23 Mexican Chiles You’re Definitely Going to Want to Eat (and Grow!)

Chili peppers (chiles) are the heart of many dishes in Mexican cuisine. From varieties of fresh and dried peppers, heat levels, and the famed “Holy Trinity,” these peppers create delicious, authentic recipes. Here’s my guide to 23 Mexican chiles — we’ll cover flavor, how to use these peppers, and even growing tips.

Mexican chiles in a molcajete
Mexican Chiles

Let’s start with a brief history, then get into chile varieties, going from mild to spicy. 

About Mexican Chiles

Aztec food crops including Mexican chiles
Aztec Foods

We have evidence of humans using chiles dating back to 7500 B.C. [source]. Historically beloved in Maya, Inca, and Aztec civilizations, Mexican chile peppers have been used in cuisine, medicinal, ritualistic, and ceremonial purposes.

With Mexican chiles, there’s a whole world of fresh vs dried peppers ranging in colors, flavors, and heat levels. These fresh and dried chiles have their own distinct name and taste.

mexican chiles scoville

Chiles rank by their heat level on the Scoville scale. Peppers like chile Ancho are mild at 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), chile Guajillo is medium at 2,500 to 5,000 SHU, and the Habanero pepper is hot at up to 325,000 SHU.

Mild Mexican Peppers

» Quick Jumps: Anaheim Pepper | Ancho Chile | Cascabel Pepper | Chilaca Pepper | Chile Costeño Amarillo | Chilhuacle Negro | Pasilla Chile | Poblano Chile

Anaheim Pepper

Anaheim peppers on white background
Anaheim Peppers

The Anaheim pepper is a mild chile at 500 to 2,500 SHU. These chiles are typically eaten in the green stage when they offer a little heat with a slightly sweet and peppery flavor.

Anaheim peppers are commonly used for chile rellenos (fried stuffed peppers). You can use them in salsa verde for a mild green salsa. I enjoy using Anaheims as a substitute for Bell peppers because they do have a tiny bit of heat!

» Pepper: Anaheim pepper
» Flavor: mild heat with a slightly sweet and peppery flavor
» Uses: chile rellenos, salsa verde, soups, Bell pepper substitute

anaheim pepper names

Anaheim peppers — known by several names — were introduced to Anaheim, California in the late 1800s when Emilio Ortega brought them from New Mexico. Besides the name “Anaheim” from the city where they gained popularity, these peppers are called “New Mexico chiles,” “Hatch Chili Peppers,” “California red chiles,” and “chili Colorado.” In their dried form, Anaheim peppers are Chile Seco del Norte.

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Ancho Chile

ancho peppers on a plate

Chile Ancho, or simply Anchos, are the dried version of Poblano peppers — a staple in Mexican cooking. They are a key ingredient in many recipes, like marinades, sauces, soups, and seasonings. (I use them like fajita peppers by cutting them into strips and cooking them in a pan.) The Ancho’s dark color and chocolatey flavor make it essential in traditional mole Poblano sauce.

You’ll find Ancho chiles in both whole and ground forms with a mild heat level of 1,000 to 2,000 SHU.

» Pepper: Ancho chile
» Flavor: mild, earthy, somewhat chocolate flavor with a bit of sweetness
» Uses: mole Poblano, marinades, seasonings, soups, sauces
» Buy: Ancho chiles on Amazon

chile ancho in english

The Ancho chile, known for its heart-shaped appearance and measuring about 2.5 inches in width, is a large chile pepper. This size characteristic is reflected in its name, “Ancho,” which is the Spanish word for “wide.”

Cascabel Pepper

Cascabel pepper growing on plant
Growing Cascabel Peppers

The Cascabel pepper (chile Cascabel), a small, round, brownish-red pepper, is known for the rattling sound the dried pods make, similar to a rattle. In fact, “cascabel” means “rattle” in Spanish — these chiles are sometimes called rattle peppers. In its fresh form, this pepper is chile Bola, translating to “ball chile.”

You can use Cascabel peppers in enchiladas, tamales, sauces, and Cascabel salsa. Their 1,000 to 2,500 SHU makes them mild enough for most people.

