Peppers: From Mild to Wild

There's a hot pepper to suit every palate.

By Jessica Walliser


Mild Heat
There are many different jalapeño varieties, but hybrid 'Señorita' is special because it has all the flavor of a jalapeño with just a hint of the heat. Most jalapeños hit 5,500 on the SHU scale, but 'Señorita' is a mere 300 to 400 SHU. Ben Maniscalco, founder of Benito's Hot Sauce in Hyde Park, Vermont, says all jalapeños are terrific choices for northern growers. "They do just fine in New England," says Maniscalco, "because they typically have an early to midlength growing season." 'Señorita' matures in about 60 days.

Poblano peppers are relatively mild (about 1,000 to 2,000 SHU) and measure 3 to 5 inches long. They are often harvested when green, but mature to a beautiful, deep red. Known as anchos when dried, these popular Mexican chiles are a common ingredient in mole sauce and chiles rellenos, peppers stuffed with cheese and fried in batter. Joe Arditi, president of Pepper Joe's Seeds in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, favors poblano peppers for their superior taste and form. "They're really the ideal shape for stuffing, although they're also great to eat raw in salads or with dip because they are so mild."

With the same SHU rating as the poblano, the chilaca is sometimes called chile negro because of its dark brown or purple coloration when mature. It is one of the pasilla chile peppers, another type that is commonly used in Mexican mole sauces. "Pasilla means 'little raisin' in Spanish," says Lee James, grower and owner of Tierra Vegetables in Windsor, California. "Pasilla dries blackish and is wrinkled like a raisin." The fragrance is much like that of a raisin, and the smoky flavor has hints of grape. Common in Mexico, they are more difficult to find north of the border.