Your Guide to Hot Peppers (Chilies)

The hot pepper is a titan among vegetables. Beyond being essential to many cuisines - including Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Caribbean, and more - chilies are absolutely delicious.

HHowever, given how popular these peppers are, you may have heard more about peppers than know about them. In this article, we’ll introduce different hot peppers, what makes them hot, and how to use them in cooking.

Heat

People cook with hot peppers (in most cases, anyway) because they’re hot!

Scientifically, the heat in chili peppers comes from capsaicin, a compound concentrated in a chili’s seeds and the flesh inside its skin..

Whenever capsaicin comes into contact with human skin, it creates an intense burning sensation (which is why you should always wear gloves when handling hot peppers--they taste great, but burning skin isn’t fun!). This includes the tongue, which experiences a partly-painful, partly-pleasurable taste when it contacts capsaicin.

Notably, different peppers have different levels of capsaicin, which means that they will produce different amounts of heat. By the same token, if you remove capsaicin from a pepper (such as by soaking it in vinegar or liquor), it is less hot!

Types of Peppers

There are many types of hot peppers, but here are some common ones.

Jalapeno

The jalapeno is the chili to rule them all. It is the most popular chili pepper due to its relatively low heat (though it certainly tastes hot if you are not used to eating chilies). It's also known for its vibrant, lightly sweet flavor.

Jalapenos are typically two to four inches long and have a Scoville rating of between 2,500 and 10,000.

Habanero

Habaneros are small, adorable, and flaming hot. They have an explosive orange color and are venerated (and feared) for their intense heat, which ranges from 100,000 and 350,000--in other words, the least hot habanero is ten times hotter than the hottest jalapeno!

Scotch Bonnet

Scotch bonnet is a variation of pepper closely related to the habanero, with a bright orange exterior and a Scoville rating of 100,000-350,000.

The scotch bonnet is extremely widespread in West Africa and the Caribbean, and It is most famous as a key ingredient in Jamaican cuisine. If you want to make Jamaican cuisine, grab some scotch bonnets to add a kick of flavor to your jerk seasoning.

Serrano

If you want to crank up the heat on a jalapeno but cannot handle a habanero or scotch bonnet, pick a serrano pepper.

This chili, which is usually a bit smaller than the jalapeno and can be red, brown, yellow, orange, or green, boasts a Scoville rating of between 10,000 and 25,000.