Spice Up Your Cooking (Literally) With These 9 Chiles

Want to spice things up? Test out one of the nine fiery chiles.

Those of you who don't like your meals on the spicy side beware, because today we're talking chilis. Cooking with chilis might seem a little intimidating at first, even for those that love some good heat, especially if you're not sure what it is you're buying. There are more varieties than we can we count, ranging from bland (but delicious) bell peppers to five alarm Carolina Reapers — the hottest pepper in the world. So, which is which? We've put together a short list of a few types that you can easily find in your local supermarket, so you start spicing up your weeknight meals. Bodegas and specialty stores will undoubtedly have a wider selection — so make sure you ask about their properties before buying.

How hot is hot? First things first. There's this little thing called the Scoville Heat Index. Invented by a Wilbur Scoville, this handy rating system ranks the heat level of chilis on a scale from zero (extremely mild) to over 1,000,000 (burn-your-tongue-off hot). If you can't handle heat, you're going want to stick to chilis on the lower end of the spectrum and slowly work your way up.


1. Anaheim Peppers: These peppers are fairly mild, averaging anywhere between 500 – 2,500 Scoville units. They're commonly grown in California and New Mexico, with spicier varieties originating from the latter.


2. Poblano Pepper: These versatile peppers are a great addition to the kitchen. With a Scoville rating of 1,000 – 2,000, the Poblano chile is on the more mild side, but has a nice kick, especially when grilled. However, they can be fairly unpredictable and heat can vary greatly. They're one of the key ingredients in mole sauce and are the base for dishes like chiles rellenos. When dried and red in color, poblano peppers are called ancho chiles. This type of chile is usually between four to six inches in length.


3. Guajillo Peppers: Usually found dried, guajillo peppers are known for their milder heat (2,500 – 5,000 Scoville units) and unique chocolatey, berry-like palate. The pepper is four to seven inches long, has smooth, red skin and is often used in salsas, stews, pastes and rubs.


4. Jalapeño Peppers: Jalapeños are kind of an old faithful when it comes to cooking. They're easy to find and when you need to give your dish a little pit of a kick, they're a pretty safe bet. These babies are all over the map when it comes to heat, ranging anywhere between 2,500 – 10,000 on the Scoville Heat Index. The dark green peppers are typically two to three inches long and are a great addition to everything from Margaritas to salsas and curries. Oh, and they're the key ingredient for Huy Fong Foods' magical Sriracha sauce. Dried and smoked, they become chipotle chiles.


5. Fresno Peppers: Similar in size and shape to jalapeños, fresno chiles are spicy, but not frighteningly so. And they're a good substitute for red chiles used in Asian and Indian cuisine if others aren't available.


6. Serrano Peppers: Think of these Mexican peppers as mini jalapeños. Despite their smaller size, serranos pack a punch, ranging from 5,000 – 25,000 Scoville units. They're used often in sauces like pico de gallo and salsa, but people have been known to eat these fiery numbers au naturale.


7. Thai Peppers: Commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisines, these chiles bring the heat. Whether you choose green or red, you're looking at heat levels on the 30,000 – 100,000 Scoville scale. Use these in curries or chopped in dishes that you want to give a serious kick.


8. Habanero Peppers: Now this is where it get really hot. Like really, really hot. Weighing in at 100,000 – 350,000 units on the Scoville Index, these chiles don't mess around. They're one of the main ingredients in many a hot sauce and come in colors ranging from yellow, orange, red and even brown.


9. Ghost Peppers: This is one pepper you might want to skip, because it's well, one of the hottest peppers in the world (the hottest is the Carolina Reaper — 2,200,000 Scoville units). At over 1,000,000 Scoville units, this is by no means mild. You'll usually find it in those painfully hot sauces with the funky labels, but it's best left out of the kitchen.


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