There are so many types of peppers. Some are easy on the taste buds; others are a mild form of torture. So how hot can you go? Let’s find out with a few selected varieties listed below.
Types of peppers
While technically fruits in most cases (and ones with a strong summer season), peppers and chiles don’t exactly bring the sweet, juicy flavors you expect from berries in the summertime. Instead, they challenge our taste buds to live on the edge.
Peppers thrive in the summertime when they can soak up the heat and enjoy dry weather. They like to live in heat, produce heat, and bring the heat to our kitchens. Most plants will still produce into fall as well.
Bell peppers are sweet and they can be eaten raw with hummus (or other dips) or cooked into stir-fries. They’re available in red, green, orange, and yellow. Sometimes they’re dried and ground into paprika.
- 0 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
These are often roasted and blistered. Once charred and drizzled with oil or sauce, they make a great appetizer on their own. But beware, eating them is a gamble. It’s a mostly tame pepper, but there is usually one spicy shishito in the bunch. You just don’t know which one until you bite into it.
- 50 to 100 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Also a sweet pepper, they’re often used on deli sandwiches. They’re also good in salads (you’ll usually see them in antipasto at Italian joints) and on pizza. They have a little more tang to them than bell peppers.
- 0 to 500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Sweet Italian pepper (pepperoncini)
Often confused with banana peppers, the two look and taste very similar and can almost always be used interchangeably. Pepperoncinis just bring a little more tang. They aren’t spicy.
- 100 to 500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Also referred to as cherry peppers, they’re also a key ingredient in pimento cheese. A great candidate when stuffing peppers, as they not spicy and fall in second to the lowest tier of the Scoville scale.
- 100 to 500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
You’ll mostly see these canned or jarred at specialty grocery stores. They can be pureed for sauces or even stuffed with cheese, baked, and eaten as an hors d’oeuvre. They aren’t generally considered too spicy, comparable to an Anaheim or poblano pepper.
- 500 to 1,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Cuban pepper (or cubanelle pepper)
These are popular peppers to fry, but you can also use them instead of bell peppers in various dishes to add a different flavor. Still mild in heat, they’re considered sweet peppers.
- 1,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Ever hear of ancho chilis? That’s a dried poblano pepper. Poblano peppers have mild to medium heat, one step up from the banana peppers and pimentos. When fresh, roasting is a popular cooking method. They’re also the pepper of choice in chile relleno.
- 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
When you see canned green chiles, they’re likely Anaheim peppers. They’re lower on the heat scale than habaneros, more comparable to a poblano. But there is a hotter strain of the Anaheim pepper that originates in New Mexico: hatch chiles.
- 500 to 2,500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Also a favorite in mole sauce, pasilla peppers are the dried form of a type of pepper known as chilaca peppers. They have a mild heat that falls below jalapenos on the Scoville scale.
- 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Just a bump up from Anaheim and poblano peppers, jalapenos start to bring the heat. As one of the more common peppers to cook with, they go great in everything from chilis and soups to salads. A chipotle pepper is simply a smoked jalapeno pepper.
- 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Similar to jalapeno peppers, but a bit spicer, and sweeter. They are glossy, firm, and medium thickness in flesh. Great for Latin dishes like stews, soups, dips, or fire roasted.
- 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
These sweet peppers can range from very mild to hot. They have thick flesh, bright yellow in color, smooth texture, and shiny surface. They can be stuffed and cooked, roasted, seared on the grill, pickled, or chopped up raw for salads and crudites.
- 100 to 15,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Serrano peppers are hotter than jalapenos but not as hot as habaneros. Like jalapenos, they’re sometimes minced and used in salsa and guacamole.
- 8,000 to 22,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
The name sounds hot and exotic, but the guajillo pepper won’t burn your tongue off like some of the other peppers on this list. It’s more of a jalapeno hot but sweeter. It’s also one of the most common peppers to dry, and it’s famously used in mole sauce.
- 2,500 to 30,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Hotter than serranos, cayenne peppers can light your mouth on fire. In addition to red cayenne peppers you’re likely used to seeing, you can also find cayenne gold peppers, which are yellow.
- 35,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Almost as hot as a habanero, these peppers can be deceiving. They look a lot like bell peppers on the outside, but underneath the sweet skin is serious spice.
- 30,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
These spicy peppers fall somewhere between cayenne pepper and habanero pepper. The bird’s eye pepper is actually just one type of Thai pepper. Of course, used in Thai cuisine, cooks also rely on them to bring the heat to hot sauce, and they’re sometimes used in chili powders.
- 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
You can still consider these peppers above-average hot, but they’re in the edible territory and often used in African and Portuguese cuisine.
- 50,000 to 175,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Habaneros smoke jalapenos on the heat scale. Under the ghost pepper, they’re one of the hottest widely available peppers. Underneath all that heat, they have hints of sweetness.
- 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
A popular pepper used in Caribbean cuisine, scotch bonnets are most often compared to habaneros. So, they bring the heat — not a mild pepper by any mean. Eat with caution.
- 80,000 to 400,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Notable Super Hots
- Ghost pepper – Ghost peppers are not as lethal as the Carolina Reaper, but they’re comparable to the Komodo dragon pepper. Lose a bet and the punishment just might be eating a ghost pepper. 1,000,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
- Komodo Dragon – People often think ghost peppers are the hottest you can go, but Komodo dragon peppers are comparable. They taste sweet until their heat sets in (at which point you likely regret ever biting into it). 1,400,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
- Carolina Reaper – Even hotter than the Komodo dragon pepper, it’s almost the closest you can get to eating pepper spray. It’s not widely available. 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
- Dragon’s Breath – Arguably the hottest pepper there is, fact or hoax? It’s also one of the smallest peppers. They pack so much heat into about a half inch that they’re not commercially available at all and not recommended for eating. Please note, no official testing lab has backed up its claim to be 2,480,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
What is the Scoville heat unit scale for grading the heat of peppers?
The Scoville heat unit scale rates how spicy peppers and pepper-based products (like hot sauce and chili powders) are. It starts at zero units with the bell pepper and goes up to 16 million units, which is pure capsaicin. Most commercially available peppers don’t crack the 300,000 to 500,000 range, but a few of them are in the millions.
The exact nutrition of each type of pepper of course varies, but generally speaking, many are a great source of vitamin C. Many also provide a healthy amount of vitamin A. Capsaicin itself, the key element in peppers that makes them spicy, has been used medicinally for ages.
However, peppers are also part of the nightshade family which is associated with inflammation. Those with autoimmune conditions may be advised to avoid them.
How to use peppers in cooking
Peppers are used in everything from sauces and condiments to spices and powders. You’ll use these ingredients in dips, jellies, soups, chili, stews, stir-fries, salsa, and so much more. Some peppers are stuffed or charred and served as appetizers, while others are minced up so fine you might never know they’re there.
How are dried peppers used in cooking?
Dried peppers are ground up into powder form and turned into spices. You can buy whole, dried peppers as well which can add more heat and flavor to sauces, purees, and marinades than pre-ground spices offer.