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A Poblano Pepper Guide: Colors, Uses, Origins, and More

When it comes to Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, Poblano peppers are considered a staple. Many people also love Poblanos when roasted, stuffed, or made into mole sauces. But what’s so unique about Poblano peppers, and how do they look and taste?

Poblano peppers originated from Puebla, Mexico, and they are generally used in cooking. These peppers are large and heart-shaped, and they start out as dark green in color, ripening to brown or dark red. They are not too hot and spicy, but instead, add a delicious, mild chili flavor to dishes.

In this article, you will learn all about Poblano peppers, including how they are used in cooking and how they taste, especially compared to other types of peppers. You will also learn about how you can grow and care for your own Poblano pepper plant.

What Are Poblano Peppers?

Poblano peppers (Capsicum annuum) are a variety of large, mild peppers that come from Puebla, Mexico. “Poblano” is a term that refers to someone who lives in Puebla. These peppers are now widely cultivated and grown in Mexico and in the southwestern United States.

Poblanos are dark green in color but turn brown or dark red as they ripen. They are heart-shaped, and they can grow up to four inches (10 cms) long and two inches (five cms) wide at the base. They can be as large as Bell peppers, sometimes even larger, but are more slender. And like Jalapeños and other hot chili peppers, Poblanos also have a pointy tip.

Some people leave their Poblanos to ripen, then dehydrate them fully. These dried out poblanos become broad and flat pods that are known as Ancho chiles or chile ancho. Often, Ancho chiles are ground into powder form, which is then used to season a variety of dishes.

Are Poblanos Fruits or Vegetables?

Like other varieties of peppers, Poblanos are fruits by botanical classification but are culinary vegetables.

Technically, botanical fruits are defined as something that forms from a plant’s flowers and contains one or multiple seeds inside. And since a Poblano pepper is the seed-bearing product of a flowering plant’s ovary, it is considered a botanical fruit.

However, when it comes to culinary classification, peppers are vegetables. In culinary terms, a vegetable possesses a blander taste and a tough texture, and it is used in cooking dishes.

So, while peppers can be enjoyed raw, they are classified as vegetables in culinary terms because they are also used as ingredients in stews and various dishes.

What do Poblano Peppers Taste Like?

Some people describe Poblanos’ taste as similar to the taste of green Bell peppers, but with a bit more kick. And when Poblanos are cooked, their flavor becomes even more mellow, and this makes them taste slightly sweet, too.

Ripe Poblanos tend to taste spicier and hotter than the unripe, green ones.

While Poblanos are considered to have mild heat, there may be those occasional peppers that are unpredictably hotter than usual. In fact, different Poblano peppers from a single plant can substantially vary in heat intensity.

Poblano Substitutes

If you are looking for Poblanos but cannot find any, a good substitute would be Anaheim chili peppers. Although Anaheims are a little hotter and don’t have the earthy flavor of Poblanos, they work quite well for most recipes since they have the same size and thickness.

You can also use small Bell peppers for stuffing and general cooking, but the flavor would still be a little bit different and not as spicy as a Poblano pepper. Jalapeño peppers will also make do as an alternative if you don’t mind more heat to your dish.

Poblanos Should Not be Confused with Pasilla Peppers

Fresh Poblano peppers are often sold incorrectly as Pasilla peppers in grocery stores in the U.S. But, as a consumer, it’s actually really easy to spot the difference and not to be fooled by incorrect grocery store labels! Pasilla peppers are the dried version of another type of pepper called Chilaca chile peppers. Chilacas is also a Mexican pepper that looks similar to a Poblano but is usually skinnier and has a spicier flavor.

So, if you see a dried, long pepper labeled as a Poblano when you’re at the store, it is actually more likely to be a Pasilla pepper. Likewise, if you see fresh, Poblano-like peppers that are labelled as Pasilla peppers in the store, then they are most likely Poblano peppers.

How Hot are Poblanos?

Poblano peppers measure between 1,000 and 2,000 Scoville Heat Units on the Scoville Scale. That makes them hotter than Bell peppers, which measure zero SHU, yet milder than Jalapeño peppers, which measure between 2,500 to 8,000 SHU.

What is the Scoville Scale?

The Scoville Scale is a test used to determine the heat level of various types of peppers. To do this, it measures the amount of capsaicin present in a pepper. Capsaicin is the lipophilic chemical compound that is responsible for a pepper’s piquant heat and the burning sensation in your mouth and eyes after you eat it. You can find it in abundance in the ribs and seeds of the pepper.

