23 Mexican Chili Peppers – A Complete Guide


Spicing up your life is as easy as choosing the right pepper, and a Mexican variety might just be the one for you. There are so many Mexican chili peppers that you shouldn’t have a difficult time finding the spice that fits perfectly, whether for your garden or for your meals. Not only do they come in different heat levels, but they can also be cooked, prepared, or processed in a variety of ways.

There are many varieties of Mexican chili peppers. All of these chilis might seem the same on the surface, but they are each unique. Since the chili gets used in almost all preparations of Mexican dishes, they are an essential part of the cuisine and well worth learning about. Read on to find out more about the location, size, shape, color, flavor, Scoville Heat Units, and typical dishes made with these 23 popular Mexican chili peppers.

Photo for four deep brown dried chipotle peppers. The peppers are pointing upward and downwards in an alternating fashin
Photo by Gareth Bogdanoff

Anaheim

Also known as the California pepper, these moderately spicy chili peppers were made famous in Anaheim, California, where they got their name. The Anaheim pepper was originally cultivated in New Mexico and brought to Anaheim in the late 1800s. Although, the Anaheim pepper isn’t technically a “Mexican” chili pepper, we are including it in the list as it is commonly used in Mexican cuisine.

These mild, black chilies are commonly used for salsa verde and other salsas. In addition, they are often cooked down and used as bases for sauces because of their low spiciness and smoky flavor.

Size: six to ten inches in length

Shape: Long, thin, cone-shaped peppers that grow in bunches and tend to have bends and wrinkles in the pepper walls

Color: general green colors and hues when raw, dark red color when ripe

Flavor: mildly spicy and a little smoky

Scoville heat units: 500-2,500

Region found: New Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: These incredibly versatile peppers get used in a variety of Mexican dishes. From salsas to baked bean recipes, the uses for the Anaheim pepper are limitless. In addition, these peppers are used in pico de gallo for a spicy zest and even replace Bell peppers in recipes that need a little more heat.

Ancho

Ancho is one of three types of Mexican chili that have a different name when they are driedr. Anchos are simply dried Poblano chilis. Anchos appear flat because they are dried and pressed gently.

Size: Six to eight inches in length and three to four inches in width

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

Shape: flat and oval-shaped

Color: dark purple or black

Flavor: raisin flavor and texture.

Scoville heat units: 500

Region of Mexico found: Puebla in the southeast, below Mexico City

Traditional cooking uses: Ancho is a base of many traditional Mexican dishes. This chili is commonly used for sauces and soups and needs rehydration for about 20 minutes in boiling water before use. Either dress and stuff the rehydrated chili pepper for a main entree or place it in a food processor and create a chili paste that goes well with many Mexican dishes.

Chilhuacle Amarillo

This yellow and orange chili is one of three types of chilis from its family. The Chilhuacle is a spicy chili that is comparable in heat to the very popular Jalapeño. The high production costs of these chilis are making them less popular today. However, they are incredibly delicious and versatile little chilis. The Chilhuacle Amarillo is possibly one of the rarest chilis in Mexico.

Size: three to four inches in length one inch in width

Shape: short and squat when raw and flattened with wrinkles when dried

Color: yellowish-orange

Flavor: spicy and acidic with earthy tones

Scoville heat units: 5,000

Region of Mexico found: Oaxaca region of Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: You can use the Chilhuacle Amarilloin its raw form in a salsa or cooked and topped on meats. The dried chilis are commonly cooked down and used as a base for soups and sauces.

Chiles de Arbol

A beautiful rich red colored little pepper, Chile de Arbol is eaten in many dishes and even dried and used as garlands for decoration. The chilies are also often dried and used as a base for chili paste in Mexican and even Thai dishes.

Size: two to three inches in length, less than half an inch in width

Shape: thin, long, and cylindrical, often called the “Bird’s beak” chili or “Rat’s tail” chili

Color: green when raw and deep, dark red when ripe or dried

Flavor: spicy and acidic

Scoville heat units: 15,000 to 30,000 (about six times hotter than a Jalapeño pepper)

Region of Mexico found: Oaxaca and Jalisco regions of Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: These hot little peppers are great for chili pastes, soups, salsas, Tex-Mex dishes, pickling brines, or hot sauces.

Jalapeños

One of the most famous Mexican chilis, Jalapeños are mildly spicy and used in many different Mexican entrees and side dishes.

