Chile Pepper Glossary

By Maricel E. Presilla

Published on July 1, 2013

Aji Amarillo
Believed to have originated in Peru, this intensely fruity, moderately hot, and complexly flavored pepper is about six inches long when mature. The aji amarillo is a favorite in Peru and Bolivia and a great all-purpose cooking pepper (see the recipe for Peruvian Chicken Stew). (C. baccatum.)

Aji Caballero
This inch-long Caribbean pepper is often sold commercially in the United States under the name Puerto Rican jelly bean, and it packs a mighty heat. Puerto Ricans pickle it in vinegar, garlic, and other ingredients to make a hot sauce called pique, which, like Tabasco, is often brought to the table to garnish foods. (C. annuum.)

Aji Cristal
The four-inch "crystal pepper" is named for the translucent luster of the unripe fruit's skin. In Chilean cooking, it plays a role similar to that of the jalapeño and the serrano, serving as an ingredient in table salsas like chancho en piedra, a mix of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and peppers crushed in a stone mortar. (C. baccatum.)

Aji Dulce
Deeply herbal, fruity, and musky, this tiny, lantern-shaped sweet pepper exemplifies the extraordinary range of heat exhibited by the C. chinense species. It is a cornerstone of the cuisines of the Hispanic Caribbean countries (see the recipe for Shrimp Ceviche). (C. chinense.)

Aji Limon
This elegantly contoured Andean cultivar reaches a length of about two and a half inches and has a charming, citrusy flavor and a pleasant yet potent heat comparable to that of the northern Peruvian aji limo. Sometimes called the Peruvian yellow pepper, it ripens from green to a lustrous lemon yellow. (C. baccatum.)

Aji Santa Cruz
The bright color and pungent fruitiness of this three-inch-long Bolivian pepper make it an ideal replacement for the orange-hued (and sometimes harder to find) aji escabeche, typically used in northern Peruvian cooking. It grows on a tall plant that needs plenty of space and sunlight. (C. baccatum.)

Aribibi Gusano
To me, this fascinating Bolivian pepper resembles a caterpillar. The roughly one-and-a-half-inch-long pod is deeply aromatic and, like many members of the C. chinense species, deliciously hot. The aribibi gusano gives an intense aroma to fresh salsas, making for an unusual garnish. (C. chinense.)

Belize Sweet Habanero
Seeds from this small, winsome red pepper came from the town of Punta Gorda in Belize. It resembles the much hotter scotch bonnet pepper more closely than the smoother-skinned habaneros of the neighboring Yucatan. Like the aji dulce, its chinense cousin, it is very aromatic and only moderately hot. (C. chinense.)

Bolivian Habanero
This plum-size, very hot Bolivian pepper can be used to make a delicious red onion relish flavored with bitter oranges. The combination creates a tongue-tickling acidity that's a perfect accompaniment to crisp-skinned Bolivian-style pork with roasted potatoes and sweet, Andean yam-like tubers such as oca. (C. chinense.)

Bolivian Rainbow
This multicolor Bolivian pepper, which is usually about half an inch long when harvested, is typically sold as an ornamental, but when added raw to salsas or as a finishing touch to a cooked dish, it lends lively color and a strong jolt of clean heat, if not a particularly complex flavor. (C. frutescens.)

Caribbean Red
Ripening to a rich, orangey red, this one-and-a-half-inch-long, scorchingly hot peppers—it's twice as hot as many of its notoriously pungent C. chinense cousins—can be identified by its distinctive, pointy tip. Used sparingly, it gives a pronounced aromatic dimension and bracing heat to fresh salsas. (C. chinense.)

This pretty, plum-size Mexican chile is moderately hot. When mature, it is a burgundy red and, when dried, becomes a very dark reddish brown and rattles if shaken—which accounts for its name, which means jingle bell in Spanish. Fresh cascabels lend strong tannic notes to table salsas and cooked sauces. (C. annuum.)

From its South American home, the bitingly hot cayenne traveled across the world with Portuguese explorers. It is now widely cultivated in North America. The seasoning powder sold commercially as cayenne pepper is no longer made exclusively with cayennes but, usually, with a blend of other hot cultivars._ (C. annuum.)_

Cayenne (Gold)
This five-inch-long, smooth-skinned, yellow cayenne was developed in the U.S. It is a cousin of the more widely known, red-colored long cayenne and, with its clean, direct piquancy, works well in Peruvian ceviches (raw fish dishes) when you can't find the more traditional aji limo or aji amarillo. (C. annuum.)

Chapeau de Frade
Shaped like a bishop's crown, with a pronounced lobed and concave tip, this very hot pepper is called pimenta cambuci in its native Brazil. It is almost too beautiful to eat, but its fruity flavor is as alluring as it curious silhouette. I like to use it raw in seafood cocktails and savory fruit salsas. (C. baccatum.)

