Chile peppers 101

This article was originally published in February 2011


Think chiles and most of us think heat. But fresh and dried chiles also deliver a wonderful range of flavor and fragrance, from fruity to spicy to hauntingly deep — small wonder they’ve appeared in cuisines around the globe since they were cultivated in the Americas some 6,000 years ago.

Roast fresh, large chiles stuffed with cheese or slice them into salads. Dice their smaller, hotter brethren into salsas, stir-fries, sauces, burgers and breakfast burritos. Grind dried chiles into sauces, rubs and marinades or soak, roast or panfry them whole and season pots of beans, soup and stews.

Fresh chiles at PCC

Our chile selection is mostly organic and varies throughout the seasons and by store (call ahead to ensure your desired variety is available). Typically, the smaller the chile, the more intense the heat.


Anaheim — Mild and delicious roasted and pureed into salsas. Also tasty stuffed with cheese, dipped in batter and fried to make chiles rellenos. Usually roasted and peeled before use.


Poblano — Heart-shaped peppers whose thick walls make them great for stuffing. Usually roasted and peeled before use.


Jalapeño — Green or red with thick, juicy flesh and a mildly hot flavor. Interchangeable with serrano.


Serrano — Hotter and thinner than a jalapeño, usually green but occasionally red, lends heat to Mexican dishes and doesn’t require peeling.


Thai — Slender, red or green, and the source of that persistent heat in Thai cooking.


Habanero — Intensely hot and a key ingredient in many dishes from the Caribbean. A little goes a looong way.

A few tips

Wear gloves when handling chiles. Their oils can be very painful in your eyes or in cuts.

Chiles hold their heat in their membranes and seeds. Remove these to enjoy their flavor with less heat.

Roast peppers to magnify their flavor by rubbing them with oil and placing them over an open flame or beneath a broiler on a baking sheet until blistered and charred on all sides. Let them sweat in a tightly covered bowl or plastic bag until cool enough to handle then easily remove the skins.

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