You’ve probably had the experience of biting into something that turned out to be a bit too spicy. Whether you like to keep things on the mild side or prefer your peppers hot-hot-hot, we’ve laid out a handy guide to all kind of different types of peppers to help you get the perfect level of heat.
Types of Peppers
A pepper’s potency is due to a chemical compound called capsaicin. Sweet bell peppers have relatively little capsaicin, while habanero peppers have much more. A quick tip on identifying a spicy pepper is to make note of it’s size — generally the smaller the spicier. A pepper’s heat level is measured by Scoville Heat Units, or SHU — the higher the SHU, the hotter the pepper
Don’t Sweat It (mild)
Sweet bell (0-100 SHU) peppers are the least spicy of all and come in a variety of colors — green, yellow, orange and red. You can get your daily dose of vitamins A and C, which boost your immune function and promote healthy skin, from a single red bell pepper.
Sweet banana (0-100 SHU), or Hungarian wax peppers, are typically yellow, medium-sized, and named for their banana-like shape. They taste great pickled and make a very pretty garnish on Greek salads or deli sandwiches.
Shishito (0-100 SHU) are Japanese peppers with a mild bite of spice. These guys are on the smaller side and can be found in green or red varieties, often as grilled and salted appetizers on restaurant menus.
Cherry (100-1,000 SHU) peppers are typically served on pizzas, salads and sandwiches. Round and red — similar to the cherry fruit — they deliver mild to medium hotness. These peppers are the precursors to pimentos and are commonly eaten on the East Coast as antipasti stuffed with provolone or prosciutto.
Piquillo (500-1,000 SHU) peppers — tapered in shape and red in color — are native to Spain, and their sweet and spicy flavor tastes wonderful on sandwiches or stuffed with cheese.
Feel the Burn (medium)
Poblano (1,000-1,500 SHU) peppers are large, dark green and look like bell peppers that have been flattened. If you’ve ever had chile rellenos (stuffed peppers) you probably had poblanos. Their thin skin and roomy insides are the perfect vessel for queso fresco (fresh cheese). They are also high in potassium, vitamin A and vitamin B.
Ancho (1,000- 2,000 SHU) peppers are technically dried Poblano chilis that have earthy, aromatic, fruity notes. Anchos are dark and wrinkled in appearance and high in iron nutritionally. They offer subtle hints of coffee and chocolate to any dish, making them the primary chili used in traditional Mexican mole sauce.
Anaheim (1,000-2,500 SHU) peppers are thin, green and named after the city in California. Their relatively mild heat level is perfect for sauces and stews in Mexican and Southwestern cooking.
Cascabel (1,500-4,000 SHU) peppers are dried, dark and round and have a rich nutty flavor with woodsy overtones. They are delicious in soups and salsas.
Jalapeño (2,500-5,000 SHU) depending on soil and climate variability, jalapeños range in heat level from hot to super-hot, in size from two to four inches, and come in red or green colors.
Tear Jerkers (hot)
Chipotle (5,000-10,000 SHU) peppers are dried and smoked jalapeño peppers often found in Latin adobo sauce.
Fresno (5,000-15,000 SHU) chiles are another pepper similar in shape and size to a jalapeño but pack even more punch. You might encounter these peppers whenever you order ceviche.
Serrano (5,000- 23,000 SHU) peppers are smaller and spicier than a jalapeño. Because their thin skin doesn’t require peeling, serrano peppers are great, easy peppers to use in salsa.
Chiles de arbol (15,000-30,000 SHU) are small, slender red chilies sold both dried and fresh. They pack potent heat and subtle smoky flavor.
Aji (30,000-50,000 SHU) chiles are native to Peru and an essential ingredient in “aji de gallina” (“rooster’s pepper” in Spanish), a spicy national chicken dish. These small yellow peppers offer a unique fruity flavor along with their heat.
Cayenne (30,000-50,000 SHU) peppers are tiny, red and thin and range from two to five inches long. They’re extremely hot and are often found whole in Hunan, Sichuan and Indian cuisines. Another typical application is to dry and grind them into a powdered spice used to season Cajun, Creole and Mexican dishes.
Thai (50,000-100,000 SHU) peppers, also known as Prik Khee Noo, are commonly used to flavor curries and other Thai dishes.
Fire Breathers (very hot)
Habanero (100,000-350,000 SHU) or “scotch bonnets” are lantern-shaped orange and red peppers which are extremely hot. Habaneros add citrus flavor notes to dishes, making them a perfect addition to hot sauces.
“Ghost” (855,000-1,463,700 SHU) peppers (a.k.a. Bhut Jolokia) are native to India and named for the way their heat sneaks up on you. Initially these peppers taste sweet, but within 45 seconds of consumption their heat kicks in and lasts for 10-15 minutes. If you’re serious about spice, these peppers are among your best (and hottest) bets.
Got too hot?
If you find yourself in the midst of overly spicy bite snafu — like accidentally chomping down on a hidden Fresno chili — try alleviating the burning sensation with a swig of either dairy, alcohol or oil. Whatever you do, don’t reach for your water glass! Milk has been found to help dissolve capsaicin and eliminate the burn, whereas water actually spreads the capsaicin around, making it much more painful. Adding, potatoes, sugar, peanut butter or dairy to an overly spicy dish at home may help salvage your dinner, and if you find that you’ve just finished chopping a seemingly harmless serrano and your hands are on fire, try washing them with whole milk, yogurt, rubbing alcohol or dish soap with oil-dissolving properties.
Contributed by Chelsea Cordes