Katie's Healthy Bites: Chile Peppers 101

Get to know the popular varieties of hot peppers--poblano, cayenne, jalapeno -- and starting adding them to your food for flavor without the fat.
chili peppers

Tired of the same boring, bland foods? Take your summer fare up a notch and try experimenting with chile peppers this season! Chile peppers are a healthy way to spice up your menu. Whether you're cooking breakfast, lunch or dinner, chile peppers can add a little or a lot of heat to your food, which means big flavor . . . without the fat. Try some peppers in your breakfast omelet, add them to your favorite stir fry, or stuff them for a delicious entree. I promise you, your taste buds will be pleased.

Traditionally, chile peppers have been ranked on the Scoville Heat Scale heat which indicates the amount of heat a pepper produces. To give you an idea, the bell pepper ranks the lowest with a 0, while the habanero chile pepper ranks toward the top with a reading of 350,000 units.

Here are some descriptions of some delicious chile peppers that you can begin experimenting with this summer:

Poblano – You may not have heard of these peppers before, but poblano peppers, with their large size and thick walls, provide the perfect foundation to create a wonderful stuffed pepper entree. Try stuffing poblano peppers with Mexican chili or Spanish rice and vegetables and then grilling them; your family will be happy you did. This pepper is slightly mild with a rating of 1,000-2,000 heat units.

Jalapeño – The jalapeño pepper is the most common chile pepper grown in Mexico and its uses are abundant. It can be used in a variety of ways such as fresh, roasted, dried and pickled. Use some fresh jalapeños to spice up your pico de gallo or try adding smoked, dried jalapeños, also known as chipotle peppers, in homemade hot sauce. The jalapeño pepper is considered to be in the moderate to hot range with a rating of 2,500-8,000 units.

Red Fresno – The red fresno pepper is similar to the jalapeño pepper, but it's less meaty and has a thinner skin, making it the perfect pepper for salsa.  These peppers are redder in color than jalapeños, and are also much hotter; they have a rating of 2,500-10,000 units. They are also known for containing more vitamins than jalapeños; they are rich in Vitamin C and B vitamins, iron, thiamin, niacin, magnesium and riboflavin.

Serrano – A small but hot pepper that is green in color, the serrano pepper is great for salsas because they do not need to be steamed or peeled before you using. They resemble jalapeños, but are much hotter with a rating of 8,000-22,000 on the Scoville index. Serrano peppers are popular additions to casseroles and egg dishes.

Manzano – Manzano chile peppers are relatives of the hot and spicy South American rocoto pepper. Manzano chiles are thick and round, mirroring the shape of an apple like their name implies; manzano is the Spanish word for apple tree. Manzano chiles are often used fresh due to their size and are also great for making hot salsas. Manzano peppers generally rate between 12,000 and 30,000 Scoville units. Heat up your dinner table with these peppers; they pair perfectly with grilled chicken or fish.

Cayenne – Cayenne peppers are hot, red peppers that can be used in whole or powdered form; just a small amount of cayenne is enough to really add some spice to your dish. Cayenne peppers are a wonderful addition to any curry dish. They are rich in vitamin A and are also said to have health benefits such as helping heart health and blood circulation. This hot, hot pepper measures 35,000-50,000 on the Scoville scale.

Habanero – The habanero is the hottest chile pepper that you will find at the grocery store. When the pepper is ripe, it ranges from a yellow-orange to bright red and has a slight citrus flavor and flowery aroma. If you’re brave enough to use this pepper which has a heat index of 200,000-300,000 Scoville units, it is great for salsa and marinades. In Mexico, sometimes a habanero pepper is soaked in tequila bottles to add an edge to their drinks.  Give it a whirl, just be careful!

Please note that most of the heat from chile peppers are predominately located in the seeds and the veins of the peppers, if you looking for a more mild spice, make sure to remove those first.

Try adding some spice to your diet with these recipes:

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