Know Your Peppers

A Cheese Primer
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

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