top of page
Ingredients

Essential Mexican Chiles: 15 Chiles to Add to Your Mexican Cooking

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

When it comes to Mexican cuisine, there's one thing every chef can agree on - chiles play a central role in defining the vibrant Mexican flavor. From mild and fruity to fiery and intense, Mexican chiles are as diverse as they are essential in traditional Mexican cuisine. But how do you use those chiles? Is there a difference between the fresh chile and the dried version? Are are there major flavor differences? Which ones should you experiment with? We've got you covered. When it comes to Mexican cooking, there are several chiles that you'll find repeated throughout the cuisine.


Let's explore 15 popular Mexican chile varieties, where we will look at their flavors, culinary uses, and the dishes they make unforgettable. We've organized this list by evolution of pepper so you can see how a chile may change depending on its state.


Jalapeno Peppers

Jalapeño Pepper

Let's start with the easiest. Arguably the most well-known Mexican chile internationally, the jalapeño is a fresh pepper that is medium-spicy with a grassy, slightly smoky flavor. It can be found nearly everywhere. It's often used fresh in salsas, guacamole, pickled for a tangy kick in sandwiches and nachos, or stuffed then baked or and fried.

Spice Meter: 2,000 to 8,000 Scoville units


Chipotle Peppers

Chipotle

Take that jalapeño and smoke it, and you have a chipotle! Chipotle chiles offer a distinct smoky flavor with medium heat. They are sold dried and can be rehydrated for use in sauces, stews, or salsas. "Chipotle en Adobo" is another very common way of finding these at the market. Chipotle en Adobo are found in a can or jar and nestled in a versatile and tangy tomato-based sauce. The sauce is smoky and perfect for marinating meats or adding depth to soups like "Sopa de Tortilla," a traditional Mexican tortilla soup or Chicken Tinga.

Spice Meter: 2,500-10,000 Scoville units



Serrano Pepper

Similar in appearance to jalapeños but smaller and spicier, fresh serrano peppers pack a punch with a bright, citrusy flavor. In Mexico they are sometimes called Chile Verde, which translates literally to green chile. Serrano peppers are often used in a similar way to jalapeños and commonly used in fresh salsas and sauces like "Salsa Verde," where their heat balances the tartness of tomatillos and the freshness of cilantro. Serrano chiles are also great for adding heat to marinades for grilled meats or seafood.

Spice Meter: 10,000 and 25,000 Scoville units



Poblano Pepper

A staple in Mexican kitchens, the poblano pepper is mild with a rich and earthy flavor. When fresh, it's dark green, oblong and somewhat heart-shaped, which makes it perfect for stuffing with cheese, meats, or beans. Poblano peppers are the critical pepper used in making "Chile Relleno," a beloved dish across Mexico.

Spice Meter: 1,000–1,500 Scoville units



Ancho Chile

Ancho chiles are dried poblano peppers that have a deep, rich flavor with mild to moderate heat. They are a staple in Mexican cuisine, prized for their versatility and ability to impart a complex, smoky sweetness to dishes. You can toast ancho chiles on a dry skillet or rehydrate them by soaking in hot water until softened. Once prepared, they can be blended into sauces such as mole poblano, where they contribute both depth and a subtle fruity undertone.

pice Meter: 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville units



Mulato Chile

Take that Ancho chile, but now add a deeper, smokier flavor and a hint of chocolatey sweetness. Mulato chiles, are are dried versions of very ripe poblano chiles and add depth and richness to dishes, balancing out the heat of spicier varieties. The poblano pepper is left on the vine to reach full ripeness at which point it's picked and then allowed to dry developing it's deeper flavor. Mulato chiles are often used in combination with other chiles to create complex sauces like "Mole Poblano." 

Spice Meter: 500 to 2,500 Scoville units



Chilaca Pepper

Long and slender, chilaca peppers are mild with a smoky flavor and a medium heat level. They are commonly used in Mexican cuisine for sauces and salsas, contributing a distinctive flavor that pairs well with grilled meats and seafood. Chilaca chiles are often roasted and peeled before being incorporated into dishes like "Chiles Toreados," where they are served as a side dish with tacos and grilled meats.

Spice Meter: 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville units


Pasilla

When a Chilaca pepper is dried, it becomes a Pasilla pepper. It's also commonly referred to as a Chile Negro. Often confused with ancho chiles due to their similar appearance, pasilla chiles are longer, thinner, and have a deeper, spicier flavor profile with hints of raisin, prune and cocoa. They are a key ingredient in "Mole Negro," a complex sauce from Oaxaca that combines pasilla chiles with chocolate, nuts, and spices for a velvety, dark sauce traditionally served over poultry or enchiladas.

