How Chili Peppers Work

Types of Chili Peppers

All chili peppers are edible, but the devil lies in the details and in your definition of edible. Science classifies chili peppers by heat and shape, and aficionados add color to those classifications [source: Texas A&M University]. Shapes range from short and squatty to long, thin and tapered. Colors include shades of red, green, yellow, orange, purple, brown and black.

Small, thin peppers generally contain the most fire -- exceptions include the banana pepper. Red varieties are typically hotter than green, but some notable exceptions include mild cherry and pimento varieties. Ripe peppers contain more heat than underripe peppers of the same variety.

Versatility distinguishes mild chili peppers from their fiery cousins, and mild peppers can be served raw, pickled or roasted, or they can be added as an aromatic to savory dishes. Common mild peppers include:

  • Bell - The squatty, lobed bells are the mildest and most versatile peppers. They're available in many colors, and they contain little if any capsaicin.
  • Banana - Some varieties, like the slender yellow banana-shaped variety, are extremely mild.
  • Pepperoncini - The small, slim yellow-green pepperoncini is a Mediterranean staple.
  • Pimento - This scarlet tomato look-alike comes tucked inside green olives.
  • Poblano - Resembling a small bell pepper at the top, the poblano tapers to a point.

Hot chili peppers are used primarily as a condiment, and common types include:

  • Anaheim - Long and thin, red or green, the Anaheim is a Mexican cuisine staple.
  • Chipotle - A smoked habanero is called a chipotle.
  • Habanero - Ranging from yellow to red, the habanero is a small, fiery lantern-shaped chili pepper.
  • Jalapeno - This popular two-inch red or green pepper displays cracks around the top and is one of the most versatile hot chilies.
  • Serrano - Small and slender, the serrano resembles a torpedo and is frequently used in salsas.

A dried pepper contains more heat than its fresh equivalent because the lack of moisture concentrates the flavors. If you substitute dry peppers for fresh ones, be sure to adjust portions according to taste.

The most common powdered peppers are cayenne and paprika -- cayenne adds heat while paprika adds seasoning to dishes. When used sparingly as a garnish, paprika adds color without affecting taste.

Next, we'll reveal the best ways to select, store and prepare chili peppers.