Use this glossary to help identify chiles in recipes or to pick out what to try next!
Anaheim (C. annuum)
These light-green, rather flat-looking chiles will measure about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide, gradually tapering to a blunt end; they may have squared-off or sloping shoulders, depending on the variety. The mild to medium-hot flesh is medium-thick and juicy. The taste is rather bland but with considerably more flavor than a sweet, watery green pepper. It can be used as a mild substitute to the Oaxcan chile de agua.
Chilaca chile (C. annuum)
A long slim dark green chile, with an average size of 1 inch wide and 6 inches long. They are mostly used in central and northwestern Mexico – Jalisco, Baja California, Nayarit, and Michoacan. In other areas in Mexico are difficult to get, but are highly appreciated.
De Agua Chile (C. annuum)
A medium sized bright green chile usually measuring 1”wide and 4” long. It is grown and consumed exclusively in Oaxaca. Commonly charred, peeled, and served with lime juice and onions. Served as a garnish with the Oaxacan mole amarillo and the mole chichilo. You can substitute with Anaheim chiles although the flavor and heat is much milder than the chile de agua.
Chiltepín Chile (C. annuum)
These tiny green chiles are less than 2 centimeters in length. They are believed to be one of the oldest varieties of chiles in Mexico. Commonly consumed green in Veracruz, it is also consumed in its red, more mature form as well.
Dulce Chile (C. annuum)
Petite and bulbous mild bell pepper with an average size of 10 centimeters in length. Used in the cuisines of Campeche and the Yucatan.
Güero Chile (C. annuum)
Literally means “blonde.” There are many different types of güero chiles throughout Mexico, good substitutes in the USA are banana-Hungarian wax or caribe chiles in the American Southwest; with an average size of 4 to 5 inches in length and 1 ¼ inches wide. The medium-hot flesh is medium-thin and juicy. Tends to be spicy.
Habanero Chile (C. Chinese)
Is one of the hottest chiles in Mexico. Small in size, about 1 inch wide and 2 inches long, and shaped like a lantern. Ranges from yellow, light green, orange to red in color and has a smooth undulating surface. It is used fresh or toasted in the sauces of the Yucatan and Campeche; used fresh in x-ni-pec, meaning “nose of the dog”, a traditional Yucatecan/Mayan salsa.
Manzano Chile (C. pubescens)
Round red to yellow colored chiles with an intense heat that originated in the mountains of South America and Mexico. Manzanos are only found in mountainous regions, around 5,500 feet above sea level. They get their name from the apple due to their round shape. One of the things that sets this chile apart from its annum cousins are its black seeds.
Poblano Chile (C. annuum)
Large, dark green chiles with wide shoulders. Average size is about 3 inches wide and 5 inches long, tapering gradually to a point. The mild to medium-hot flesh is medium-thick and not juicy, with a rich and complex taste when roasted and peeled. This chile is never eaten raw and is charred or fried to remove its skin, which is high in cellulose and difficult to digest. Commonly served as rajas or as the base of a chile relleno.
Jalapeño Chile (C. annuum)
The medium green jalapeño gets its name from the Veracruz city of Xalapa. Average size is about 3 inches long and 1 ½ inches wide, tapering gradually to a blunt point. Jalapeños are commonly pickled in escabeche and used both raw and cooked. Several dried chiles are produced from the varying stages of jalapeño maturity and size.
Serrano Chile (C. annuum)
The small, narrow green chile gets its name from the word “sierra,” meaning from the mountains. Average size is about 2 ½ inches long and ½ inch wide eventually coming to a blunt point. Depending on where the Serrano chile is grown, it can be hotter than the jalapeño and are consumed raw or cooked.
Tuxta Chile (C. annuum)
Regional chile found in the Oaxaca. This small chile, about 2 ½ inches long by ¼ inches wide is very hot and is sold both in its red and green from.