Size: three to four inches in length and half an inch in width

Shape: stubby cylinders that have a point at one end with thick walls

Color: green

Flavor: The flavor of Jalapeños changes as the pepper grows. Peppers grown with plenty of water and harvested quickly are mild and even have a sweet taste, whereas those left on the vine in stressful conditions are spicy and robust in flavor.

Scoville heat units: 2,500 to 5,000

Region of Mexico found: Jalapa, Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: Used in a variety of entrees, side dishes, and salsas, Jalapeños are incredibly versatile chili peppers. The most common uses for Jalapeños are in salsas and even cooked and pureed into chili paste for the base of soups and other side dishes.

Cascabels

These chili peppers are not ordinary in shape or size. They look more like little cherries than peppers and are often confused for other produce items instead of spicy chilis. The small round chilis are different because they have seeds that are loose and jingle around inside the pepper when it is dried. The dried pepper is even known as the “chili rattle” or “gourd chili” because of the rattle sound it makes from the seeds bouncing around when dried.

Size: half inch by half inch

Shape: circular in shape, like a large cherry

Color: dark red or purple

Flavor: mildly spicy with a nutty and earthy flavor that is unique

Scoville heat units: 1,500 to 3,000

Region of Mexico found: Coahuila, Guerrero, Jalisco, Durango, and San Luis Potosi

Traditional cooking uses: These unique chilies are often used in mild or medium salsas and often cooked down as an addition to sauces. The mild spice makes it a family favorite for sauces that coat entire dishes.

Habaneros

One of the spiciest chilis, Habaneros are known for their slow burn that gives heat for a long time in your mouth and your throat. These are some of the hottest peppers in the world. Habaneros get used in hot sauces and as add ons for main dishes. These peppers are famous for being cooked down and becoming the base for really spicy hot sauces. The raw chillis also get used as diced and cooked bits in spicy rice and beans.

Size: one to three inches long           

Shape: pod-shaped and stout with thick walls

Color: orange

Flavor: sweet, tropical and fruity, smoky

Scoville heat units: 100,000 to 350,000

Region of Mexico found: Yucatan, Tabasco, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Sonora, Veracruz, Chiapas y Baja California Sur

Traditional cooking uses: When chopped and raw, the Habanero pepper gets used as an addition to a very spicy salsa. Generally. Habaneros are mostly dried, cooked down into chili paste, and used for making hot sauce.

fresh poblano peppers on a burlap sack in a wire basket

Poblano Peppers

One of the best and most invaluable peppers in Mexican cuisine, the Poblano pepper is slightly spicy and bold. The smoky characteristics make it an excellent addition for salsas or even for stuffing as its own entree.

Size: four to five inches long, three inches wide

Shape: stubby and slightly long

Color: dark green and red

Flavor: mildly spicy with a bold, smoky flavor

Scoville heat units: 1,000 to 1,500

Region of Mexico found: Puebla

Traditional cooking uses: The most popular dish for Poblanos is stuffing them for a Chile Relleno.

Pasilla

Pasilla means little raisin, and is a suitable name for this pepper which is small and wrinkly. The mild heat of this pepper makes it ideal for moles and other complex sauces in Mexican dishes. The wrinkled little chili is just about as mild as they come and even has some fruit flavors that make it a great pairing with alcohol, like wine.

Size: four to five inches long and a half to one inch wide

Shape: long and skinny

Color: dark purplish-red

Flavor: fruity and smoky, with some earthy tones

Scoville heat units: 1,000 to 2,500

Region of Mexico found: Oxana, Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: The most common use for Pasilla peppers is crushing them up when dried and adding water, then cooking them down into a chili paste that gets used as a base for many different dishes. Pasilla chili paste is very mild and typically gets used in family dishes for all heat sensitivities and tastes.

Morita

Dried Jalapeño peppers are known as the fiery little red Moritas. This is an excellent way of adding a spicy chili paste to any base of dishes. Many dried Jalapeño recipes ask for rehydration of the dried chillis. This is done by first washing them in warm water and then soaking the chillis in hot water for about ten minutes. The Moritas can then be cooked or baked as the recipe calls for.

Size: three to four inches long and about one inch wide

Shape: flattened and dried

Color: dark red

Flavor: spicy and smoky

Scoville heat units: 2,500 to 8,000

Region of Mexico found: Jalapa

Traditional cooking uses: these dried peppers are fantastic for use as chili powder or for crushing down and cooking into a chili paste to be used as a base for several Mexican staples.