Chile de Agua
This six-inch-long Mexican pepper has a shape reminiscent of the much milder poblano's. Oaxacan cooks often stuff it with a savory pork hash. They also cut it into strips, saute it with onions and epazote, finish the mixture with milk and fresh cheese, and serve it with warm tortillas. (C. annuum.)

Chile de Árbol
With its elegant curve and pointy tip, this two-and-a-half-inch-long, very hot Mexican chile has a smooth, brittle skin and clean taste. It is a favorite in table sauces made with tomatoes and tomatillos. I love the bold heat of dried chiles de arbol in hot chocolate. (C. annuum.)

In the arid Mexican state of Sonora, cooks gather tiny, wild-growing chiltepin peppers between the months of September and January and add the coffee bean-size chiles to both cooked dishes and tableside condiments. Often sun-dried, the chiltepin delivers a megaton of heat. (C. annuum.)

Chocolate Habanero
The name of this chubby, two-inch-wide Caribbean habanero refers to the rich, dark hue of its skin and not to its taste, which is all about heat, not sweetness. I prefer to use chocolate habaneros in uncooked dishes, to show off the peppers' handsome color. (C. chinense.)

As small as a chiltepin, this hot Guatemalan pepper is often called chile cobanero and is used both fresh and smoke-dried. The coban takes its name from a town in Guatemala's Alta Verapaz region, where it flavors a beloved turkey stew called kak'ik. (C. annuum.)

This is the fresh sweet pepper of choice in Hispanic Caribbean cooking. Cubanelles take on a red color when fully mature but are normally sold when they are pale green. This five-inch-long pepper is ideal for frying; that explains why it's sometimes called Italian frying pepper. (C. annuum.)

This earring-shaped South American pepper has an intense heat more widely associated with some cultivars of the C. chinense species. Crush a couple of pods lightly with some salt and add them to chicken soup for a dose of fruity heat. (C. baccatum.)

Ecuadoran Aji
On an Ecuadoran table there's almost always a tangy fresh condiment made with red onions and this pungent red pepper. Maturing to a length of four inches or so, the Ecuadoran aji ripens from a deep green to an arresting bright red. (C. baccatum.)

Grenada Seasoning
This medium-size pepper from the island of Grenada, in the Lesser Antilles, has an intense tropical-fruit aroma but is milder than many other Caribbean peppers; it is similar in flavor to the aji dulce. It is an excellent choice for cooked sauces and bean dishes. (C. chinense.)

Inca Red Drop
I grew a bumper crop of these gorgeous, medium-hot, fleshy peppers in my New Jersey backyard. Shaped like a water droplet when fully ripe, this Peruvian chile is deliciously fruity, as are most C. baccatum peppers, and tastes terrific raw in salads, ceviches, and fresh salsas. (C. baccatum.)

Mexicans love the fleshy jalapeño as a vegetable. They marinate it in vinegary escabeches (pickling sauces) or cut it into strips (rajas) to give moderate heat to a variety of foods, including the filling for tamales. When the jalapeño is dried and smoked it becomes the complexly flavored chipotle. (C. annuum.)

Shaped like a child's toy top, this pretty Peruvian pepper ripens from green to bright orange. The plant is a prolific bearer, and the peppers, which are very hot and have an herbal aroma and bright tropical-fruit flavors, are delicious in fresh salsas and sweet chutneys. (C. chinense.)

You'll find mountains of inch-long malaguetas at all stages of ripeness in Brazilian markets. Cooks in Brazil, where this very hot pepper is called pimenta malagueta, crush them by the dozen and add them to their molhos (table sauces); they also pickle them in vinegar and use them as a condiment. (C. frutescens.)

Probably named after a municipality in Brazil's Amazon region, this small, hot pepper is easily distinguished by its blunt tip and the attractive purple shading on its golden surface. I use it raw whenever I want to add a combination of exciting color, potent heat, and deep herbal aromas to my food. (C. chinense.)

Mirasol (Purple Variety)
Not to be confused with the Andean aji mirasol, the Mexican mirasol is a moderately hot, three-inch-long chile that normally ripens to a bright red; a purple cultivar is shown here. Better known dried, in which case it is called guajillo, it adds sharpness and a bright color to cooked sauces. (C. annuum.)

NuMex Big Jim
This stunning, foot-long pepper is one of many descendants of the New Mexico pod-type cultivars developed by the horticulturist Fabian Garcia in the early 20th century. Easy to peel and mildly hot, it is ideal for stuffing or fire-roasting; it's also delicious roasted, cut into strips, and sprinkled with olive oil. (C. annuum.)

