Chillin with the Chilis

By:Epicurious EmQUOTE:  “Habaneros have a great fruity flavor, but the challenge is that you have to deflect the heat in order to taste the flavor.  If you don’t, you’re dead.  They should really have a warning sign on them:  DEFLECT THE HABANEROS HEAT BY PAIRING THEM WITH ICE CREAM.”  --Bobby Flay

The definition of “chili or chile or chilli” is a pungent pepper related to the tomato.  Chili peppers have become a staple in most of our kitchens, and Panama has an abundance and nice variety.  The heat level of a chili is measured in Scoville units on a scale where 0 is the level of a sweet pepper and 300,000 is the hottest chili.  For purposes of this article, we are going to use a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hottest.

The following are some commonly found fresh chili peppers:
Poblano – 3 heat level.  Like most peppers, poblanos are green, then ripen to a dark red.  Poblanos are especially good for chili rellenos.  They can also be cut into strips and used as a garnish or mixed with rice or vegetables.  Anaheims (or unnamed long green peppers) can be substituted for poblanos.

Jalapeno – 6 heat level. Named after the capital of Vera Cruz in Mexico, this is one of the more common peppers.  Jalapenos are sold at all stages of ripeness, so you are likely to find red and green.

Serrano – 8 heat level.  Serranos are small with a pointed tip, used in cooked dishes, guacamole, and salsas.

Fresno – 8 heat level.  Rather long, like sweet peppers, they have a hot, sweet flavor and can be used in salsas and with meat, fish and vegetable dishes.

Habanero – 10 heat scale.  A.K.A, Scotch Bonnet, this is the Grand Daddy of them all, a chili so hot that when it is pureed, even the fumes can scorch your nose.

Chili peppers were originally sun dried, but today are more likely to be dried in ovens.  Drying deepens the flavor to a rich smokiness, and the name of the chili may even change.

California – 0-1 heat level.  We know them as Anaheims.  These peppers are smooth and mellow, with fruity tones.

Arbol – 1 heat level.  Small, thin peppers can replace cayenne or pequin peppers in recipes.

Japones – 1 heat level.  A.K.A. Oriental or Chinese chilis.  Very versatile and widely used in Indian, Korean, and Asian cuisines.

New Mexico – 1-3 heat level.  These peppers are from the Hatch, New Mexico area, the chili pepper capital of the world.  They have an intense flavor with earthy tones.

Ancho – 3 heat level.  This is actually a dried red poblano with a fruity, slightly sharp flavor.

Guajillo – 3 heat level.  Another popular dried pepper used in sauces or stews.

Cascabel – 4 heat level.  The name means “little rattle” and refers to the noise that the seeds make inside the chili.  This pepper has a chocolate brown skin, which remains dark, even after soaking.

Chipotle – 6 heat level.  These are smoked jalapenos adding a wonderfully rich smoky flavor to all sorts of dishes, from barbecue sauces to chicken.

TIP:  Rey, Riba, Machetazo, and Super 99 usually have the following dried chilis available:   Arbol, Chipotle, New Mexico, Japones, and California.  Try Foodies in Panama City for fresh Serrano, Thai and other hard-to-find varieties.

Epicurious Em welcomes your comments and suggestions.  The information in this article provides basic information only.  It is always good to do your own research for what is best for your dietary and cooking needs.  Feel free to e-mail me at