» Pepper: Cascabel pepper
» Flavor: slightly nutty, smoky, and earthy
» Uses: Cascabel salsa, enchiladas, tamales, sauces
» Buy: Cascabel peppers on Amazon

(I love growing Cascabel peppers! This variety produces a lot of pods per plant, and they have a thin skin that’s easy to dehydrate.)

» Related: How to Rehydrate Dried Peppers in 5 Easy Steps

Chilaca Pepper

chilaca peppers
Chilaca Peppers

The Chilaca pepper, known for its slightly wrinkled brownish-black skin, goes by several other names including Pasilla Bajio, Prieto, chile Negro, and Cuernillo. While the fresh version of this pepper is rarely used, its dried form, known as the Pasilla pepper, is a popular choice for making mole sauce.

As for heat, the Chilaca pepper is somewhat mild, ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 SHU. These peppers are ideal for recipes like sauces, stews, condiments, and rajas (pepper strips).

» Pepper: Chilaca pepper
» Flavor: somewhat floral and slightly sweet
» Uses: mole, sauces, stews, rajas, condiments

Chile Costeño Amarillo

The Amarillo (yellow) chile Costeño pepper is the less hot version of the red Chile Costeño Rojo at 1,500 to 2,500 SHU. Chile Costeño Amarillo is known for its vibrant color, moderate heat, and distinctive citrus flavor.

You can use the Chile Costeño Amarillo in Oaxaca-style yellow mole sauces, as well as mild salsas and pastes.

» Pepper: Chile Costeño Amarillo
» Flavor: citrusy and somewhat nutty
» Uses: yellow mole sauce, salsas, pastes, seasoning powders

chile costeño in english

Chile Costeño, translating to “coastal Chile” in English, is a pepper found in the coastal regions of Oaxaca and Guerrero. 

Chilhuacle Negro

Chilhuacle Negro pepper growing on plant
(Attribution: d_bob, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Chilhuacle Negro is another Oaxacan pepper at 1,200 to 2,000 SHU. They were loved as far back as the Aztecs, and “chilhuacle” even means “ancient.” These peppers start green and turn dark brown when mature and dried.

You’ll enjoy Chilhuacle Negro peppers for their sweet and smoky flavor. I know from experience that this is another pepper that tastes wonderful in mole negro. The fresh variety can be used in chile caldo and chile relleno dishes.

» Pepper: Chilhuacle Negro
» Flavor: sweet and smoky
» Uses: mole negro and chichilo, chile caldo, chile relleno
» Buy: Chilhuacle Negro on Etsy

Pasilla Chile

Chile Pasilla
Pasilla Chile Peppers

Remember the Chilaca pepper? The Pasilla chile is the dried version of chile Negro, and it’s used much more commonly in recipes for sauces, moles, and salsas. 

The taste is similar to Ancho chiles, with slightly less sweetness and a mild heat at 500 to 2,500 SHU. Pasillas are often mislabeled as Anchos in the US, but they are longer and thinner with a more fruity and smoky flavor.

» Pepper: Pasilla chile
» Flavor: fruity, smoky, earthy
» Uses: moles, sauces, salsas
» Buy: Pasilla chile on Amazon

Poblano Chile

Poblano pepper
Poblano Pepper

The Poblano pepper — the fresh version of the Ancho — is another mild Mexican chile at 1,000 to 2,000 SHU. Its name, Poblano, comes from the Mexican state of Puebla, where it’s said to originate.

Fresh Poblano peppers are dark green and can be used in mole Poblano, stuffed pepper recipes, sauces, dips, and soups. I like cutting this chile into strips for a raw snack or throwing these pepper strips into a pan to use in fajitas.

