There are chiles to suit almost any palate. The following are some of the most popular and useful of peppers, some of them mild, some scorching.
• Aji. Called cusqueño in Peru, this pepper is very hot to fiery. The fruit is bright green-yellow ripening to golden yellow. The 4- to 6-inch peppers grow on plants that are 4 to 6 feet tall. The peppers dry well; they are used as a condiment and in salsas and sauces.
• Anaheim/New Mexico. Referred to as chile colorado when red and chile verde when green, this large pepper, 6 to 7 inches long, ranges in pungency from mild to very hot. The 2- to 3-foot bushes have big, glossy leaves; the bright green fruit turns red at maturity. The red peppers are dried for ristras; green ones are roasted and peeled or frozen and used in soups, stews, and rellenos.
• Banana/Hungarian. Mild to hot, this pepper is best eaten when green or pale yellow-green, though it matures to bright orange-red or scarlet. It is used fresh in salsas and sauces and is good for pickling, but it doesn’t dry well. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet high, and the fleshy fruits are 4 to 6 inches long.
• Cascabel. This small, fairly hot pepper, which measures 3/4 inch by 11/2 inches, has a slightly nutty flavor when dried. It dries well and is good in soups, stews, sauces, and sausage. The dark green fruits mature to a dark reddish brown on plants 11/2 to 2 feet high.
• Cayenne. This thin-fleshed pepper is hot to fiery and is handsome when dried. The medium bright green fruits mature to bright red, and they are good fresh or dried and ground for use in soups, stews, and sauces. The peppers are 3 to 6 inches long and grow on plants that reach 11/2 to 2 feet high.
• Cherry. Round and fleshy, this pepper provides lots of pulp for jelly making, and it is also good pickled whole or made into relish. Medium to very hot, the fruits are 11/2 to 21/2 inches in diameter, growing on plants 11/2 to 2 feet tall. Medium dark green when immature, they ripen to scarlet red. They do not dry well.
• De Arbol. This very hot pepper, green maturing to red, is used fresh in season but is most often dried. It measures 21/2 to 31/2 inches long and only 1/4 inch wide. De árbols dry well for use in soups, stews, and beans. Plants reach 11/2 to 2 feet in height.
• Fresno/Santa Fe Grande. This group of similar, fleshy peppers ranges in pungency from slightly hot to very hot, with much variation in flavor and size. Fruits may be light green, golden with a rosy blush, orange-red, or red maturing to bright orange-red to red. They are most often used fresh, pickled, or in salsas. These peppers are 2 to 4 inches long and grow on bushes that are 11/2 to 2 feet high.
• Habanero/Scotch Bonnet. A test used for many years to measure the capsaicin content of a pepper utilized a scale that ranged from 0 for bell peppers to 350,000 for habaneros. These are the most incendiary of them all, although the fierce sting in the mouth fades fairly quickly. With a distinct fruit flavor, habaneros are usually consumed fresh; they are good with lime, and they preserve well. Green to yellow-green, the peppers mature to golden yellow-orange, scarlet, or mahogany. Fruits measure 1 to 11/2 inches in diameter and grow on bushes 11/2 to 21/2 feet tall.
• Jalapeno. The fruits of this very hot to fiery pepper ripen from bright dark green with a purple or black tinge to purple-black or bright deep red. Two inches long and 1/2 inch wide, the peppers are used fresh in salsas, sauces, beans, and escabeche, and dried in sauces and beans. The best way to dry them is by smoking; smoked jalapeños are called chipotles and may be purchased packed in adobo sauce. Plants grow to 11/2 to 21/2 feet in height.
• Japones. Also called Japanese peppers, these hot to very hot fruits are bright green ripening to red. They are used like cayennes in sauces and stir-fried dishes, and dried ones are ground for seasoning. The 2- to 3-inch-long fruits grow on 2- to 3-foot-tall bushes.
• Mirasol. This favorite Mexican dried chile (also called guajillo in the dry state) has a slightly fruity taste. The 2- to 3-inch peppers, bright green to red ripening to brownish red, are fairly hot, and are used in stews and sauces; dried ones give food a yellowish color. Bushes grow to 11/2 to 2 feet tall.
