What are the Different Types of Peppers?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Peppers can be split into two groups: sweet and hot. The second group may also be referred to as chiles or chili peppers. They are a New World food, first noted by Europeans during Columbus’ voyage to the West Indies. Peppers were also found in abundance across South America, Central America, and Mexico.

Chili peppers.
Chili peppers.

Of the sweet peppers, the bell pepper is most easily recognized. These may be green or red, and newer variants can be yellow or multi-colored. Pimentos are familiar to people as a stuffing for green olives. They can also be found in a pickled form. Banana and Cubanelle are somewhat less familiar to those in the US, though they grow well in the South and in the southern parts of California.

Dried cayenne peppers.
Dried cayenne peppers.

Hot peppers are generally classed by their degree of heat. In 1912, Wilbur Scoville created a rating system for the heat of peppers. Sweet varieties rate zero on the Scoville Heat Unit scale, while most hot ones rate in the thousands and top out at about 60,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Some are only slightly hot, while others are considered “5 alarm” peppers.

Christopher Columbus introduced chili peppers to Europe.
Christopher Columbus introduced chili peppers to Europe.

Mildly hot peppers include the Anaheim or Paprika, with about 1,000 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units. Also considered mild is the Poblano, with a 5,000 or less SHU rating. Both Anaheims and Poblanos are excellent in mild salsas. Another good choice is the Hot Cherry variety, which resembles a tomato more than the oblong shape associated with most hot peppers. Removing the seeds can reduce some of the heat, but much of the spicyness is in the white membrane that attaches the seeds to the inside.

Fajitas made with sweet peppers.
Fajitas made with sweet peppers.

Santa Fe Grandes can be mild to hot, depending upon whether the seeds are used. Their SHU rating varies from 5,000-60,000. Serranos exhibit the same range. Jalapeños have a similar rating, and fall in the medium heat class.

Hungarian wax peppers.
Hungarian wax peppers.

The hottest peppers are Asian and Habaneros. If one doesn’t like heat, these are a waste of time, as they are very hot and should be used sparingly. When peppers were first imported to Europe, they also were imported to Asia, where they became a popular addition to dishes.

A jalapeno pepper.
A jalapeno pepper.

In Chinese restaurants, it is quite common to find a number of dishes spiced with whole Asian peppers. Entrees such as Mongolian Beef and Kung Pao Chicken can pack quite a punch if one accidentally eats a whole one. Believe the menu when it claims a dish to be spicy, and beware the tiny Asian pepper.

Sweet red bell peppers.
Sweet red bell peppers.

In generally, the smaller the pepper, the more likely it is to be hot. Ornamental varieties tend to have high Scoville Heat Unit ratings. Poblanos are a good deal larger than their very hot cousins. They are frequently stuffed and served, as in Chile Rellenos.

A ripe jalapeno pepper becomes a chipotle pepper when smoked.
A ripe jalapeno pepper becomes a chipotle pepper when smoked.

All peppers are thought to have health benefits. They are high in vitamins C and A and are considered to have antioxidant properties. Care should be taken when handling and cutting hot ones, and wearing gloves is highly recommended. If one doesn’t wash the hands thoroughly after handling them, touching the eyes or face can lead to extreme skin and eye irritation.

Hot peppers are used to create spicy sauces and salsas.
Hot peppers are used to create spicy sauces and salsas.
Green olives are often stuffed with pimento.
Green olives are often stuffed with pimento.
Green peppers, also known as bell peppers, are available at most grocery stores.
Green peppers, also known as bell peppers, are available at most grocery stores.
Guajillo chiles are sometimes used to add heat and depth to salsas.
Guajillo chiles are sometimes used to add heat and depth to salsas.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

StraightLine

@sevenseas – Banana peppers and peperoncinis are actually different peppers. They look and taste somewhat similar, and are used for similar things such as sandwiches, but they are technically a different pepper. Banana peppers are often a brighter yellow, whereas pepporoncinis are usually a little dimmer looking.

Albona

There are peppers that rise above even 60,000 Scoville units. The Bhut Jolokia or “ghost pepper” to the west and found in northern India and rural Sri Lanka, is known as the hottest chili pepper in the world. In 2004, its Scoville rating was calculated to be well over 1,000,000 Scoville units!

To put this in perspective, Tobasco sauce rates at about a meager 5,000 Scoville units, and habaneros, which are often way too hot for most people, rate at maximum around 350,000 Scoville units. So, if you ever have the chance to taste one of these ghost peppers, do not even try it unless you have an extremely high tolerance for spicy foods or you will find yourself in an unpleasant place.

sevenseas

Mmmmm how about banana peppers which I think are just pepperocinis. They're pickled and are a great addition to a good sandwich!

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