The unit of measurement used for the Scoville Scale is called Scoville Heat Units or SHU. A pepper is first dried to get this number, and its capsaicin oil is extracted and then diluted in a mixture of sugar and water. The pepper gets assigned a SHU with respect to how much dilution it takes for the taste-tester’s panel not to detect the heat.

For example, Cayenne peppers register 30,000 to 50,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale. This means that the cayenne pepper’s capsaicin oil needs to be diluted in sugar water 30,000 to 50,000 times before you can barely detect its heat.

Poblano Peppers: Nutritional Value and Health Benefits

Poblano peppers have high water content and are, therefore, low in calories. Poblano peppers also rich in fiber and low in carbohydrates and fats. Poblanos are rich in vitamins A, C, and B6. More specifically, each pepper has:

  • Calories: 17
  • Calories from Fat: 1
  • Fat: 0.12 g (0 percent recommended daily value)
  • Saturated Fat: 0.02 g (0 percent recommended daily value)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.07 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg (0 percent recommended daily value)
  • Potassium: 113.28 mg (3 percent recommended daily value)
  • Sodium: 1.28 mg or 4.52 oz (0 percent recommended daily value)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 4.12 g or 0.15 oz (1 percent recommended daily value)
  • Dietary Fiber: 1.15 g or 0.04 oz (5 percent recommended daily value)
  • Protein: 0.57 g or 0.02 oz (1 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin C (95 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin A (8 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin B6 (8 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin E (1 percent recommended daily value)
  • Riboflavin (B2) (1 percent recommended daily value)
  • Niacin (B3) (2 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin B12 (0 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin D (0 percent recommended daily value)
  • Thiamin (B1) (0 percent recommended daily value)
  • Calcium (1 percent recommended daily value)
  • Iron (2 percent recommended daily value)
  • Folic Acid (Folate) (4 percent recommended daily value)
  • Magnesium (2 percent recommended daily value)
  • Zinc (1percent recommended daily value)

According to Healthline, vitamins A and C in poblanos act as antioxidants and help your body fight damage and oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Besides that, vitamin C is vital to the body’s immune function, and not getting enough of it could result in an increased risk of infection.

Compared to fresh Poblanos, the dried Ancho chiles contain higher amounts of vitamins A and B2 and other nutrients.

Poblanos also contain capsaicin, which may have anticancer effects. Studies show that this compound may influence the genes that are involved in spreading cancer cells and help promote the death of these cancer cells. However, the study clarifies that the role of capsaicin in this process isn’t clearly understood yet. If you’re interested in learning more about the health benefits of peppers, we wrote an entire post just for you!

Where to Get Poblano Peppers

Poblanos are available in many grocery stores throughout the year, especially in the southwestern U.S. These peppers are imported from Mexico, and they are readily available in Mexican markets. They are usually sold per pound, either loose or prepackaged. Regardless of where you buy your Poblanos, look for fresh ones that are firm and have no soft spots, have a bright color, and are free of blemishes.

On the other hand, Ancho Chiles or dried Poblanos can be purchased in the spices or dried goods section of many Mexican markets and some chain supermarkets. They can also be bought online.

Cooking with Poblano Peppers

Poblano peppers are most popularly served dried, stuffed, roasted, or fried. They are also common ingredients in pureed sauces like mole or enchilada sauce. You can also chop up raw or sautéed Poblanos and use them in relishes, salsas, chilis, salads, and quesadillas. And try stuffing them with scrambled eggs and cheese and baking them for a delicious breakfast treat!

You can find Poblano peppers in dishes like chiles en nogada, which is a very popular dish and often enjoyed on Mexico’s Independence Day. It is basically Poblano peppers stuffed with picadillo and topped with nogada or a walnut-based cream sauce, parsley, and pomegranate seeds. Picadillo is a Latin American dish made of shredded or ground meat, fruits, and spices.

There’s also the classic chiles rellenos, which is made of Poblanos stuffed with cheese, dipped in a batter of flour and egg, and then pan-fried. You can also go for the healthier option with the baked chile rellenos.

Aside from cheese and picadillo stuffing, poblanos can also be stuffed with beef, ground meat, beans, cream cheese, and even seafood like shrimp.

Roasted Poblano Peppers

Many people also enjoy roasted Poblanos. Since their outer skin is thin and difficult to chew, roasting makes it easy for you to peel it off and brings out their fruity flavor, too. There are many easy ways to roast poblanos. You can do it over the stove’s direct flame, bake them in the oven, cook them in the skillet over high heat, broil them, or grill them over charcoal to get a smoky flavor.

However you do it, wait until their skin chars and puffs up and they become tender.