Guajillo

“Guajillo” means little gourd, and this little pepper resembles a rattle when dried, just like a gourd. This pepper is usually pretty mild, but some varietals can get as spicy as a Jalapeño pepper. Because they are sweet, tangy, and somewhat spicy, Guajillo is used in candies or mixed with fruits.

Size: three to four inches long and about one inch wide

Shape: long, conical and flat

Color: dark red, almost black

Flavor: tangy and spicy as well as somewhat sweet

Scoville heat units: 500 to 5,000

Region of Mexico found: throughout all of Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: Excellent for uses in fish and chicken dishes.

Puya

These little peppers are intense in taste. They are commonly found as whole dried peppers in grocery stores in Mexico. The versatile dried chili is spicy and great for sauces and gets used with beef dishes.

Size: three to four inches long and less than half an inch wide

Shape: long and thin

Color: dark red, almost purple

Flavor: hot and fruity flavor with tones of licorice and cherry

Scoville heat units: 5,000 to 8,000

Region of Mexico found: Mexico’s central valley and Mexico City

Traditional cooking uses: Soak and heat up the chillis in water for rehydration, then cook down into a soft paste that is great for a base for everything from Chile Relleno to burrito meats. The licorice flavor in the Puya pepper is even used as a spice for sweet things like fruits.

Serranos

These incredibly popular peppers span the cuisine of both Mexican and Thai foods. They are extremely versatile and used both raw and cooked. These peppers are really spicy and have the kick that makes them great for adding in meat soups or as a garnish for burritos and tacos.

Size: two to three inches long and half an inch wide

Shape:  long and smaller version of the Jalapeño

Color: bright green

Flavor: earthy and grassy flavor that has a long, deep burn that takes a moment to kick in

Scoville heat units: 10,000 to 20,000

Region of Mexico found: mountain regions of Puebla and Hidalgo

Traditional cooking uses: Often eaten as raw peppers in salads or as toppings on almost any hot Mexican dish. The peppers are also commonly pickled or even cooked into dishes.

Mulato

Dried Poblano peppers are incredibly rich in taste and spice and are known as one of the top three chillis in the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican peppers. Mulato peppers are the dried version of Poblano peppers.

Size: two to three inches wide and four inches long

Shape: round and flat

Color: dark brown, purplish almost black

Flavor: full-bodied taste with complexity that other dried peppers don’t have since they are left on the vine longer before harvest

Scoville heat units: 2,500 to 3,000

Region of Mexico found: Puebla

Traditional cooking uses: Soak and heat up the chilis in water for rehydration, then cook down into a soft paste that is great for a base to just about anything. Ensure that you give this mild chili time to rehydrate for the full-bodied taste to come out in the food you use it in. 

Chipotle

Another use for Jalapeño peppers is smoking them and turning them into Chipotle peppers. Spicy and incredibly popular for a base in many different salsas and entrees, Chipotle peppers are famous for their versatility and unique smoky characteristics.

Size: three to four inches long and half an inch wide

Shape: cylindrical and flat

Color: dark red, almost purplish, and black

Flavor: spicy and smoky

Scoville heat units: 2,500 to 8,000

Region of Mexico found: Jalapa, Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: You can make everything from salsas to chipotle aiolis with this very smoky and tasty pepper.

Chiles Japones

Chiles Japones are widely used in Latin and Asian dishes and great for many different kinds of cooking uses. The fact that it is an overwhelming and full-bodied flavor makes it an excellent companion spice with other milder chillis.

Size: three inches long and less than half an inch wide

Shape: long, thin, and flat

Color: from yellow to dark red

Flavor: overwhelming and full-bodied flavor that coats the mouth and spreads over an entire dish

Scoville heat units: 10,000 to 50,000

Region of Mexico found: Across Mexico and Asia

Traditional cooking uses: Rehydrating and cooking down into a chili paste is one of the most common uses for Chiles Japones. Rinse them with warm water and then soak them in hot water for about ten minutes. After they’re rehydrated, they’ll be ready for you to puree or cook them down into a paste.

Pequin Chilies

This wonderfully spicy and lesser-known chili is most commonly used as a dried spice powder. The Pequin is very spicy and more citrusy than many other peppers on this list. The flavor profile lends itself well to many seafood dishes.

Size: half an inch in length and half an inch in width

Shape: roundish and squat

Color: green, yellow, red, dark red

Flavor: incredibly hot and fruity, nutty, and citrusy

Scoville heat units: 30,000 to 60,000

Region of Mexico found: All over Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: great for hot sauces. In fact, the hot sauce Cholula™ uses Pequin chilies as a base for their recipe.

