The local vegetable vendor may have a few colourful options, but when you visit a supermarket, a variety of chillies of different colours and sizes are racing against each other for your attention. Should you pick up the small red ones, or the long green ones or the round yellow ones? Which one should you use for a salsa or a hot sauce and which one should you use for a stir fry or for your pickles? We help you identify what’s at the supermarket, know how hot they are, and figure out what will best suit your cooking needs and heat sensitivities:
Jalapeño: Jalapeños are one of the most commonly used chillies in the US, and has gained popularity in other countries as well. They are not too high on the spice quotient and are mostly mild to medium pungent, but are flavourful. Jalapeño peppers are between 2 to 4 inches long, “and commonly pickled and sold in supermarkets in cans and bottles, and consumed while still green, it is occasionally allowed to fully ripen and turn red, orange or yellow,” says chef Pankaj Bhadouria.
Common uses: The Mexico-originated chilli is used as a pizza topping or an ingredient in sandwiches, wraps and salads, and to make salsa and sauces. Baked and stuffed jalapeños are a popular appetiser, and the chilli is generously used in Mexican cuisine.
Serrano: Serrano peppers are jalapeños’ spicier cousins, are similar in appearance, and are often used as substitutes for jalapeños when more heat is desired. Like jalapeños, serranos are green in the unripe stage, which then turn to yellow, orange, brown or red in the ripened stage. The chillies are 1 to 3 inches long, and as a rule of thumb, the smaller the serrano pepper, the hotter it will taste.
Common uses: Many people also eat serrano raw for its crunchy texture, or can be added to other condiments to make salsa, guacamole. Several Mexican dishes use this chilli as it packs the right punch on the pungency scale.
Habanero: This chilli looks like mini bell peppers (0.75-2.5 inches long), and are visually striking as it comes in colours like orange or red but can also be white, brown, or pink. These mini chillies pack maximum spice and is regarded as one of the spiciest chillies in the world.
Common uses: Habanero is commonly added in spicy food recipes and Mexican recipes that require the pungency, but are mostly commonly used to make salsa and hot sauces. Want spice in your cocktail? Add a few drops of habanero sauce to your drink.
Bird’s Eye: Also known as Thai chillies as that is where it is predominantly grown (and in neighbouring countries, as well as North-East Indian states), bird’s eye chillies are thin and pointy, and are, on an average, about 1 inch long, making them one of the smallest chillies in the world. But don’t be deceived by its size, because the bird’s eye chillies are pungent and are sure to make your mouth and tongue wanting relief.
Common uses: “Bird’s Eye is excellent for stir-fries and you can make a paste of these chillies and add it in when you are making a red Thai curry,” suggests Bhadouria. Typically green or red, this chilli is used in Southeast Asian cuisine as well and goes well when added to noodles, rice, meats and vegetables.
Cherry Red Peppers: These heart-shaped, 4X4 inch chillies are quite mild, almost not pungent. The flesh of this chilli is almost sweet, succulent and aromatic. “This is the season for these cherry red peppers and are best had fresh,” says chef Ajay Chopra.
Common uses: Chopra likens the cherry red peppers to the Bhavnagiri laal mirch, and has used this chilli to make smoothies, desserts (makes a delicious panacotta), salads, pickles and stir-fries.
Mathania: The ubiquitous, yet beautifully-shaped red chillies from Jodhpur are pungent, sharp and flavoursome. Chopra describes the after taste of this chilli “as a fun kick that swirls in your mouth, but doesn’t burn your gut.” This chilli is exported in large quantity to Arab countries and plays an important role in Rajasthani and Arab and Middle-Eastern cuisine.
Common uses: This is the chilli that is used to make the popular Laal Maas and other popular Marwari dishes. It is mostly sold as a dry spice and lends pungency, colour and body to a dish.
Aji Limo: Also called the Lemon Drop Pepper, this chilli is native to Peru and is usually yellow to orange coloured. Aji Limo peppers have a very floral and fruity aroma. They are sometimes sweet, and mildly hot. Beneath the spiciness, there are hints of citrus, adding an interesting flavour to your dishes.
Common uses: The spicy Aji Limo peppers are traditionally used in Latin American recipes and in salsas. The citrusy-spice pairs well with fish and other Peruvian dishes, like spicy chicken, marinated beef tenderloin or stews made of meat and vegetables.
Ghost Chilli: Also called Bhut Jolokia, this chilli is not for the faint-hearted. Native to the North-Eastern region of India, this chilli has often wrestled with other chillies to be in the top three among the hottest chillies in the world, hitting as high as one million Scoville heat units.
Common uses: This spicy chilli can be used fresh or in its dried form (always wear gloves when handling this chilli) in curries, pickles and chutneys. It lends well in meat preparations, especially with pork, beef and fish.
Cayenne Pepper: This hot pepper is usually red and is mostly used in the dried or powdered form. Its reported health benefits make this chilli useful in natural medicines. Usually measuring 1 to 6 inches, this chilli is about 10 times hotter than jalapeños.
Common uses: “The red colour of cayenne pepper as well as smoked paprika lends well to barbequed dishes. Whether it is any meat or vegetables, especially root veggies, this chilli is a good marinade,” Bhadouria enlightens us. Cayenne Pepper is also added to sauces, salads and pickles.
Kashmiri Red Chilli: This chilli is one of the most common, yet loved chillies of India. The Kashmiri red chilli is known more for its colour than its spice quotient. It is extremely mild and mostly used in its powdered form or as whole dried chillies.
Common uses: Both Chopra and Bhadouria admit to love this chilli as it lends perfectly to all Indian dishes and enhances their taste and leaks a robust red hue to the food. Bhadouria uses this chilli as a marinade for meats, while Chopra adds that this chilli is perfect for curries and gravies, like the Shahi gravies. The dried chillies can be used for tempering as well, for lentils, rice preparations, among other things.
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