» Pepper: Poblano chile
» Flavor: vegetal (like green Bell pepper), some heat
» Uses: Chiles en Nogada, mole Poblano, chile relleno, sauces, dips, soups

Medium Hot Mexican Peppers

» Quick Jumps: Chilhuacle Amarillo | Chilhuacle Rojo | Chipotle Pepper | Guajillo Pepper | Jalapeno Pepper | Mirasol Pepper | Morita Chile | Mulato Pepper | Pasilla de Oaxaca | Puya Chile

Chilhuacle Amarillo

chilhuacle amarillo peppers
Chilhuacle Amarillo Peppers

The Chilhuacle Amarillo ranks higher in heat at ~5,000 SHU than the previously mentioned Chilhaucle Negro. Similar to the Jalapeno Scoville and flavor, Chilhuacle Amarillo peppers have a sweet, citrus-like taste with a slight smokiness.

As the name implies, Chilhuacle Amarillo chiles are a golden yellow once they reach maturity. And like the Negro (brown) and Rojo (red) varieties, dried “ancient” Chilhuacle Amarillo peppers are rare and a big part of Oaxacan cooking.

» Pepper: Chilhuacle Amarillo
» Flavor: sweet, citrusy, slight smokiness
» Uses: Oaxacan cuisine, mole amarillo, chile powder
» Buy: Chilhuacle Amarillo on Etsy

Chilhuacle Rojo

The third and final iteration of the Chilhuacle pepper is the Chilhuacle Rojo. This red pepper is medium hot, similar to the Amarillo, at about 4,000 to 6,000 SHU.

The flavor of a Chilhuacle Rojo chili can be described as earthy, with hints of dry cherries and anise. This pepper is another that’s central to the flavor of Oaxacan cooking, especially in moles.

» Pepper: Chilhuacle Rojo
» Flavor: earthy, hints of dry cherries and anise
» Uses: Oaxacan cuisine, mole rojo, manchamanteles
» Buy: Chilhuacle Rojo on Etsy

Chipotle Pepper

Chipotle peppers on white background
Chipotle Peppers (Meco)

The Chipotle pepper, a smoked and dried mature Jalapeno, has a unique smoky flavor with a blend of sweet and bitter notes. (You might have had them in adobo sauce.) The heat of this pepper ranges between 2,500 to 10,000 SHU

Chipotle peppers come in two main varieties: Chipotle Meco (aka Chile Meco or chile Ahumado) and Chipotle Morita. The latter is commonly found in the United States, whereas Chile Meco is the preferred Chipotle variety in Mexico.

Chipotle peppers have a shriveled appearance and are smoked to a muted brown color. Besides adobo sauce, Chipotle peppers are used in braises, glazes, Chipotle salsa, and marinades. I use Chipotle in chilis, soups, and condiments.

» Pepper: Chipotle pepper
» Flavor: smoky flavor with sweet and bitter notes
» Uses: adobo sauce, Chipotle salsa, braises, glazes, marinades, chilis
» Buy: Chipotle Meco on Amazon

chipotle name meaning

The Chipotle name originates from the Aztec language Nahuatl and translates to “smoked pepper.”

Guajillo Pepper

Guajillo chili peppers
Guajillo Chili Peppers

Guajillo peppers — a staple in Mexican cooking — are the dried form of Mirasol peppers, with a heat rating of 2,500 to 5,000 SHU

These peppers are characterized by their ruddy brown color and leathery skin, which is shiny and pliable when fresh. Popular recipes featuring Guajillos include Guajillo sauce, Guajillo salsa, Mexican pork stew, or my personal favorite, barbacoa.

» Pepper: Guajillo pepper
» Flavor: sweet heat, berry-like, light smokiness 
» Uses: Guajillo pork stew, sauces, salsas, barbacoa, powders
» Buy: Guajillo peppers on Amazon

guajillo pepper names

Guajillo peppers are also known as Chile Guaco and Chile Cascabel Ancho. The name ‘Guajillo’ is derived from Guadalajara, where these chiles are from.

Jalapeno Pepper

Jalapeno plant
Growing Jalapeno Peppers

Jalapenos are America’s favorite medium-hot chile pepper. Common Jalapeno types rank at 2,500 to 8,000 SHU.

You can eat Jalapenos in the green or red stages and use them in many ways, including main dishes, condiments, and even spicy cocktails. Green Jalapenos have a more vegetal taste, while mature red Jalapenos are slightly sweeter and spicier.

