All About Cobanero Chili Pepper

A Smoky Chile with Mayan Roots and Culinary History

Coban Chili Pepper
What is it and Where it Comes From. Nancy Lopez-McHugh

In the centre of Guatemala is a city by the name of Cobán, and it is here that the cobánero chili pepper has been grown since Mayan times. The small red pepper has been an integral part of the local's cuisine for centuries. Perhaps the most common use for cobanero chile is in kak'ik or kaq’ika turkey stew that so happens to also be the national dish of Guatemala.   

Cobanero chilies (also sometimes called Coban chiles) are a small conical shaped fruit that typically only grows to one inch in length.

(The cobanero's size is similar to that of a piquin pepper.) On the vine the chile slowly turns to its red tone after it is allowed to mature. The chili can be eaten raw just like you would any other fresh pepper. But it is the drying and smoking process done to cobanero pepper that gives it a deep red colour and smokey flavour. Once dried they may be left as whole pods or ground into a powder of varying textures.  

Unfortunately I was not able to locate raw coban chilies, nor whole dried pods either, but I did find a small bottle of the ground pepper. Immediately when I peeled away the safety seal I was met with a strong smoky scent. This chile is clearly ground in its entirety, or meaning that the seeds are also included in the mix. When I placed some on my tongue, the scent made me think of dried chipotle peppers. The taste is smokiness which is quickly followed by intense heat, but it doesn't last all that long.

It's clear that cobanero chilies make up for their size with heat and flavour. This pepper is much spicier than chipotles, but not quite as spicy as a habanero chile. There isn't a whole lot of information (online) about the coban chile, so I wasn't able to verify the 30,000 to 50,000 SHU rating that this website gives it.

But if that is correct, that rating would make this pepper about as hot as cayenne or tabasco chilies. 

The flavour of cobanero chili is a very pleasant one, and definitely a pepper that can easily be incorporated into your cooking. It makes a great addition to spice mixes, spice rubs for grilling meats, on top of a fresh salad, or sprinkled over just about anything you'd like to add some heat to. It would also make a great alternative to chipotles or anytime a recipe calls for red pepper flakes. In Guatemala the cobanero is not only used for the previously mentioned turkey stew, but also to flavour meats, sausages, and for making a wide variety of salsas and hot sauces

If you're interested in tasting cobanero chili you can purchase it from the following online market, but please not that I have not used their services. Centro American Market and they have 3 oz bags of dried cobanero pepper for sale. Alternatively, you can try your local Latin American market or section of the grocery store, this is where I found mine.