Chilaca

This rich-flavored pepper is a mild and raw chili. For a heat reference, the Jalapeño pepper is about eight times spicier in Scoville heat units than the Chilaca pepper. This pepper is a sizzling, yet family-friendly, pepper that won’t overpower your mouth with heat.

Size: six to nine inches long with less than half an inch in width

Shape: long and wrinkly in appearance, with a cylinder shape

Color: dark green and brown

Flavor: floral and sweet with some mild smoky notes of flavor and mild heat

Scoville heat units: 1,000 to 2,500

Region of Mexico found: Most regions in Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: Rich in flavor and mild in heat, so this chili is excellent for salsas.

Costeno Rojo

One of the best peppers for drying, the Costeno Rojo is great for rehydrating or cooking the dried peppers down into a paste. This is a rare chili that is very hard to find outside of its native Oaxaca region in Mexico. But, if you can get your hands on them, they work with many different dishes.

Size: three and a half inches long and half an inch wide

Shape: long and thin cylinders

Color: rich red

Flavor: spicy and rich, smoky

Scoville heat units: 7,000 to 10,000

Region of Mexico found: Oaxaca

Traditional cooking uses: The thin flesh and pepper walls make this pepper a fantastic choice for drying.

Smoked Red Serrano

Also known as Chico peppers, these little round peppers are crisp in flavor and have a lingering heat famous for some fish recipes. The fact that this dried pepper also gets smoked adds a level of complexity to both the processing of the pepper and its taste. The flavors and species get enhanced with the smoking process.

Size: three to four inches in length and one to two inches in width

Shape: flat and oval-shaped

Color: dark red, almost purplish black

Flavor: Smoky heat that lingers on the tongue and in your stomach

Scoville heat units: 15,000 to 20,000

Region of Mexico found: Found in the mountain regions of Puebla and Hidalgo

Traditional cooking uses: Typically, the smoked Serrano chili is rehydrated and used as a base for soups, hot sauces, and entrees.

Mirasol

One of the most popular for making Mexican mole dishes and one of the most recognizable chilis, the Mirasol is also known as the “looking at the sun” pepper for its bright red color and the fact that the bunches of pods grow upwards facing the sun, instead of hanging downwards.

Size: three inches in length, less than half an inch in width                       

Shape: Lone and cone-shaped with a point at the end

Color: dark red

Flavor: mild earthy and smoky, fruity and berry-like

Scoville heat units: 2,500 to 5,000

Region of Mexico found: grown all over Mexico

Traditional cooking uses: You can put these chilis in just about any dish because of their mild spicy flavor and undertones of fruit. They are also used extensively in Peruvian cooking.

Bola

The dried versions of the cherry-shaped Cascabel peppers are known as Bola chiles.

Size: one inch by one inch

Shape: circular, like a giant cherry

Color: dark red, purplish-black when dried

Flavor: sweeter and fruitier than most chili peppers

Scoville heat units: 8,000

Region of Mexico found: Coahuila, Guerrero, Jalisco, Durango, and San Luis Potosi

Traditional cooking uses: Soak and heat the chillis in water for rehydration, then cook down into a soft paste that is great for a base

Yucatan White Habanero

The Yucatan white habanero produces many small pods of chilis on the bush. They are a beautiful and unique waxy white color. This incredible variety of spicy Habanero chili is also exceedingly rare and hard to come by. However, it is very versatile and can get used on virtually any dish you could think of in Mexican cuisine.

Size: two to three inches long and half an inch wide

Shape: jelly bean-shaped and conical

Color: white

Flavor: very spicy, lingers on the tongue with some smoky notes

Scoville heat units: 300,000

Region of Mexico found: Yucatan region of rainforest

Traditional cooking uses: When chopped and raw, the Habanero pepper gets used as an addition to very spicy salsas. Habaneros are mostly dried, cooked down into chili paste, and used for making hot sauce.

Closing Thoughts

It doesn’t matter if you are into fiery heat or mild smoky flavor, there is probably a Mexican pepper out there for you. Some of the spiciest chilis in the world come from regions in Mexico, with some on this list with Scoville ratings of about 100,000.

Chilis from Mexico are used in nearly every dish to add spice and flavor. Dried peppers and raw ones alike provide an upgrade for meals that set Mexican food and its complex flavors apart from other foods.

Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

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