The Ultimate Guide to Peppers

Chile peppers are thought to have originated in South America, but they have been cultivated all over the world for centuries, resulting in a wide variety of species with different colors, shapes, flavors, and, of course, spiciness. We consulted pepper expert and grower David Winsberg from Northern California’s Happy Quail Farms to put together a chart of some common peppers as well as a few less common varieties that are now becoming available in the United States thanks to specialty growers like Winsberg. Average size and hotness scale (from 1 to 5) included.

Poblano (a.k.a. Ancho)

A good, easy-to-find grilling pepper that’s ideal for stuffing to make chiles rellenos with a kick of heat. Poblanos get fairly big and are usually sold fresh, while they are younger and dark green. At their red, mature stage they are usually dried (and in their dried form they are called ancho chiles). Their skin is easy to blister and peel. Winsberg says they have a good flavor, with enough heat to be zesty but not scorch anyone.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 4 to 5 inches long
SPICINESS: 2 to 3

Guindilla Verde

From the Basque area in Spain, this is a tender pepper with a distinct sweetness. The variety shown is from the Bilbao region, and Winsberg says it’s a good fryer served alongside meat like lamb or pork. It shouldn’t be confused with the more widely available jarred guindillas. Winsberg says guindilla is a name applied to several distinct regional varieties in Spain ranging from marble-size scorchers to these sweet large fryers, which he says are similar in flavor to a Hatch chile but without the heat.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 6 inches long
SPICINESS: 1

Chilaca (a.k.a. Pasilla)

This is a Mexican variety that matures from dark green to dark chocolate brown. It’s a versatile pepper that’s good for sauces, roasting, and grilling when fresh, says Winsberg. Chilacas are medium hot but “not so much that they are scary.” Dried they are called pasillas and are common in mole recipes; pasillas (also known as chiles negros) are available both whole and powdered.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 7 to 9 inches long
SPICINESS: 2 to 3

Basque Fryer (a.k.a. Piment d’Anglet, Doux Long des Landes)

A French pepper used in many French Basque recipes. It is a twisty, long pepper that when green has a “very distinct peppery taste with a very tender skin, and lend[s] a nice chile zest without adding heat,” says Winsberg. When it turns red, it gets very sweet. It excels in sauces, chopped up and sautéed for a pipérade (the Basque fryer would replace the bell peppers in our recipe), or fried with meats or sausage.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 6 inches long
SPICINESS: 1

Anaheim

Named after the city in Southern California, the Anaheim is a big, mild chile that’s good for stuffing. Its skin is a little tough, but it peels pretty easily if you roast it first. Anaheims are good roasted, cut into strips, and thrown into a salad; stuffed with meat and grilled; used in salsa verde; or added to cheese enchiladas.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 5 to 6 inches long
SPICINESS: 1

Cayenne

This bright red pepper is usually consumed in its dried, powdered form, known as cayenne pepper. When ripe and fresh, cayenne chiles are long, skinny, and very hot. Winsberg says they are relatives of wild chiles from South and Central America.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 2 to 6 inches long
SPICINESS: 4 to 5

Guernica

The Guernica is a Spanish pepper similar to the Padrón in flavor but bigger and without any heat, says Winsberg. It is often served fried like the Padrón or stuffed with cheese or other fillings. It develops a tougher skin as it matures, and then is best roasted and peeled.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 3 to 5 inches long
SPICINESS: 1

Hot Banana

Happy Quail grows both sweet and hot varieties of the banana pepper, known as bácskai fehér in Hungary. Winsberg says they are often used in Hungarian lecsó (a dish of stewed peppers and eggs), pickled, or served grilled with meats.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 6 to 7 inches long
SPICINESS: 2

Jalapeño (a.k.a. Chipotle)

Familiar stuffed with cream cheese and deep-fried as a bar snack, or chopped up in salsa, the jalapeño is probably the best-known pepper in the States. It gets its name from Jalapa (also spelled Xalapa), the capital of Veracruz, Mexico. Harvested at both its green and red stages, the jalapeño is spicy but easy to seed and devein if you wish to remove some of the heat. When dried and smoked, it’s called a chipotle chile.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 2 to 3 inches long
SPICINESS: 2 to 3

Serrano

Spicier than the jalapeño, the serrano is a small Mexican pepper with thick, juicy walls, so it’s a great hot-salsa pepper, and is widely available and versatile. It is most commonly sold in its green stage (it turns red and then yellow as it gets older). You can also find serranos pickled or dried.