» Pepper: Jalapeno pepper
» Flavor: vegetal, earthy, slightly fruity
» Uses: salsas, stuffed Jalapenos, escabeche (pickled veggies)

jalapeno pepper origin

The Jalapeno pepper originates from Xalapa, the capital city of Veracruz, Mexico, which is also the source of the pepper’s name.

(If you grow Jalapenos, I recommend the Mucho Nacho or Zapotec varieties for their size, flavor, and production!)

Mirasol Pepper

Mirasol peppers group include chile Puya
Growing Mirasol Peppers

The Mirasol pepper — the fresh version of the dried Guajillo pepper — has a somewhat fruity flavor and a moderate heat level, ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 SHU. Like many other Mexican chiles, Mirasol peppers are ideal for salsas and seasonings, and I find they go well with poultry and fish dishes.

Mirasol chiles have a name that means “looking at the sun” in Spanish, which makes sense because they grow upwards, unlike other chiles. You might also hear them called Travieso chile or chile Trompa.

» Pepper: Mirasol pepper
» Flavor: somewhat fruity with moderate heat
» Uses: salsas, seasonings, moles, fish and poultry dishes

Morita Chile

Morita chile peppers on white background
Morita Chile Peppers

The Morita chile (aka Morita Chipotle chile) is another fresh counterpart of the Jalapeno pepper. Like Chipotle Meco, the heat ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 SHU.

When it comes to Chile Morita vs Chipotle, a key difference is smoking time: Chipotle Meco peppers are smoked longer until they turn brown, resulting in a deeper flavor, while Morita Chipotle peppers are softer, a deep purple-red, and have a less intense, fruity flavor. Chipotle Morita is also easier to find in the US.

» Pepper: Morita chile
» Flavor: smoky, fruity flavor
» Uses: adobo sauce, Chipotle salsa, braises, glazes, marinades, chilis
» Buy: Chipotle Morita on Amazon

chile morita in english

“Morita” is a Spanish word that means “little blackberry” in English. This word perfectly describes the reddish-purple color of Chile Morita after being smoked.

Mulato Pepper

Mulato pepper on white background
Mulato Pepper

Mulato peppers, relatives of the Ancho pepper, also come from Poblanos. The key difference is in the ripening: Poblanos for Anchos are picked when deep red, while those harvested for Mulato chiles mature further to a dark brown, resulting in a slightly hotter flavor at 2,500 to 3,000 SHU

You can expect to taste chocolate, cherry, and tobacco flavors in Mulato chiles, which appear black and wrinkled when purchased whole. But like so many of the tasty peppers on this list, they are often ground into powder for mole Poblano, sauces, and more.

» Pepper: Mulato pepper
» Flavor: chocolate, cherry, and tobacco notes
» Uses: mole Poblano, chile sauces, powders, marinades, seasonings, soups
» Buy: Mulato pepper on Amazon

Pasilla de Oaxaca

Pasilla de Oaxaca peppers
Pasilla de Oaxaca Peppers

Pasilla de Oaxaca, also known as Pasilla Mixe or Oaxacan Pasilla, are smoked Pasilla chiles from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Ranking at 4,000 to 10,000 SHU, they are hotter than the traditional Pasilla pepper (chile Negro).

Pasilla Oaxaca is also redder than the more common Pasilla pepper and known for its rich, smoky flavor. It’s typically used in salsas, chile con queso, bean dishes, moles, and sauces, and it goes well with pork.

» Pepper: Pasilla de Oaxaca
» Flavor: rich smokiness with notes of fruit and tobacco
» Uses: salsas, chile con queso, bean dishes, moles, sauces
» Buy: Pasilla de Oaxaca on Amazon

Puya Chile

Chile Puya peppers

Puya peppers (aka chile Pulla) have a heat rating of 5,000 to 8,000 SHU. It’s easy to confuse the Puya chile with Guajillo peppers, but Puyas are smaller and hotter, and can even be a substitute for Guajillos in recipes.