X-ca-tik Chile (C. annuum)
A mild chile commonly used in Mayan cooking and comes from the Mayan word meaning “blond.” An average size is about 4 ½ inches long and ¾ inch wide. In Yucatecan cooking x-ca-tik chiles are used for chiles rellenos and roasted with meats. Substitute a banana wax chile.
Ancho refers to the wide shoulders of the dried poblano. Average size is about 4-5 inches long and 3 inches wide, with broad shoulders that taper to a point. The skin will be quite wrinkled, and in the package the chiles will look almost black though holding one up to the light will show it to be a very dark burgundy. Always look for untorn, soft, aromatic chiles. A puree of soaked chiles anchos will be brownish red with a mild, rich, almost sweet taste and a bit of residual bitterness.
de Árbol Chile
When you can find chile de árbol in a fresh state, they generally go by that same name, but are more common to find in its dried stage. This vibrant, orange-red dried chile is usually slightly curved and measures about 3 inches long and ½ inch wide, tapering to a sharp point. The skin is smooth, rather brittle and translucent. A puree of soaked chiles de árbol is a beautiful burnt orange with a very hot, sharp, dried-chile flavor. Regional names for this chile include: parado and palillo (San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas), cambray (Monterrey), and pico de pájaro (northern west coast).
The chile cascabel, as its name denotes, sounds like a rattle as you shake it. It is a small, round chile with a brownish-red, smooth skin. A cascabel chile measures about 1 inch in diameter. It has a very pleasant nutty flavor when dry roasted and ground for salsas.
Comes from the Nahuatl word, “chilcoztli,” meaning yellow chile. Average size is about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide. One of the principal ingredients in the Oaxacan mole Amarillo, this earthy and spicy chile has a smooth skin like a guajillo. The chilcostle comes from the famed chile area of Cuicatlán, about a three-hour drive from Oaxaca City. The chilcostle is becoming increasingly hard to find due to the relatively small number of growers who still produce the chiles and the correspondingly high price the chilcostles fetch in the market. Some people substitute guajillo chiles for chilcostles but the flavor is very different. Check online chile sources for availability.
Chilhuacle Negro, Amarillo and Rojo Chiles
These chiles are mostly consumed in their dried state and are only produced in Cuicatlán, Oaxaca. The chiles are all shaped liked fat stunted triangles with smooth skin and average about 3 inches in width by 2 inches in length. All three varieties are very spicy and have complex flavors that are truly unique in Oaxacan cuisine. The chilhuacle chiles have traditionally played a large role in the regional moles of Oaxaca. Limited supply and high prices are forcing many people to substitute blackened guajillo chiles for chilhuacle negro. Check online chile sources for availability.
Chipotle/ Chipocle Chile
“Chipotle” comes from the Nahuatl word for “smoked chile” which implies this chile was indeed smoked and consumed in pre-Columbian times. Jalapeños are left to ripen on the plant, picked and then smoked. Chipotles are also designated in their first, second, or third picking as chipotles mecos, moras and moritas. Chipotles should be pliable, not rock hard. A puree of soaked chiles chipotles will be dark brown, with heat that comes on like a freight train and a flavor that is the essence of sweet smoke. The smaller, reddish chipotles (called moras in much of the rest of Mexico) are sweet and smoky; the chipotle meco it is more astringent, and they have a stronger dried-chile flavor. Canned Chipotles very popular in Mexico as in the US.
See New Mexico/California Chile. Typically consumed in the North of Mexico.
Small regional chile, slightly larger than a chile piquín that is eaten in Veracruz.
Costeño Amarillo Chile
Small to medium size chile produced in the Jamiltepec Costa Chica of Oaxaca and the south coastal regions of Guerrero. Average size is about 3 ½ inches long by ½ inch wide with a very thin, almost transparent skin. This chile is very spicy and must be used conservatively. The costeño amarillo gives the mole amarillo its characteristic piquancy. Check online chile sources for availability.