AVERAGE SIZE:
About 1.5 to 2.5 inches long
SPICINESS: 3

Habanero

Native to parts of Central America and the Caribbean, this little pepper packs a lot of heat. But contrary to popular belief, the Red Savina habanero is not the hottest type of chile; that distinction now goes to the Indian bhut jolokia, or ghost chile. Still, habaneros add a lot of heat to cooking and should be used judiciously. You’ll find different colors, ranging from red to white-yellow and even brown, but orange is the most common. Great for salsa, hot sauces, or a fiery jerk chicken.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 2 inches long
SPICINESS: 5

Pimiento de Padrón

This pepper is a specialty grown in Galicia in northern Spain. It is traditionally eaten as a simple tapa, fried in olive oil and tossed with salt; it is harvested young and small, with a tender skin and no mature seeds, so it’s perfect for eating whole, bitten right off the stem. It is generally mild with a nutty flavor at this stage, but it gets hotter as it matures. Part of the fun of eating these peppers is that about one in a dozen will be pretty hot, says Winsberg.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 2 to 4 inches long
SPICINESS: 1 (but the hot ones, even when young, can be 2 to 3)

Aji Rojo

Common in a lot of Peruvian cooking, the aji rojo is more of an orange-red than a true red pepper. It has a similar heat level to cayenne and can be chopped finely and added to ceviche or mixed with cheese or cream to make a sauce to serve over potatoes or chicken.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 2 to 3 inches long
SPICINESS: 4

Thai

This tiny chile adds serious amounts of heat to Southeast Asian cuisines. You may find either green or red Thai chiles; both are very spicy. Throw them whole into Thai soups like tom kha gai, purée them for curry pastes, or chop them up for any dish where you want to add heat without a lot of pieces of pepper.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 1 to 2 inches long
SPICINESS: 5

Bell

The most common sweet pepper, bells are usually seen in red, green, and yellow, but there are also purple, brown, and orange varieties. They are a crunchy, juicy pepper that is great for eating raw on salads, sautéing, or roasting and chopping up to throw on a pizza or a sandwich.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 3 to 6 inches long
SPICINESS: 1

Hot Cherry

These vary in size and shape and are very hot. They are usually round, though sometimes more of a triangular shape. Cherry peppers can also be sweet. They’re most often used in pickling: You can throw one in a jar with cucumber pickles to spice things up, or pickle them with other, more mild peppers.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 1 to 2 inches long
SPICINESS: 4

Hungarian Pimento

This is a type of pimento (or pimiento) pepper, which is what you often find stuffed in green olives. It is a large, sweet red pepper, similar to a bell but with an extra-thick, juicy wall. The skin comes off easily, so this is an ideal pepper for roasting. It’s also great to eat raw with dip.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 4 to 6 inches long
SPICINESS: 1

Piquillo

The ultimate pepper for roasting, the Spanish piquillo has become very popular because of its intensely sweet flavor and bright red color. It is usually only available canned or jarred, but it’s becoming easier to find fresh. It is often roasted, peeled, and stuffed with a variety of fillings like salt cod, tuna, or cheese.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 3 inches long
SPICINESS: 1

Shishito

Popular in Japan, the shishito has thin walls, mild heat, and a little sweetness. It is good served like the Padrón: simply fried, drizzled with some soy sauce and sesame oil, and eaten whole. It also makes very tasty tempura.
AVERAGE SIZE:
About 2 to 4 inches long
SPICINESS: 1 to 2 (occasionally you might get a 2 to 3)

RECIPES

1. Grilled Padrón Peppers

These small and slightly sweet peppers are generally mild, but one in every handful will be surprisingly spicy. They’re usually deep-fried, but grilling is a healthy and quick preparation that adds a smoky layer of flavor. Get our Grilled Padrón Peppers recipe.

2. Basic Roasted Bell Peppers

Instead of placing the peppers directly under the broiler, we give them a little room by setting them in the middle of the oven. This extra distance allows them to roast a bit before their skins blister. Get our Basic Roasted Bell Peppers recipe.

3. Stuffed Bell Peppers with Feta and Herbs

The sweetness of the bell peppers plays off the golden raisins in the filling, and the vegetal note is heightened by the herbs. Get our Stuffed Bell Peppers with Feta and Herbs recipe.

4. Chiles Rellenos

Mexico’s version of comfort food. Chiles rellenos fillings can range from ground or stewed meats to a medley of vegetables, but this version sticks to classic cheese. Get our Chiles Rellenos recipe.

5. Stuffed Poblanos with Black Beans and Cheese

Serve these stuffed peppers them as a vegetarian main course or as a starter. They’re loaded with rice, black beans, sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, and cilantro, then grilled until the peppers are charred and tender. Get our Stuffed Poblanos with Black Beans and Cheese recipe.

6. Basic Jalapeño Poppers

Broiling the peppers gives them a nice outer char and leaves the filling browned and bubbling. Get our Basic Jalapeño Poppers recipe.

7. Chicken Chile Verde

With Anaheim chiles, poblanos, and dried Aleppo peppers, this dish is always a big hit. It’s great rolled into a burrito, but you can also serve it on its own topped with scallions, sour cream, and tortilla chips. Get our Chicken Chile Verde recipe.

8. Chicken-Fried and Pickled Pepper Sandwiches

Use a variety of small peppers for pickling, such as baby bells, Cubanelles, or banana peppers. They combine on a sandwich roll with chicken breasts are dipped in buttermilk, then dredged in flour seasoned with paprika, black pepper, and ground mustard. Get our Chicken-Fried and Pickled Pepper Sandwiches recipe.

9. Roasted Red Pepper Tart

Roasted bell peppers and a creamy ricotta-feta mixture make for an easy, Mediterranean-inspired side dish that also travels well. Get our Roasted Red Pepper Tart recipe.