Chili pep­pers are a sta­ple of most Mex­i­can food recipes. The sheer pop­u­lar­ity of Mex­i­can cui­sine and the ever grow­ing His­panic pop­u­la­tion in the United States make chili pep­pers an essen­tial daily ingre­di­ent.

Fresh chili pep­pers are gen­er­ally avail­able year round. They are grown in Cal­i­for­nia, New Mex­ico, Texas, and Mex­ico. Dried chili ver­sions are also avail­able year-​round.
California’s extreme sum­mer tem­per­a­tures are con­ducive to grow­ing a wide vari­ety of mild to very hot spec­i­mens. Cul­ti­vated in a full range of sizes, shapes, and degrees of hot­ness, the num­ber of vari­eties is impres­sive.

The head-​scratching comes with try­ing to prop­erly iden­tify the var­i­ous pep­pers by name and fla­vor pro­file. It gets com­pli­cated when the name of a pep­per may vary from region to region. The name changes again when the pep­per goes from being fresh to being dried.

With a vari­ety of heat lev­els and fla­vor pro­files, ver­sa­til­ity is a key attribute of both fresh and dried chili pep­pers.

Har­vested through­out the sum­mer, some green chili pep­pers are left on the plants until autumn. They will go from bright green in color to their final hue of yel­low, orange, pur­ple or red, depend­ing on the variety.

Pep­pers of the same vari­ety, even those on the same plant, can dif­fer in hot­ness. A good rule of thumb– the more mature the pep­per, the hot­ter it will be.

By exam­ple, a red Ana­heim pep­per will pack more punch than a green one. Soil, cli­mate, and other con­di­tions also affect the amount of cap­saicin in a pep­per.

Dried pep­pers typ­i­cally don’t have the same name as their fresh coun­ter­parts. Nor do they usu­ally carry the same heat level. Dried chilies tend to be more con­cen­trated. Exer­cise cau­tion when sub­sti­tut­ing the dried for fresh.

Super-​hot chili pep­pers, like ghost and Car­olina reaper, have the same name fresh or dried. A jalapeño pep­per that is dried and smoked is called chipo­tle. An Ana­heim pep­per is called Cal­i­for­nia chili when it’s dried. A dried Poblano pep­per is renamed Ancho chile.

Beyond sal­sas and sauces, depth of fla­vor from chili pep­pers is touch­ing every­thing from cock­tails to desserts.

Char, stuff or pickle, turn up the heat. Bold and inter­est­ing chili pep­pers demand some love and attention.

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