• Mulato. These mild to fairly hot green peppers dry to a deep chocolate brown-black and have a chocolate flavor. They may be used fresh but most often are sold dried or ground in a paste for moles; they’re good with beans and in soups and stews. The thick-fleshed fruits are 3 to 6 inches long. Bushes grow 2 to 21/2 feet tall.
• Ornamental. These small peppers are grown for their dazzling color in the garden as much as for kitchen use. Shapes vary from round to conical and elongated; some varieties are fiery hot, while others have little flavor. They dry well and can be used in stir-fries, soups, and stews, although they are used most often for decoration. The fruits are 1 to 2 inches long, and they may be cream, pale green, yellow, orange, or purple maturing to scarlet or deep red. The plants grow 12 to 15 inches high.
• Pasilla. This large pepper (5 to 7 inches long) dries to a dark raisin brown; it lends an earthy, slightly bitter richness to foods, including sauces, soups, stews, and, when dried, to chili powders and moles. Mild to fairly hot, the dark green peppers acquire a purple-brown tinge as they mature; plants are 2 to 21/2 feet tall.
• Pepperoncini. These are the peppers found bottled at the grocery as Italian pickled peppers. Their flavor varies from mild and sweet to slightly hot; they may be dried but more often are used green or pickled. The 2- to 4-inch fruits start green and mature to red, on bushes reaching 2 to 21/2 feet high.
• Piquin/Tepin. This tiny, thin-fleshed pepper is very hot, even fiery. The medium green fruit dries to bright red-brown. It is sometimes used in commercial vinegar-based hot sauces, makes good hot dried pepper flakes, and can be used fresh, dried, or frozen. The peppers measure only 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch and grow on plants 12 to 15 inches high.
• Peter. This pepper, very hot but with little flavor, is grown more as a conversation piece due to its shape; another name for it is penis pepper. The light bright green fruit matures to golden yellow or red. The plants grow 11/2 to 21/2 feet tall.
• Poblano/Ancho. The poblano when dried is called ancho. This thick-fleshed, large pepper, 3 to 5 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide, is the true chile relleno pepper. It is dark green with a purple-black cast, ripening to a deep red-brown. The mild to hot flavor becomes slightly sweet and fruity when the pepper is dried. When fresh, it is best roasted, peeled, and made into sauce or rellenos; dried, it is used in moles and chili powder. It grows on a bush 2 to 3 feet high.
• Rocotillo. The rocotillo looks like a small pattypan squash 1 to 11/2 inches in diameter. It doesn’t dry well but is used fresh in condiments and salsas and can be sautéed as a vegetable. The fruits are green to yellow-green maturing to deep red, and are mild to fairly hot. Plants grow to 11/2 to 21/2 feet tall.
• Serrano. This is another fiery pepper, measuring only 1 to 2 inches long. It is used fresh in salads and salsas as both a green and a ripe red pepper, and it can be roasted; fresh or dried, it is used with beans, soups, sauces, and stews. Plants grow to 2 to 3 feet tall.
• Tabasco. This pepper was made famous by the McIlhenny family of Louisiana, who have used it in their Tabasco sauce since 1868. It is most commonly used in hot sauces and is seldom used fresh. The bright green pepper ripens to bright orange, and it grows on a plant that exceeds 5 feet tall in the South, 2 to 3 feet elsewhere. This is the only pepper that produces juice when squeezed; for an intense pepper experience, squeeze a drop of juice from a ripe tabasco onto the tip of your tongue.
• Thai. A good small, decorative chile whose heat lingers on the tongue, this pepper is most commonly used fresh or dried in Thai and other Oriental cooking, in soups, sauces, stews, and stir-fries. Bright medium green to red deepening to glossy deep red at maturity, the fruits measure 1/2 to 1 inch long by 1/4 inch wide and grow on plants 12 to 15 inches high. Thai peppers dry well.
Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger, respectively from San Jose, California, and Brookeville, Maryland, are expert cooks and food developers. This article is adapted from their most recent collaboration, The Chile Pepper Book, published in 1994 by Interweave Press.
Click here for the original article, Chile Peppers Around the World .