Fresh chile peppers are a common ingredient in Mexican food. They grow well in hot climates and they can be harvested throughout the summer, but they reach their peak in late summer and are best when harvested then.
Green chiles come in thousands of varieties, and even some of the same types go by different names. This can be very confusing if you're looking for a specific type of pepper, so here’s a guide to some of the more popular fresh chiles and some of the names they go by.
01 of 07
Anaheim / California Chiles
This pepper is known in Mexico as chile verde del norte, since it is common in the northern part of that country and virtually unknown in the central and southern regions. It is one of the most common chiles in the southwestern United States. These long, bright green chiles were taken from New Mexico to California in the early 1900's and were bred to be milder in order to suit the taste of the norteamericanos of that time. They became popular in Anaheim, a city in California, and the peppers... go by either name—the city or the state.
This is one of the few chiles that retains its name when ripened and dried. Therefore, if a recipe calls for Anaheim or California peppers, you should make sure you're getting the right ones for the recipe, fresh and green or red and dried. Keep in mind that while these green chiles are some of the mildest around, they can still vary in their heat level.
02 of 07
New Mexico / Hatch Chiles
These long green chiles are virtually identical to California and Anaheim peppers, with one distinct difference: they are much, much hotter. Hatch chiles are New Mexico chiles that are grown in the small town of Hatch, New Mexico, and are considered premium green chiles. Each year they hold a Hatch Valley Chile Festival on Labor Day weekend where up to 30,000 people come to the little town to buy and eat these delicious peppers. Hatch and New Mexico chiles can be used for the same dishes as... California and Anaheim chiles, but they are significantly hotter.
These are called chile verde del norte in Mexican territory, where they are known only in the northern areas.
03 of 07
Poblano Green Chiles
Named after Puebla, Mexico, this type of pepper has a beautiful dark green color and is wider than the Anaheim chile. It is usually hotter than the Anaheim as well, though its piquancy varies and it can sometimes be very mild. Poblanos are widely used in a variety of ways all over Mexico and are the most common peppers employed in the preparation of Chiles Rellenos and Chiles en Nogada. When dried, the poblano is called an ancho chile. Note: In the United States, some vendors will incorrectly... refer to the poblano as a “pasilla” pepper; others misspell this variety as "pablano."
04 of 07
The chilaca green chile is long and narrow like the New Mexico pepper, but its color ranges from a rich green (similar to the poblano) to a dark, chocolatey brown. It is used in a variety of Mexican dishes, but is most often employed in its dried form, when it takes the name pasilla chile.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Well-known in and outside of Mexico, these are perhaps the most famous fresh chiles of all. They take their name from Xalapa, also spelled Jalapa, in the state of Veracruz. Though relatively small, they are usually quite not. Jalapeños can be stuffed and served as an appetizer (as in “jalapeño poppers”), but they are most often used either whole or chopped, fresh or pickled, as a condiment. When dried and smoked, jalalpeños peppers take on a very different flavor... and are called chipotle chiles.
06 of 07
Smaller and narrower than jalapeños, serrano peppers tend to be very hot. They are usually used in salsas and as a flavoring, not as the main component of a dish. They can be roasted, but they can also be chopped up in their fresh state (keeping or discarding the seeds) and used as a topping or seasoning to add heat and flavor to a dish. The dried version, called simply dried serrano or serrano seco, is relatively uncommon.
07 of 07
The habanero chile is one of the hottest peppers grown. It is roundish or bell-shaped, and can be green, yellow, orange, red, or even purple or brownish. Common in the regional cuisines of the Yucatan Peninsula, habaneros are most frequently used to flavor sauces and salsas. (Try this Yucatan Habanero Sauce.)
-Edited by Robin Grose