Our ultimate guide to chipotle peppers

Chipotle pepper
Chipotle peppers are smoked, dried red jalapeno peppers. They have a sweet, fruity, smoky flavor with earthy, grassy, and chocolatey hints. The peppers average 2.5-4 inches. Chipotle Morita peppers are leathery-soft, while chipotle meco peppers are brittle and crumbly. Try these peppers in popular Mexican dishes like Chipotle navideños or smoky mole poblano.

What are chipotle peppers?

Chipotle peppers are smoked, dried, ripe jalapeno peppers. Jalapeno peppers are left to fully mature and ripen on the vine before harvesting and smoking them to dry and acquire a smoky flavor.

OriginMexico
AppearanceSame as jalapeno
Flavor profileSweet, smoky, fruity

Types of chipotle peppers

Chipotle peppers are available as two types:

  1. Chipotle meco
  2. Chipotle Morita

Chipotle mecos are called “true chipotle peppers” and chile ahumado or tipico. They mature on the vine longer and over-ripen to a darker red color. The peppers are harvested and smoked nearly twice as long as the Morita variety.

Chipotle Morita chiles are matured and ripened fully on the vine to a deep red color. Their time on the vine is shorter. Hence, they are smaller and less spicy than chipotle meco peppers. They are smoked over wood chips for a shorter time.

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Sometimes, chipotle chiles are made from huachinango peppers (red jalapenos).

Origin

Chipotle peppers originate from Mexico. Their name, chilpoctli, comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and it means “smoked chile pepper”.

While some chipotle peppers grow in Texas and South New Mexico, most grow in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca, Veracruz, Chihuahua, and Sinaloa.

The Morita variety is commonly sold in the US, while the meco variety is more common in Mexico. Chipotle peppers are present in American, traditional Tex-Mex, and authentic Mexican cuisines. They have also spread to Latin, Thai, Asian, and Caribbean cuisines.

Appearance

Since they are jalapenos, chipotle peppers have the shape and size of jalapenos. Mature jalapenos have a tapering profile and measure 2.5-4 inches long. Their thick skin prevents drying in the sun, hence the need for dehydration by smoking.

The look of a chipotle pepper itself will depend on the variety:

The Moritas are dried for a shorter time, leaving them pliable and with soft, leathery skin and some moisture content. They turn a deep burgundy color when smoked and dried.

Chipotle meco peppers on the vine and grow bigger. They are more wrinkly and have a crumbly, powdery texture with no moisture content.

Flavor profile

The key thing about chipotle peppers is their characteristic smoky flavor. They are sweet, smoky, fruity peppers with hints of bitterness, earthiness, grassiness, and chocolateness.

Chipotle peppers are usually smoked over wood chips from hickory, pecan, applewood, oak, or cherry wood. Burning these woods dries the peppers while imparting a characteristic smoky flavor.

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The smokiness and earthiness are similar to smoked red serranos, with which red jalapenos share a similar taste profile.

Since they are smoked for a shorter time, chipotle Morita peppers have a milder smoky flavor than their meco counterparts. They have a sweet, berry-like flavor. The mecos are fruity and intensely smoky and have the grassy taste characteristic of green jalapenos.

Nutritional Benefits of chipotle pepper

Like other chili peppers, chipotle peppers contain capsaicin, a compound with anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Capsaicin also increases your metabolic rate, which could help you lose some weight.

Chipotle peppers contain vitamin C for a stronger immune system and vitamin A for healthy organ functions. The fiber in the peppers helps maintain a healthy digestive tract.

Minerals like potassium, iron, magnesium, and manganese help with various bodily functions, such as balancing fluid levels (potassium) and developing hemoglobin (iron).

How hot are Chipotle peppers?

Chipotle peppers score 5,000 – 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) on the Scoville Scale. Some peppers closer to the heat level of dried chipotle peppers include:

  • Hatch peppers (1,000 – 8,000 SHUs)
  • Guajillo peppers (2,500 – 5,000 SHUs)
  • Cascabel peppers (1,500 – 2,500 SHUs)

Are chipotle peppers hotter than jalapenos?

Chipotle peppers are hotter than jalapenos. Leaving jalapenos to ripen further on the vine leaves them with higher levels of capsaicin, the compound responsible for the heat.

Jalapenos have a Scoville score of 2,500 – 8,000 heat units, depending on where they grow.

Are chipotle peppers hotter than habanero?

The 5,000 – 10,000 heat units of chipotle peppers are tiny compared to the 100,000 – 350,000 heat units of habanero peppers. Some habanero peppers like the red savina and chocolate habanero top out at 577,000 heat units.

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How to use Chipotle peppers?

Chipotle peppers work the best as seeded whole peppers. You can reconstitute them to flavor soups, stews, marinades, and hot sauces.

You can also find chipotle peppers in other forms. They are often pureed, ground into chipotle powder, or canned whole in vinegar-based sauces.

Ensure the seeds remain inside, as they help peppers pack as much heat as possible.

Recipes that call for chipotle peppers

Try the peppers in popular recipes like:

What is the best substitute for chipotle peppers?

Red serrano peppers
Red serrano peppers

The best substitute for chipotle peppers for the same taste profile is smoked red serrano peppers, the second most popular chiles in Mexican cuisine after jalapenos. 

Red serranos score 10,000 – 23,000 units on the Scoville Scale. The least spicy serrano has the same heat level as the spiciest chipotle chilis.

You will want to try less spicy substitutes with close taste profiles, such as:

Chile anchos (dried, ripe poblanos)1,000 – 2,000 units; sweet, earthy, chocolatey flavor
Guajillo powder or peppers2,500 – 5,000 units; slightly tangy flavor with hints of berries and green tea
Mulato peppers (dried overripe poblano peppers)2,500 – 3,000 units; sweet, fruity, chocolatey flavor
Pasilla peppers (dried chilaca peppers)250 – 2,500 units; raisin-like flavor

Alex Maina

Since discovering how well spices transform a dish from bland to enjoyable in seconds, Alex became sold on using spices to better three of his major passions—gardening, cooking, and writing. When he is not tending to his spice crops, you'll find him trying a new recipe, writing for the Spice Gourmand, or serving a second helping of his spicy food!

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