How to Dry Poblano Peppers

You can extend your Poblano peppers’ shelf life by drying them and storing them in an airtight container. You will need to allow the pepper to ripen completely before starting the drying process.

There are several ways to dry your Poblanos.

With a Dehydrator

You can expedite the process of drying your Poblanos by using a food dehydrator. This equipment safely takes the moisture out of fruits. Here are the steps on how to make Ancho chiles using a dehydrator:

  1. Wash and rinse your Poblanos with cold water
  2. Pat them dry with a kitchen towel
  3. Remove their stems
  4. Slice the Poblanos in half if you want to dry them faster. Remove all the seeds.
  5. Place the Poblanos on the dehydrator trays in a single layer
  6. Slide the trays inside the heating compartment
  7. Set the temperature to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.78 degrees Celsius)
  8. The dehydrating process can take anywhere between five hours to overnight, so you’ll have to keep an eye on your peppers every so often
  9. Seal them in an airtight container

With an Oven

If you don’t have a dehydrator, an oven will help you do the job. Here’s how:

  1. Wash and rinse your Poblanos with cold water.
  2. Pat them dry with a kitchen towel.
  3. Slice the Poblanos in half and place these slices on a baking sheet.
  4. If you don’t want to slice your poblanos in half, you can just place them whole on the oven rack.
  5. Set your oven to low: 100 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit (37.78 to 65.56 degrees Celsius).
  6. If you are using a conventional oven, don’t forget to leave the door slightly open to allow for air circulation.
  7. Turn the Poblanos intermittently and dry until they are fully wrinkled. There is no set time, but this process generally takes a few hours.
  8. Take your Poblanos out from the oven and let cool.
  9. Store your dried Poblanos in an airtight container.

Air Drying Poblano Peppers

Without an oven or a food dehydrator, Poblano peppers can be dried naturally in the sun. However, this process could take several days. It’s best to use Poblano peppers which still have their stems for this process. Here’s how:

  1. Wash and rinse your Poblano peppers with water.
  2. Dry them off with a kitchen towel.
  3. Tie the Poblanos one by one together with garden twine. Tightly loop the string around their stem and double knot. Allow two to three inches of space between the Poblanos in order to allow for enough air circulation.
  4. Once all the Poblanos have been strung together, hang them in a dry and warm location where they can receive direct sunlight. You can hang them up indoors or outdoors but take care to ensure pests don’t get to them. If you are hanging your peppers outside and you think it is going to rain, move the strings of Poblanos indoor. You don’t want them to get wet in the rain and re-hydrate!
  5. These Poblanos will slightly wrinkle after a couple of days and may fall from the knot, so make sure to check on them from time to time.
  6. Your Poblanos will dry in about two weeks.
  7. Store them in an airtight container.

How To Store Dried Poblano Peppers (Ancho Chiles)

Proper storage is also essential to extending your Ancho chiles’ shelf life. You can place them in an airtight container or glass jar with a sealed lid. If you don’t have either of those, a Ziplock bag or a vacuum-sealed bag will work, too. Keeping them airtight helps keep the flavor of the Poblanos intact and robust for a longer time. Be sure to put your container in a cool and dry place.

You can use Ancho Chiles for up to six months to one year if stored properly.

Growing Poblano Peppers

Growing Poblano peppers is fairly easy. You can grow the plants by yourself at home, whether in pots or in garden beds. They especially thrive during the hot summer months or in regions with warm weather.

A Poblano pepper plant is a relatively small plant, reaching around two feet (61 cms) in height. The plant will form flowers soon enough, and these will give way to fruits. The peppers will start to ripen about 65 days or two months after planting.

How to Grow Poblano Peppers: Step-by-Step Growing Guide

The best way to grow Poblano peppers is through seeds. You can buy seeds from a garden center or save seeds from a fresh Poblano before you cook them up. Seeds can have a shelf life of four years if stored properly.

Prepare a seed tray with a well-draining starting medium. Moisten the potting mix without leaving it too wet and soggy. Sow the seeds around a quarter of an inch deep into your moist potting mix. It is best to start the plants indoors, so keep them inside your house for at least eight weeks before the last frost of spring. Make sure to keep the soil moist, too.

The seeds will need lots of warmth in order to germinate. Germination takes six to 12 days. Ideally, the potting medium’s temperature should be 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (26.67 to 29.44 degrees Celsius). You can use a heat mat to help maintain ideal temperatures.

Poblano seedlings fare better if you give them good lighting, so place them in a sunny area at home or by a window with southern sun exposure. In the absence of a naturally well-lit space indoors, you can use a grow light.

You should also note that peppers can be sensitive when fruiting if the temperature gets too cool or too hot. Nighttime temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) or below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) can reduce fruit production.