Spice Meter: 500 and 2,500 Scoville units



Guajillo

One of the most commonly used dried chiles in Mexican cuisine, guajillo chiles have a mild to moderate heat level and a slightly sweet, tangy flavor with notes of berry and tea. They are often used in sauces like "Salsa Roja," where they provide both color and flavor, or in marinades for meats such as "Carne Adobada," a marinated pork dish that showcases the chile's rich, earthy tones.

Spice Meter: 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units



Arbol

Small and slender, arbol chiles pack a punch with their intense heat and bright, acidic flavor. They are commonly used in making "Salsa de Árbol," a fiery red salsa that complements tacos and grilled meats. Arbol chiles are also toasted and ground into powders or used whole in soups and stews for a potent kick.

Spice Meter: 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units



Habanero

Let's throw down the hottest chile on the list. Known for its intense heat and fruity undertones, the habanero is not for the faint-hearted. This small, lantern-shaped chile ranges in color from green to orange to red when ripe, signaling its extreme spiciness. In Mexican cuisine, habaneros are often used in salsas and marinades, where their heat can be tempered by pairing them with sweeter ingredients like mango or pineapple. One iconic dish is "Pollo Pibil," a Yucatecan specialty where habanero adds a fiery kick to the marinade of slow-roasted chicken wrapped in banana leaves.

Spice Meter: 150,000-325,000 Scoville units



Cascabel

These cute little peppers resemble a dried cherry pepper. With a nutty flavor and mild heat, cascabel chiles are squat, roundish and often used in sauces and marinades. They have a distinctive rattling sound when shaken due to loose seeds inside, giving them their name ("cascabel" means "rattle" in Spanish). These chiles are ideal for making "Salsa Cascabel," where they are toasted and blended with tomatoes and garlic for a rich, smooth sauce.

Spice Meter: 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville units



Puya or Pulla Pepper

As compared to several other peppers on this list, Puya peppers are called Puya whether they're in fresh or dried form. Similar in appearance to guajillo chiles but smaller and hotter, puya chiles offer a bright, sharp heat with fruity undertones. They are commonly used in adobo sauces and spicy salsas, where their intense flavor adds depth and complexity. Puya chiles are also popular for making "Salsa de Chile de Árbol," a fiery sauce that accompanies tacos, enchiladas, and grilled meats.

Spice Meter: 5,000 – 8,000 Scovile units



Costeño Amarillo

Small and round with a bright yellow-orange color, costeño amarillo chiles are moderately spicy with a fruity, tangy flavor. They are often used in coastal Mexican cuisine for seafood dishes and ceviches, where their heat enhances the freshness of the seafood. Costeño amarillo chiles are also used in sauces and marinades, adding a vibrant color and a zesty kick to dishes like "Pescado a la Veracruzana," a fish dish cooked with tomatoes, olives, and capers.

Spice Meter: 1,500 – 2,500 Scoville units



Manzano

What may look like it resembles a bell pepper, don't be confused! Also known as "apple chiles" due to their apple-like shape and crisp texture, manzano chiles are medium-hot with a fruity flavor and a hint of sweetness. They are commonly used in fresh salsas and ceviches, where their crunchy texture and mild heat complement the fresh ingredients. Manzano chiles are also pickled or used in marinades.

Spice Meter: 12,000 and 30,000 Scovile units


In Mexican cuisine, chiles are not just ingredients; they are storytellers of tradition, geography, and culture. Each variety brings its own unique flavor and heat, transforming dishes into culinary adventures. While technically they can be somewhat interchangable, the truth is, choosing a different pepper can really change the outcome of a recipe. From fresh to dried and smoky to spicy, experimenting with chiles is a fun way to spend time in the kitchen. Learn more about Mexican cuisine in our our Mexican cooking classes.






ABOUT THE CHEF & THE DISH

The Chef & The Dish has chefs around the world that you video conference into your kitchen for a private 1:1 virtual cooking class. Learn how to make pasta with a chef video calling you live from Italy, Pad Thai with a chef virtually in your kitchen live from Thailand. Together you cook, share stories, laugh and make a multi course meal together. Rated 'Best Date Night,' 'Best Gifts,' and "Best Cooking Classes" by WSJ, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Martha Stewart, Rolling Stone and tens more. Transport your kitchen for the day.™

www.thechefandthedish.com 


POPULAR ARTICLES

Ultimate Foodie Bucket List

20 At Home Date Night Ideas

Cream of Garlic Soup

POPULAR CLASSES

Arroz con Pollo

Fresh Pasta & Ragu

Green Curry and Mango Sticky Rice

POPULAR CATEGORIES
Recipes
Ingredients
Gift Guides
Travel & Inspo
FOLLOW US

Essential Mexican Chiles: 15 Chiles to Add to Your Mexican Cooking

When it comes to Mexican cuisine, there's one thing every chef can agree on - chiles play a central role in defining the vibrant Mexican flavor. From mild and fruity to fiery and intense, Mexican chiles are as diverse as they are essential in traditional Mexican cuisine. But how do you use those chiles? Is there a difference between the fresh chile and the dried version? Are are there major flavor differences? Which ones should you experiment with? We've got you covered. When it comes to Mexican cooking, there are several chiles that you'll find repeated throughout the cuisine.