Like other Mexican chili peppers, Puya chiles taste fruity (like cherries) but with a hint of licorice. These peppers are commonly used in whole meat dishes, like pork and beef, and ground into paste to marinate meats.

» Pepper: Puya chile
» Flavor: fruity with a hint of licorice
» Uses: salsas, sauces, marinades, meat dishes
» Buy: Puya chiles on Amazon

Hot Mexican Peppers

» Quick Jumps: Chile Costeño Rojo | Chile de Arból | Habanero Pepper | Pequín Pepper | Serrano Pepper

Chile Costeño Rojo

Chile Costeno Rojo Peppers
Costeño Rojo Peppers

The Chile Costeño Rojo — related to the Guajillo pepper — is a spicy red cousin to the mild yellow Chile Costeño Amarillo. This rare red Costeño, with a heat rating of 12,000 SHU, is more commonly found in the coastal regions of Oaxaca.

Costeño Rojo peppers have a more fruity taste than the yellow Costeño. You can use fresh red Costeño chiles to make spicy salsa or in moles, tamale sauces, and meat dishes. 

» Pepper: Chile Costeño Rojo
» Flavor: hotter and fruitier than Costeño Amarillo
» Uses: moles, salsas, tamale sauces, meat dishes

Chile de Arból

Chile de Arból peppers
Chile de Arból Peppers

Ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 SHU, the Chile de Arból is hot (the heat level is manageable). Arból peppers are typically found in dried form and still vibrant red even after drying.

The Chile de Arból adds a distinct smoky, earthy, nutty, and even vegetal flavor to dishes. Try it as an ingredient in Chile de Arból salsas, tacos tlaquepaque, adobo sauces, and soups. 

» Pepper: Chile de Arból
» Flavor: smoky and earthy with slight vegetal notes
» Uses: Chile de Arból salsas, tacos tlaquepaque, sauces, soups, stews
» Buy: Chile de Arból on Amazon

chile de arbol in english

Chile de Arból, in English, translates to “tree chili,” a name that references its tree-like appearance. This pepper is also commonly known as Bird’s Beak chile or Rat’s Tail chile.

Habanero Pepper

habanero peppers
Habanero Peppers

Known for its flavor and scorching heat, the orange Habanero Pepper has an impressive 150,000 to 325,000 SHU. That makes the Habanero — one of my favorite peppers — the hottest Mexican chile pepper on the list!

Habaneros can be enjoyed fresh in the green stage or when mature in colors like orange, red, yellow, and brown (depending on the variety). With their beautiful balance of fruity and citrusy flavors plus a floral hint, Habaneros are more than just hot — and they are very aromatic.

There are so many recipes using Habanero peppers — for example, use them in spicy salsas, hot sauces, marinades, and spice rubs. They also add fire to ceviche, tacos, and Yucatecan specialties like cochinita pibil (roasted Yucatán pork).

» Pepper: Habanero pepper
» Flavor: hot, fruity, citrusy, and floral
» Uses: salsas, sauces, cochinita pibil, ceviche, marinades, spice rubs

habanero origin

The Habanero pepper gets its name from the Cuban city of Havana, with “Habanero” in Spanish translating to “from Havana.” This city was one of the earliest significant producers of this famously spicy pepper.

(I recommend growing Habaneros at home. Not only is the flavor more vibrant, but you can enjoy special varieties like the Chocolate Habanero and Red Savina.)

Pequín Pepper

what is chili pequin

The Pequín Pepper (aka Piquin) is tiny yet hot at 40,000 to 60,000 SHU. Pequíns, although not as picante as Habaneros, are still fiery enough to be overwhelming if you’re not used to eating spicy food.

You’ll find that the Pequín chile has a hot, peppery flavor at first, followed by a mild citrus taste at the end. Pequíns are often used in Mexican salsas, hot sauces, and spice blends. They also enhance the flavors of stews, soups, and grilled meats.