NuMex Sandia
Crossbred from a Californian anaheim chile and a New Mexican pod-type pepper called the NuMex 9, the sandia is easier to peel than the anaheim and much hotter than either of its parents. But, as with many New Mexican varieties, its heat does not linger and is balanced by a fine, apple-peel flavor. (C. annuum.)

The six- to 12-inch pasilla, which ripens from a deep olive green to a dark, purple-tinged mahogany, is known as chilaca when fresh (pictured). Pasilla ("little raisin") is the name it acquires when dried. Roasted chilaca can be crushed with garlic, oregano, and salt for a table salsa. (C. annuum.)

Peruvian Habanero
This strikingly beautiful, squash-shaped pepper ripens to a bright yellow-orange color. Like most habaneros, it balances an intense and bracing heat with a surprisingly delicate floral aroma. The Peruvian habanero goes well in fresh salsas, onion relishes, and citrus-spiked ceviches. (C. chinense.)

Peruvian Pointer
This comely, diminutive, medium-hot Peruvian pepper has smooth skin and thick flesh and grows to a length of about one and a half inches. It is an ornamental, but, as I've discovered with other showy varieties, it's a fine cooking pepper. I use it in northern Peruvian-style ceviches instead of the more customary aji limo. (C. baccatum.)

The name pimenta-de-cheiro ("fragrant pepper") describes a number of lantern-shaped and very aromatic Brazilian chinense peppers that are usually pickled in vinegar and added to table sauces. I grew the tiny, roundish cultivar pictured above; it ripened to orangey red. (C. chinense.)

Pimiento de Padron
Though these tiny, thin-skinned peppers hail from Spain, they were likely developed from Mexican seeds. Very tasty when fried in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt (see the recipe for Padron Peppers with Serrano Ham), these peppers are generally mild, but it is not uncommon to find a few in a bunch that are hot enough to make you gasp. (C. annuum.)

In Mexico, the large, moderately hot poblano is the quintessential pepper for stuffing. Some cultivars mature from a deep green to mahogany; others ripen to a chocolate brown. When dried, the greener peppers become wrinkled and dark brown ancho chiles, which are essential to cooked sauces and moles. (C. annuum.)

This roughly half-inch-long, aromatic-tasting Bolivian hot pepper ripens from green to gold and can be used in a number of dishes requiring extra heat. It is sometimes listed as a C. baccatum, other times as a C. annuum, but its greenish white and purple flowers are consistent with C. chinense cultivars'. (C. baccatum.)

Red Habanero
A few slivers of this flavorful and versatile little pepper add a splash of spectacular color and a deep herbal flavor—as well as ample heat—to fresh salsas. For a milder experience and the same, wonderful flavor, try the Suave habanero, developed by the Chile Pepper Institute in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (C. chinense.)

Red Rocoto
The chubby, black-seeded, intensely piquant rocoto is the emblematic pepper of the C. pubescens species. Bolivian and Peruvian cooks use them in ceviches and puree them with tree tomatoes (tamarillos) to make a delicious dipping sauce for fried seafood. (C. pubescens.)

Red Scotch Bonnet
Like its relative the habanero, this small, very hot Caribbean pepper—which takes its name from its bulbous, bonnet-like shape—has tropical-fruit flavors and musky herbaceous notes that add brightness and depth to fresh salsas. (C. chinense.)

This tiny, bumpy-skinned Caribbean pepper is just as aromatic as the sweeter aji dulce, also popular in the Hispanic Caribbean, but has only a mild piquancy. It can enhance all sorts of dishes, from black bean soup to aromatic cilantro-based salsas. (C. chinense.)

Santa Fe Grande
This subtly pungent pepper, of a variety known as wax pod type, was developed at the University of California at Davis in 1966. The five-inch santa fe grande can be used in much the same way as a jalapeño, pickled or added to cooked sauces and fresh salsas. (C. annuum.)

Widely available in the U.S., the Mexican serrano is a small, pungent chile with a clean, sharp flavor. Mexicans favor it over jalapeños when making fresh salsas or guacamole. It is also delicious pickled (see the recipe for Pickled Serrano Chiles). (C. annuum.)

This whimsically shaped Brazilian pepper is very hot and has a crisp, thin flesh. The pod type is similar to that of the Brazilian chapeau de frade. I use starfish peppers as a garnish; they also add fruitiness and heat to fresh salsas and vinaigrettes. (C. baccatum.)

The tabasco pepper is the best-known domesticated variety of the C. frutescens species. It's not known when tabasco peppers first migrated north from Central America, but they are now inextricably associated with the Louisiana-made sauce of the same name. (C. frutescens.)

Trinidad Perfume
This is the Trinidadian counterpart to the popular and much smaller aji dulce. A super cooking pepper, it has all the complex flavors of a hot chinense like the habanero but delivers mild heat and thus requires less restraint on the part of the cook. (C. chinense.)

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