Slideshow: Pepper Heat Index
Here’s a guide to the most common peppers commercially available, with their Scoville rating (which measures chilies’ heat). The higher the number on the Scoville scale, the more capasaicin a chili has — and the hotter it is. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the chili, the hotter it is likely to be.
Anaheim (Mild: 500-2,500)
A mild, large chili that’s perfect for stuffing, the Anaheim has tough skin, so you need to remove it before eating. Char the chili over the flame, let it steam in a sealed paper bag, then peel the skin. Great for use in chili rellenos and other Mexican and New Mexican dishes.
Bell (Mild: 0)
The mildest chili, bell peppers start out green and ripen on the vine to red, yellow, orange and purple varieties — which is why the green bells are not as sweet as the others. Good raw in salads, sauteed for stir fries or fajitas, in soups and as toppings for all types of sandwiches.
Banana (Mild: 0-500)
Often confused with the yellow wax pepper, which is hotter, the banana pepper is often served pickled — as is another mild chili, the pepperoncino (pepperoncini is the plural form of the word).
Poblano (Mild: 1,000-1,500)
Once in a while you can get a poblano with a little more kick, but it usually has a mild flavor. The heart-shaped poblano is sweeter and a wee bit hotter than most Anaheims. It is also more tender, making it perfect for salsa, for stuffing and for cooking as a base for green chili or tomatillo sauce.
Habanero (Exceptionally Hot: 100,000-350,000)
The habanero is extremely hot and rather fruity, and a little goes a very long way. If you can stand the heat, it’s great for homemade hot sauces and salsas (although beginners should probably steer clear of this fiery chili).
Jalapeño (Medium: 2,500-8,000)
With is pepper kick, the jalapeño is perfect for adding heat to most dishes. Use it in salsas, sauces and salads. Smoked jalapeños are called chipotle peppers; they are found canned in adobo sauce. Use chipotles in salsas, sauces, marinades and dressings where you want some heat and smoky flavor.
Serrano (Hot: 10,000-25,000)
With a bright, crisp taste — and a bite — the serrano is typically eaten raw. Because they have thin walls, you don’t have to steam, char or peel serranos before using them. Enjoy in pico de gallo.
Love peppers? Don’t miss our slideshow of Jalapeño Peppers for more ways to prepare them.