Red Hot Chili Peppers are more than just a band, they’re a vegetable. While we’re talking about red hot chili peppers, we might as well discuss the 50,000 other kinds of peppers. Besides a vast array of colors and shapes, there’s another reward from peppers: They’re delicious. Let’s narrow it down to a few of our farmers market favorites. Sweet bell peppers go well with nearly anything and everything. They also taste great on their own. Hot pepper varieties spice up many recipes. Some peppers add color and flavor. For example, pimiento pepper in stuffed olives or deviled eggs with paprika dusted on top. (Paprika is made from dried peppers.) Stuffed peppers, pickled peppers, fried peppers — with so many varieties, they fit in deliciously everywhere.

History of Peppers

Prehistoric remains in Peru show where peppers may have first existed. They were cultivated in Central and South America in early times. Columbus brought them to Europe in 1493, and they were quickly adopted and cultivated. Up til then, the Europeans only knew the black-and-white spice we sprinkle out of pepper shakers. It was the Europeans that gave peppers their name. When Columbus brought dried peppers back from the West Indies, Europeans said the fruit was “hotter than the pepper of the Caucasus,” the familiar table spice. The name “pepper” stuck, and we’ve used it ever since.

Despite sharing the same name, table pepper and the sweet and hot peppers we grow are not related. Table pepper is ground from the seeds of a plant called Piper nigrum. Meanwhile, most garden peppers are from the Capsicum annuum family. This group accounts for most of the varieties grown in the United States. Exceptions include the Tabasco and Habanero peppers, which are separate species.

Peppers, the plentiful

With more than 50,000 peppers ranging, we can only cover a few of them. One of the easiest ways to categorize peppers is by thinking of their capsaicin level. Capsaicin is what gives peppers their heat. It ranges from mild to spicy.

For this, we’ll use the Scoville heat unit scale. Created by an American pharmacist, Wilbur Scoville, the Scoville scale measures the pungency of peppers based on the concentration of capsaicinoids, among which capsaicin is the main component.

Some like it Mild…

Bell Peppers

  • Mild and sweet, Scoville unit of 0
  • Colors range from yellow, orange, green and purple
  • Can be eaten raw with dips, roasted and marinated or stir fried — It’s an all-purpose pepper
  • Dry it to make paprika
  • Jimmy Nardello Papper (red), Chocolate Bell Pepper and Corno di Toro Pepper are some favorites

Shishito Peppers

  • Generally mild, but 1 in 20 are spicy, so they range from 0 to 100 Scoville units
  • Light green and similar in size to your finger
  • Great blistered and tossed with flaky sea salt and lemon zest
  • Check out this Blistered Shishito Escabeche recipe  to preserve these summer delights

Piquillo Peppers

  • Mild, ranging from 500 to 1,000 Scoville units
  • Piquillo means “little beak”
  • Often sold in cans or jars
  • They are smoked over Spanish oak
  • Great pureed into sauces or cooked with onions for a savory omelette

Cuban Peppers

  • Mild at 1,000 Scoville units
  • Green color
  • Great substitute for a bell pepper
  • Often called “Cubanelle pepper”

Poblano Peppers

  • Mild to medium, 1,500 Scoville units
  • Dark green color
  • The darker the color, the spicier they are
  • Wonderful when roasted and mixed in with Mexican dishes
  • The classic pepper in chili rellenos
  • The dried version is known as Ancho chili, best described as a smoky, dry and spicy raisin flavor

Some like it Medium…

Pasilla Peppers

  • Medium heat, 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville units
  • Dried pepper from the Chilaca pepper
  • A staple ingredient in classic mole recipes
  • Brings sweet heat to the table along with the subtle hint of dried fruits

Piment dEspellete Peppers

  • Mild to medium, 4,000 Scoville units
  • A dried red-pepper powder from the Basque region in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques
  • Great sprinkled on fish, meat, poultry
  • A great substitute for black pepper

Jalapeno Peppers

  • Medium heat, 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units. Now we’re getting spicy!
  • Green or red in color
  • Great for adding perk to pico de gallo. Also perfect for stuffed and fried peppers
  • Morita is the dried version of jalapeño
  • Chipotle is the smoked and dried version of jalapeño

Urfa Biber Peppers

  • Mild to medium heat, 7,500 Scoville units
  • Taste is smoky and chocolatey, with a sweet raisin note
  • Sun-drying them tames the spiciness and plays up the fruity taste
  • Popular in Turkish cuisine
  • Biber is Turkish for pepper, Urfa is the region of Turkey where this pepper hails from
  • Pairs well with eggplant and lamb

Aleppo Peppers

  • Mild to medium, 10,000 Scoville units
  • Sun drying them tampers the spiciness and plays up the fruity taste
  • Brings together the flavor of sun-dried tomato meets pomegranate, with a complimentary saltiness
  • Popular in Syrian cuisine
  • Great substitute for crushed red pepper flakes

Fresno Peppers

  • Medium heat, 2,500-10,000 Scoville units
  • Similar to the size and shape of jalapeño, but they are red and a little sweeter
  • Love them pickled, in stews, or as a jalapeño substitute to add color

Serrano Peppers

  • Medium heat to hot, 8,000 to 22,000 Scoville units
  • Similar in shape to jalapeño, just smaller and thinner
  • Use them instead of jalapeño when you want to bring a bit more heat

Guajillo Peppers

  • Medium to hot, 2,500 to 30,000 Scoville units
  • A type of dried pepper with a deep red color
  • Drying them keeps the heat at bay and allows for a roundness in chili flavor
  • One of the best peppers for mole sauce

Some like it Hot…

Cayenne Peppers

  • Spicy, 35,000 to 50,000 Scoville units
  • A red chili powder
  • Use with caution in Cajun cuisine — a little goes a long way instead of hot sauce

Bird’s Eye Chili Peppers

  • Spicy, 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville units
  • Tiny red chilis the size of your fingertip
  • Packs a punch in Thai Cuisine or hot sauces

Habaneros Peppers and Scotch Bonnets Peppers

  • Spicy, 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units
  • Habaneros are used to spice up Mexican cuisine
  • Scotch Bonnets bring the heat to Caribbean dishes like Jamaican escabeche fish

Some like it Hot, Hot, Hot…

Ghost Pepper

  • Very spicy, 1 million Scoville units
  • Mainly used if you lose a bet, or if you’re an adrenaline junky
  • Makes a really spicy hot sauce

Carolina Reaper Peppers

  • Arguably the hottest pepper in the world at 2 million Scoville units
  • Eat at your own risk, have a glass of milk next to you
  • Used to make a super spicy hot sauce

What to look for when buying peppers

Look for peppers that are firm and heavy for their size. The color should be vibrant. Avoid peppers with shriveled or soft spots. That usually means spoilage or mishandling has occurred. The stems should look fresh, not shriveled or dry. Dried peppers should smell fragrant when rubbed with your fingers. This indicates the essential oils are still fresh. Spice powders should be bright with color, never dull.

Storing peppers

You can store peppers in a plastic bag for up to a week. Wash them only before use, and do not wash before you store them. This decreases humidity and prevents rotting. Store cut peppers in an airtight container for one to two days.