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Sep 13, 2010 04:20 PM

Chilis; a little perspective, please

I love serrano chilis because they're not too hot and stay crisp after cooking. Jalapenos can be either to mild or too hot. I can't tell which is which when buying. I love the taste piquin chilis give to food. They're not hot but difficult to find in the market. I'm not sure I like the taste habaneros give to food and they really are too hot.
My question is: just where do ancho, pasillo, and others fit in? How do they compare with serrano, for example? Are they hotter? Do they stay crisp when cooked? What kind of taste do they impart?

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  1. Poblano is the large, dark green, triangular, chile. Often in US markets it is labeled pasilla (a California grocery influence). It is relatively mild, though occasional ones are hotter. It is usually roasted and peeled. In Mexico is the favorite one for stuffing (chile relleno). It is also cut into strips and served in a creamy sauce. There is even a 'condensed cream of poblano soup'. The rough equivalent in the USA is Anaheims and the milder New Mexico chiles.

    Ancho (wide) is a dried Poblano. It is widely used in Mexican cooking. I think of it as providing the base notes for Mexican cooking. True Pasilla (raisin like) is a long narrow dried chile, similar in flavor and heat level to ancho. Guajillo is a smooth skin dried chile, brighter red in color. Ground guajillo is widely used in Mexico as flavoring on candies and fruit. All three (and some similar dried ones) form the base complex Mexican sauces called moles.

    Chili powder (a mix with cumin and oregano) may be largely ground ancho, though various blends of dried New Mexico chiles are used as well.

    Jalapeno and serano don't dry well (in the sun), but jalapenos are smoke dried. Chile de arbol (tree chile) is a smaller hot chile that is widely used in Mexico in dried form, often as the base for hot sauces.

    1. Serranos are in the hot group. They are much more slender and fleshy and slightly lighter in color than jalapenos. Jalapenos are hollow and have seeds. You are right about jalapenos, being mild or hot. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos, and are uniformly hot. Anchos are dried poblanos and add an intense, fairly sweet contribution, as do pasillas, which are the dried form of numerous chilis. Pasilla means raisin.
      Habaneros are nuclear and I sometimes make a small amount of fresh salsa with them, mostly for egg dishes. El Arbol chilis are hot with very little flesh, but make a great salsa picante.
      This is a start - there are many chile experts here!

      13 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        Thanks Paulj and Veggo. Do the arbol chilis have about the same amount of heat as serrano's? I keep getting ancho and arbol confused. Which would add a nice taste to my regular chili or my chili verde? What about the piquin chili; they're not really hot but add some flavor. Which would go better in my chilis to give it some heat and flavor..arbol or ancho?

        1. re: mucho gordo

          paulj and I were typing at the same time and he knows his stuff. I buy the de arbol chiles as loose stock and allready dried, I keep a bag in my pantry and whack them in my little chopper as the need arises. A little goes a long way. They add heat and I like them with scampi and fra diavolo, to digress from Mexican. Anchos are all flavor. Re-hydrate one in a saucer of water for 20 minutes and try it. Delicious, intense flavor. I'm not familiar with the piquin. To your question: de arbol will add heat and ancho will add flavor to your "regular" chili, but chili verde is another discussion.

          1. re: mucho gordo

            Ancho is used either ground or reconstituted by tablespoon to the give the base flavor to chili. Arbol is one of many choices for adding heat to the chili. I only use it indirectly via Cholula hot sauce.

            1. re: paulj

              I use cholula also but thought the main ingredient was piquin not arbol. In fact, I just checked the label to make sure I knew what I was saying. The label say a mixture of red and piquin chilis.
              Thanks to you and Veggo, I now have more options.

              1. re: mucho gordo

                I may be wrong about Cholula. I don't currently have a bottle of it. In any case, arbols are in the appropriate heat range.

                1. re: paulj

                  Thanks, that does help. I see arbols in the market all the time but not piquin.

                  1. re: paulj

                    The online cholula (original) label says 'peppers (arbol and piquin)'

                    1. re: paulj

                      You're right. I wonder how I missed seeing the word 'arbol'. Senior moment.

              2. re: mucho gordo

                Piquins are a small chile, usually dried, about the size of a kernel of corn. They tend to have a sharp and fierce up-front heat but not the fruity flavor of something like an ancho. Officially they are ranked about 7 times hotter than jalapenos on the Scoville scale. They are very good for adding bite to more flavorful chiles, plus the plant is very easy to grow (IMO).

                1. re: zebcook

                  and probably as close to wild chilies as most of us will eat.

                  1. re: zebcook

                    I don't think I've ever seen them fresh. Dried are not too hard to find on the Mexican spice racks. My supply is several years old. Sometimes I float one piquin in my pot of hot cocoa to add a hint of spice.

                    1. re: zebcook

                      I don't notice the heat as much as the flavor it gives. I would have thought jalapenos were hotter. I can't always find them in the market.

                  2. re: Veggo

                    At the SXSW Music Festival, in Austin, they make habanero tacos and they are known as Atomic Tacos. 'Nuff said.

                  3. Here is the hotness table...may vary within species by factors of ten or more:

                    Scoville Units
                    Bell, Sweet Italian 0
                    Peperocini, Pimento 100-500
                    New Mexico 500-1000
                    Tabasco sauce (green) 600-800
                    Ancho, Passila, Poblano, Anaheim 1000-1500
                    Sandia, Rocotillo 1500-2500
                    Tabasco sauce, Pasilla 2500-5000
                    Jalapeno, Chipolte 2500-10,000
                    Wax Pepper, Guajillo,Puya 5000-10,000
                    Serrano 5000-23,000
                    Tabasco Sauce (habanero) 7000-8000
                    de Arbol, Japone 15,00-30-000
                    Pequin, Aji, Cayenne 30,000-50,000
                    Jamaican Hot Pepper 100,000-200,000
                    Chiltecepin , Pequin, Red Amazon 70,000-75,000
                    Habenero, Scotch Bonnet 80,000-300,000+
                    Red Savina Habanero 350,000-577,000
                    Nago Jolokia, Dorset Naga 855,000-970,000
                    Std. US Grade Pepper spray 2,000,000-5,000,000
                    Pure capsaicin 15,000,000+

                    Mild 0-5000
                    Medium 5000-20,000
                    Hot 20,000-70,000
                    Extreme 70,000-300,000

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: DonShirer

                      had never heard of the nago jolokia/dorset naga -i'd always heard that Habaneros were the hottest in the world. Love habaneros, but i can't imagine eating something so much hotter.

                      1. re: DonShirer

                        A new British cultivar, the Infinity chilli/chile, is claimed to have the highest Scoville rating.


                        This year's crop rates at 1.176m while the tested ghost pepper sample came in at 1.041m

                        1. re: DonShirer

                          Great! I made a copy for reference. I saw some I never heard of and don't see the small Thai chilis unless they have a different name.