» Pepper: Pequín pepper
» Flavor: hot and peppery with mild citrus aftertaste
» Uses: Chile Piquin salsa, hot sauces, spice blends
» Buy: Pequín peppers on Amazon

chile pequin in english

Chile Pequín, which likely gets its name from the Spanish word for small – “pequeño” – is a super tiny pepper, only about half an inch big. It’s also called “Piquin” or “Bird’s Eye Pepper” in English.

Serrano Pepper

serrano peppers as fresh cayenne pepper substitute
Serrano Peppers

Our final Mexican chile is the Serrano pepper, which ranks at 10,000 to 25,000 SHU. These slender green peppers are always in my garden – they’re just the thing when you want something a little hotter than a Jalapeno.

You can eat Serrano peppers green when they have a vegetal taste and a hint of sweet and smokiness. And if you buy red Serranos (or let them mature if growing them), they get a bit sweeter and can be spicier. Green or red, Serranos are perfect for things like pico de gallo, spicy salsas, Serranos en escabeche (pickled Serranos), and also work as a Cayenne pepper substitute.

» Pepper: Serrano pepper
» Flavor: vegetal with sweet and smoky notes
» Uses: Serranos en escabeche, pico de gallo, salsas, guacamole

serrano pepper origin

Serrano peppers come from the mountains in Puebla and Hidalgo, Mexico. They got their name “Serrano” from the Spanish word for mountains, “sierra.”

Where To Buy Mexican Chiles

You can find a variety of Mexican chiles at your local Mexican or Latin market. Many of these peppers, especially the rarer varieties, are available dried in the spice aisle. Fresh chiles like Serranos, Jalapenos, and Habaneros are found in the produce section.

If you don’t have a Mexican or Latin store nearby, you can buy dried Mexican peppers on Amazon.

Best Selling Mexican Chiles

Dried Chile Peppers Bundle
(Ancho, Guajillo, and Arbol Chiles)

Growing Mexican Chiles

jalapeno seedlings in tray

You can buy many of the Mexican chiles we’ve covered, but it doesn’t get any fresher than growing your own! Plus, some peppers like the Chilhuacle and Costeño chile varieties are hard to find.

Here’s a quick overview of growing peppers from seed. (If you buy plants, skip to step 4.)

  1. Buy pepper seeds. (Vendors carrying Mexican chile varieties include Etsy, The Hippy Seed Company, and Refining Fire Chiles.)
  2. Start pepper seeds indoors at least 8 weeks before your last expected frost.
  3. Transplant pepper seedlings to bigger pots when they have four or more true leaves.
  4. Start hardening pepper plants so that they can live outdoors when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55°F (13°C).
  5. Keep your plants healthy by regularly watering peppers and using a good fertilizer for pepper plants.

» See All: Growing Peppers Guides

Mexican Peppers FAQs

Wrapping Up

I hope you enjoyed this list of Mexican chiles. While we didn’t cover every Mexican pepper out there, the varieties on this page are the ones you’re most likely to find in recipes. 🌶

What’s Next: Now that you have your list, it’s time to cook peppers!

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AUTHOR

Jenny is the creator of Grow Hot Peppers. She is a self-taught gardener and has been growing peppers and a plethora of veggies for over 10 years. When she’s not writing or gardening, she loves eating spicy foods, hiking, and going to the ocean.

2 thoughts on “23 Mexican Chiles You’re Definitely Going to Want to Eat (and Grow!)”

  1. My name is Michele. I found a tiny pepper layed it on dirt and roots came out of it and it grew into a small (Tiny) pepper plant with at least 4-5 different colored tiny peppers on the same little plant. Unfortunately it died when I brought it in for the winter. I tried to grow another with no luck and I am devastated !!!
    Do you know what kind of pepper plant it was ?
    It had a rainbow of tiny little peppers so I thought it was just an ornamental plant.!!! I’m so sad !!! 😥

    Reply
    • Hi Michele, I’m thinking it could be a NuMex Twilight — this plant grows small, cone-shaped peppers that go from purple, yellow, orange, and finally red. Some other ornamental pepper plants are Chinese 5 Color, Bolivian Rainbow, and Jigsaw pepper. Hope this helps!

      Reply

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