Transplanting Your Poblano Pepper Seedlings

You can transplant your Poblano seedlings into individual small pots when they have grown about two inches (5.1 cems) tall. If you are replanting multiple seedlings in one big pot or a raised bed outdoors, position them 14 to 16 inches (36 to 41 cms) apart. This is ample space to keep the plants relatively close to each other, allowing them to grow and develop stems and leaves.

It is important not to rush transplanting seedlings outdoors. You first need to prepare a location that gets plenty of heat and sunlight and that has not been used for other plants like potatoes and tomatoes for several years. Peppers perform best in fertile yet lightweight soil that is also slightly acidic. A pH range of 5.5 to 7.0 is ideal for Poblano peppers.

Maintaining Your Poblano Pepper Plant

Keep your watering steady. You can also fertilize your plants to make sure they are getting nutrients and can fruit well. Use organic fertilizers that are rich in calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Be careful not to overdo your feeding with nitrogen, as it can negatively affect fruit growth.

Mulching using a black plastic sheet is a great solution to prevent evaporation and thus maintain soil moisture. It will also trap in the heat. You may also use floating row covers to help protect your peppers against the cold.

Pollination and Poblano Pepper Production

Poblano peppers are produced when the flowers of the plants are pollinated. Peppers are generally self-pollinating, which means that their flowers can pollinate using their own pollen. However, they will need the help of pollinators like bees or the breeze to shake their pollen off so that they will drop from their anther (male part) onto their pistil (female part).

There will be times when you might need to help your pepper plants to pollinate to encourage them to produce more fruits.

To hand-pollinate Poblano pepper plants, wait until the pollens are at their peak, which is from noon to three in the afternoon. Get a small paintbrush or cotton swab and gently transfer the pollen from one flower to another flower.

To gather the pollen, you can wet your swab or brush with distilled water, then carefully swirl it inside the flower and on the other. Then gently rub your brush onto the flower’s stigma, which is the part of the pistil where fertilization occurs.

Harvesting Poblano Peppers

Your Poblano peppers will be ready for harvest when they have grown four to six inches (10 to 15 cms) long. Typically, this is about 65 days after you have planted the seeds.

As the Poblano peppers approach maturity, they will slowly turn from dark green to dark red. You can harvest your Poblanos while green, or you can allow them to ripen while on the plant and wait until they reach a spicier flavor. If you harvest them early, your plant will continue to produce flowers and form more fruits more frequently. Early collection, however, could result in flavor differences.

To harvest your Poblanos, use a pair of scissors or gardening shears to cut them from their stems. Do not use your bare hands and fingers to remove them, as this can damage your plant.

Are Poblano Peppers Annuals or Perennials?

Peppers of all types are perennials. So as long as you give them the ideal growing conditions, they will happily live through cycle after cycle of flowering and fruit production and survive through the winter in warmer climates.

But since these plants love warm weather, they are grown as annuals in regions that experience cold seasons, like winter. In this case, you’ll need to overwinter your Poblano pepper plant, so that they can survive the colder temperatures.

How to Store Poblano Peppers

There are different ways of storing your Poblano peppers. If you don’t want to dry them, it is possible to keep them raw inside the freezer.

You need to wash and rinse your Poblanos first and dry them with a paper towel. Then, slice or chop the peppers, place them in an airtight container or a heavy-duty freezer bag and place them in the freezer. You can also use aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Poblanos kept in a freezer can last for at least ten months.

If you prefer your Poblanos whole and intact, you can store them unwashed in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Just wash them right before use. Poblanos kept in the crisper drawer can last for two to three weeks.

You can also keep roasted, peeled poblanos in an airtight container and put them in the fridge for up to three days.

How to Tell if Your Poblanos Have Gone Bad

It doesn’t take a lot to know when your Poblano peppers have gone bad because this manifests in a few different ways. For one, your Poblanos will become soft to the touch and sometimes limp when you hold them. Discoloration and a slight odor might also indicate that your Poblano peppers are spoiling.

So, if you notice an off-putting aroma or a change in their appearance, that means a part of them is starting to rot. Once the whole pepper has spoiled, you should throw it in the trash.

Closing Thoughts

Poblano peppers are mild peppers but with a slight zing. They make dishes taste more interesting without being too hot and spicy and without burning your tongue. It is often used in a lot of Mexican cooking, like salsas and sauces. They are also great when roasted or stuffed with cheese or ground meat.

You can grow your Poblanos, too, and they are easy to care for. You just need to plant them in a well-draining medium, feed them organic fertilizer, and give them plenty of warmth and sunshine.