bright orange. They can be as long as 12 inches or as short as 1/4 inch.

In general, the smaller a pepper is, the hotter it is. Still, chiles of the same variety, even harvested from the same plant, can vary in heat, so if you’re sensitive to spicy foods, taste a tiny sliver of each chile before you add them to a dish.

The majority of a chile’s heat is contained in its seeds and in the white membranes (called “ribs”) inside, so you can do a lot to control the heat of a dish by removing or adding these seeds and membranes. Just remember to wear rubber gloves when handling these hot peppers, and don’t touch your eyes.

Forms of Chile Peppers
Chiles also come in a number of forms. There’s fresh, pickled, smoked, dried, roasted, and ground. Fresh ones will add just that–a fresh taste and a nice crunch to any dish.

  • The bigger fresh chiles such as Anaheims and poblanos are great for stuffing, not only because of their large size, but also because they are relatively mild and can be eaten in larger quantities without making people cry.
  • Pickled peppers are great on sandwiches and in salsa for that little extra zip and tang you’re looking for.
  • Smoked chiles come in cans, and are wonderfully convenient for adding depth to stews and sauces.
  • Dried chiles can give dishes a complex, earthy flavor, and roasted chiles contribute an incomparable smoky richness.
  • Ground chile is great for adding just a little extra bite to your food without going to any extra work.

Explore our complete collection of Chile Pepper Recipes.

How to Choose Chile Peppers

See how to choose the perfect chile peppers for your spicy recipes.


Fairly Mild Peppers

Some fairly mild chile peppers are the Anaheim chile, poblano chile, Hungarian wax chile, and the ancho chile.

Chile Rellenos

Chile Rellenos | Photo by Allrecipes

Moderately Hot Chile Peppers

Some moderately hot chile peppers are the Cascabel chile, chilaca chile, pasilla chile, chipotle chile, and the jalapeño chile.

Baked Jalapeno Poppers

Baked Jalapeno Poppers | Photo by bd.weld

Hot Peppers

Some really hot chile peppers are the cayenne chile, Serrano chile, Thai chile, and the Pequín chile.

Authentic Enchiladas Verdes

Authentic Enchiladas Verdes | Photo by Allrecipes

Extremely Hot or “Call the Fire Department”

The habanero and Scotch Bonnet are extremely hot, offering the strongest heat of all chile pepper varieties!

Spicy Habanero Dipping Sauce

Spicy Habanero Dipping Sauce | Photo by LilSnoo

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