Peppers: From Mild to Wild

There's a hot pepper to suit every palate.

By Jessica Walliser


Medium Heat
'Anaheim' is the best known of the New Mexico chile peppers, the fruits of which grow 6 to 8 inches long and can be used either green or red—the redder, the hotter. 'Anaheim' peppers have heavy skin and thick flesh that is particularly suited to roasting and grilling. Because their maturation rate ranges from 70 to 90 days, these peppers perform best where the growing season is a bit longer. The ripe, red fruits are often strung up to dry in a long chain called a ristra. New Mexico peppers range from 500 to 7,000 SHU. 

'Bulgarian Carrot'
It's easy to see where this heirloom pepper got its name. With long, tapered orange fruits, 'Bulgarian Carrot' might fool one into thinking it's sweet, but at 5,000 SHU, that is not the case. The highly productive plants mature in 75 days, and since they reach only 20 inches tall, they're perfect for container growing. The bright orange color lends itself nicely to fresh salsas and chutneys. Called shipkas in Bulgaria, where the variety originated, these peppers are both beautiful and mouth-warming.

'Big Bomb'
This hybrid cherry pepper matures green in a mere 65 days (80 days to red), making it a great choice for northern and southern gardeners alike. The seeds of 'Big Bomb' are easy to remove, and its small, rounded shape and thick walls make it ideal for stuffing. It looks and tastes great in a pickle jar. About 5,000 SHU.

'Hungarian Hot Wax'
A reliable hot pepper even for northern climes, 'Hungarian Hot Wax' is a prolific producer of elongated, tapered pods about 5 to 6 inches in length. Popular for pickling and frying, and with SHU ratings ranging between 5,000 and 10,000, this pepper has slight sweet notes right along with the heat. It's also called a hot banana pepper because of its yellow to orange coloration that eventually ripens to a full red.

"Serranos are one of my favorite varieties for making salsa," says Craig Andersen, Ph.D., horticulture extension specialist with the University of Arkansas. "They have heat along with a unique floral fragrance that smells like violets to me." Plus, they have thin skin, so there's no need to peel before use. Serranos weigh in at about 25,000 SHU; expect a kick, but also a unique flavor. Thin and pointy, they mature from green to yellow, orange or red. Their thick flesh doesn't dry well; use these fireballs while fresh and crisp.

'Big Red'
A hybrid with increased disease resistance, 'Big Red' cayenne peppers can grow to a whopping 10 to 12 inches in length. Maturing to deep red, cayenne peppers are often dried and pulverized, then sold as hot pepper flakes and cayenne powder. Used in chili and other spicy dishes, cayennes boast a punch (30,000 to 50,000 SHU). "These peppers are fantastic for drying. I also roast them in the oven and use them on pizza and sandwiches," says Arditi. Another plus: 'Big Red' is more resistant to fruit rot than other cayenne varieties.