Picking a pepper: How to choose the right pepper for your recipe
Cooking with peppers is a time honored tradition in every single culture. That’s because peppers come in all varieties from sweet to earth shaking, blow your hair off, hotness (my husband’s favorite…. blech!). Understanding the various types of peppers can go far in helping you choose what to put into your recipes based on your desired result and personal preferences.
First of all, did you realize that peppers are fruits, and not vegetables? (yeah, me neither) They grow on a “tree”, just like a tomato which is also a fruit. The most common peppers most people are familiar with are the bell pepper varieties. Due to the proliferation of Mexican food, most of us are also familiar with jalapenos. But there are many more types of peppers. Choosing from them needs to be done based on how you want your recipe to turn out. (Using the wrong pepper can deem your recipe non-edible at times!)
Bell Peppers — Named due to their “bell” shape, these come in many colors – the most common being green, yellow, orange and red. They are not spicy at all, and are often referred to as “sweet” bell peppers due to this fact. You can eat them in all kinds of dishes from sweet to savory, cooked or raw. They’re really good stuffed with a savory rice mixture and baked.
Banana Peppers — Only slightly more spicy than a bell pepper they are also named due to their appearance and color. They’re longer with a yellow hue, although there are also green and red banana peppers. Banana peppers are great eaten raw or lightly cooked and have far more flavor than the sweet bell pepper.
Poblano Pepper — Very dark green and shaped kind of like the banana pepper these are much more spicy. Poblano peppers are only slightly less spicy than a jalapeno pepper. When they are dried, the are called ancho peppers, and can be used in many recipes where some fire is desired. They are also great to stuff and grill due to their thick walls.
Fresno Peppers — These are the kind of hot peppers used in salsas which provide a beautiful red color boost to recipes and are hotter than the jalapeno. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and are the same heat as the average jalapeno peppers which makes them good to combine with jalapenos to provide two pops of color.
Jalapeno Peppers — Crispy and spicy, without being unbearable these peppers are a common addition to many recipes calling for some mild heat. Always discard the seeds, before chopping or eating regardless of adding to a recipe or eating raw. As you begin working with hotter peppers, you may also want to consider wearing gloves. At the very least, do not touch anywhere on your face before you thoroughly wash your hands. Jalapeno’s are great baked, grilled, fried or pickled.
Habanero Peppers — Twenty or more times hotter than your average jalapeno, high in capsaicin (the chemical that causes the burning sensation skin), it’s important to be careful using these delightful fruits in dishes. They vary in color and can add a brightness and an extra punch of heat, with just a slight addition to any recipe. Try using in a homemade salsa recipe by substituting just one habanero for the other peppers called for in the dish. A little bit goes a long way.
In addition to these peppers there are other varieties both fresh and dried such as Serrano, the popular dried and powdered Cayenne, the dangerous Ghost Chili (my husband’s favorite). When choosing the right pepper consider its color, it’s flavor and its heat level to ensure that you add just the right touch to any recipe calling for peppers. Also, read about it to ensure that you don’t overdo it. Believe it or not, people have actually died eating peppers that were too hot in eating contests.