Let's explore 15 popular Mexican chile varieties, where we will look at their flavors, culinary uses, and the dishes they make unforgettable. We've organized this list by evolution of pepper so you can see how a chile may change depending on its state.


Jalapeno Peppers

Jalapeño Pepper

Let's start with the easiest. Arguably the most well-known Mexican chile internationally, the jalapeño is a fresh pepper that is medium-spicy with a grassy, slightly smoky flavor. It can be found nearly everywhere. It's often used fresh in salsas, guacamole, pickled for a tangy kick in sandwiches and nachos, or stuffed then baked or and fried.

Spice Meter: 2,000 to 8,000 Scoville units


Chipotle Peppers

Chipotle

Take that jalapeño and smoke it, and you have a chipotle! Chipotle chiles offer a distinct smoky flavor with medium heat. They are sold dried and can be rehydrated for use in sauces, stews, or salsas. "Chipotle en Adobo" is another very common way of finding these at the market. Chipotle en Adobo are found in a can or jar and nestled in a versatile and tangy tomato-based sauce. The sauce is smoky and perfect for marinating meats or adding depth to soups like "Sopa de Tortilla," a traditional Mexican tortilla soup or Chicken Tinga.

Spice Meter: 2,500-10,000 Scoville units



Serrano Pepper

Similar in appearance to jalapeños but smaller and spicier, fresh serrano peppers pack a punch with a bright, citrusy flavor. In Mexico they are sometimes called Chile Verde, which translates literally to green chile. Serrano peppers are often used in a similar way to jalapeños and commonly used in fresh salsas and sauces like "Salsa Verde," where their heat balances the tartness of tomatillos and the freshness of cilantro. Serrano chiles are also great for adding heat to marinades for grilled meats or seafood.

Spice Meter: 10,000 and 25,000 Scoville units



Poblano Pepper

A staple in Mexican kitchens, the poblano pepper is mild with a rich and earthy flavor. When fresh, it's dark green, oblong and somewhat heart-shaped, which makes it perfect for stuffing with cheese, meats, or beans. Poblano peppers are the critical pepper used in making "Chile Relleno," a beloved dish across Mexico.

Spice Meter: 1,000–1,500 Scoville units



Ancho Chile

Ancho chiles are dried poblano peppers that have a deep, rich flavor with mild to moderate heat. They are a staple in Mexican cuisine, prized for their versatility and ability to impart a complex, smoky sweetness to dishes. You can toast ancho chiles on a dry skillet or rehydrate them by soaking in hot water until softened. Once prepared, they can be blended into sauces such as mole poblano, where they contribute both depth and a subtle fruity undertone.

pice Meter: 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville units



Mulato Chile

Take that Ancho chile, but now add a deeper, smokier flavor and a hint of chocolatey sweetness. Mulato chiles, are are dried versions of very ripe poblano chiles and add depth and richness to dishes, balancing out the heat of spicier varieties. The poblano pepper is left on the vine to reach full ripeness at which point it's picked and then allowed to dry developing it's deeper flavor. Mulato chiles are often used in combination with other chiles to create complex sauces like "Mole Poblano." 

Spice Meter: 500 to 2,500 Scoville units



Chilaca Pepper

Long and slender, chilaca peppers are mild with a smoky flavor and a medium heat level. They are commonly used in Mexican cuisine for sauces and salsas, contributing a distinctive flavor that pairs well with grilled meats and seafood. Chilaca chiles are often roasted and peeled before being incorporated into dishes like "Chiles Toreados," where they are served as a side dish with tacos and grilled meats.

Spice Meter: 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville units


Pasilla

When a Chilaca pepper is dried, it becomes a Pasilla pepper. It's also commonly referred to as a Chile Negro. Often confused with ancho chiles due to their similar appearance, pasilla chiles are longer, thinner, and have a deeper, spicier flavor profile with hints of raisin, prune and cocoa. They are a key ingredient in "Mole Negro," a complex sauce from Oaxaca that combines pasilla chiles with chocolate, nuts, and spices for a velvety, dark sauce traditionally served over poultry or enchiladas.

Spice Meter: 500 and 2,500 Scoville units



Guajillo

One of the most commonly used dried chiles in Mexican cuisine, guajillo chiles have a mild to moderate heat level and a sli