Burgundy-colored dried chile comes in a range of sizes (depending on the exact variety), but an average one is 4 1/2 inches long and 2-inches wide. The skin is smooth and translucent. Always look for unbroken guajillos that are not too brittle and that don’t have any light-colored patches (which indicate that moth larvae have eaten away the flesh). A puree of soaked chiles guajillos will be an earthy, bright red with a medium-hot, non-sweet, strong, uncomplicated dried-chile flavor, a little tartness.
A type of Poblano chile grown in Miahuatlán Puebla that is spicier and darker than a regular poblano chile. Approximately 4-5 inches long ad 3 inches wide and dark reddish brown. Can substitute a mulato chile although the flavor profiles are distinct.
Small and smoky chile produced from the second picking of the ripened jalapeño chiles.
Smaller than the moras as they are typically the third picking of jalapeño chiles or second picking of Serrano chiles.
A mulato (literally “dark-skinned”) looks almost identical to an ancho chile, except when held up to the light, where the mulato is clearly darker. Though when fresh/green, this chile looks like a dark poblano chile. The mulato chile is less sweet than an ancho chile and has a distinct tobacco taste. A puree of soaked mulato chiles will be brown/black with a very full, rounded, medium-hot, non-sweet taste that is much less astringent than that of a pasilla chile or an ancho chile. Please note that the chile ancho is not a substitute for a chile mulato.
Typically a chile poblano or chilaca that has been charred, peeled and dried whole. It is very spicy with a complex flavor profile. Average size is about 2 ¼ inches by 1 ½ inches. This chile is a specialty from Chihuahua
Pasilla Oaxaqueño Chile
The pasilla de Oaxaca chile is a regional chile used only in the cooking of Oaxaca comes from the Mixe area in the Sierra Norte region of Oaxaca. It is smoked and dried with encino wood and has a smokiness and heat unlike any other chile. An average chile is about 3 ½ inches long and 1 ¼ inches wide with shiny skin that varies from mulberry to wine red. The pasilla de Oaxaca chile has a more complex flavor than the chipotle.
Pasilla is the name for a dried chilaca chile and means “dried like a raisin.” The long, evenly wide, blunt dried chile will range from 4 to 6 inches in length and 1 to 1 1/2 inches in width; the skin is wrinkled like that of an ancho, and the color (both in the package and held up to the light) will be more or less black with dark green tones. An average pasilla weighs 1/3 ounce. Choose them as you would anchos. A puree of soaked chiles pasillas will be brown-black with reddish overtones, and it will be medium-hot to hot and have great depth and complexity of flavor that goes on and on – not at all sweet, and quite astringent. Pasillas yield a fair amount of pulp per ounce. Regional names include: negro chile (Michoacan and vicinity, plus California) and, pasilla negro chile or pasilla mexicano chile.
Chile piquín is a small hot chile. Triangular, round or cylindrical in shape, they are generally ground dry and used as a condiment because of their intense heat. Usually no more than ½ inch long and ¼ inch wide- the round ones are about ¼ inch in diameter - they have shiny skins that range from orangey to deep red in color. Commonly toasted and ground with salt and is used as a condiment for fresh fruit and vegetables.
New Mexico/ California Chile
Some variety of this chile is available through most of West-Central and Northern Mexico under various names. In its fresh state the chile is similar to or the same as what we call a long green chile in the United States (simply chile verde in Mexico). This burgundy-colored dried chile is usually 6 inches long and 2 inches wide, slowly tapering to a blunt end; the skin is smooth; less wrinkled than a guajillo but otherwise resembles it. A puree of soaked New Mexico/California chiles will be an earthy, bright red with a bland, uncomplicated red-chile flavor. Most of those sold in Mexico are completely mild, though in New Mexico some like the Chimayo variety can be hot.
This is a generic name for a variety of different chiles. But it also has some regional definitions, such as Seco chile in Veracruz is a dried not smoked jalapeño chile. In Yucatan is a special chile yellow orange in color almost translucent that has a thick skin and is very spicy, normally ground and used as condiment and is hard to get it outside the peninsula.