Chili peppers and jalapeño peppers are two of the most popular types of hot peppers in the United States. They are commonly used in Mexican, Tex-Mex, and South American cuisine and can be found in grocery stores and spice jars around the country. While they may look similar, there are key differences between chili vs jalapeno peppers that make them unique.
In this article, we’ll explore the main differences between these popular peppers and take a closer look at their unique flavors, heat levels, and health benefits.
What are Jalapeño Peppers?
Jalapeno peppers are one of the most common peppers in the United States. They are a type of chili pepper that originated in Mexico, and are typically medium-sized, green, and have thick skin with a glossy finish. Jalapeño peppers have a mild to moderate heat level and are often used in hot sauces, appetizers, or to add a kick of heat to dishes.
We love using pickled jalapenos as a bright and spicy garnish on everything from our Easy Greek Chicken recipes to our Carnitas Street Tacos. We also love playing Jalapeno Popper Roulette where we leave all the seeds and stems (the super spicy parts) inside just one jalapeno. Mwahaha.
What Are Chili Peppers?
Chili peppers are types of hot pepper that come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. They are native to Central and South America and are now grown around the world. Chili peppers have a wide range of heat levels, from mild to extremely hot. They are often used in dry rubs, sauces, and chili powders.
For us, jalapenos and chili peppers have different jobs in the kitchen. We use jalapenos almost like a spicy bell pepper. Roasting them, stuffing them, or pickling them. Chili peppers are used mostly as a spicy additive to our dishes.
Jalapeño peppers have a distinct, slightly sweet flavor. They are used to add mild heat to dishes without overpowering other flavors. Chili peppers can have a range of flavors, from sweet and smoky to fruity and floral, depending on the type of chili pepper you use. Often to add a bold, spicy flavor to dishes.
One of the biggest differences between jalapeño peppers and chili peppers is their heat level. Jalapeño peppers are generally considered to be mild to moderate pepper, with a Scoville heat rating between 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). Chili peppers, on the other hand, can range from mild to extremely hot, with a Scoville heat rating ranging from 0 to over 2 million SHU.
What About Chiptole Peppers?
A chipotle pepper is a smoke-dried jalapeño pepper. The jalapeño pepper is smoked for several hours until it becomes dried and brown, giving it a smoky and slightly sweet flavor. Chipotle peppers can be purchased dried, canned in adobo sauce (a personal favorite), or ground into a powder. They are often used in marinades, sauces, and rubs for meats, as well as in chili and other dishes for added smokiness and heat.
What Are Green Chiles?
Green chilis like Serrano chilis or hatch chilis, are peppers that are harvested when they are still green and not yet fully ripe. They can be found in various forms such as canned, roasted, or fresh. Green chilis have a slightly tangy and slightly sweet taste with a mild to medium level of heat. They are often used to add flavor to dishes such as stews, soups, casseroles, and sauces. Green chilis are also a good source of vitamin C and other nutrients.
What About Fresno Peppers?
Fresno chilis are medium-sized chili peppers that originated in Fresno, California. They are similar in shape and size to red jalapeño peppers but are slightly sweeter and less spicy, ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the Scoville scale. They can be used in a variety of dishes, including salsas, sauces, and pickling.
Scoville Heat Scale (Spiciness Scale)
The heat of a pepper is measured on the Scoville scale, which measures the concentration of capsaicin in a pepper. Capsaicin is the compound that gives peppers their heat. Jalapeño peppers have a lower concentration of capsaicin than chili peppers, which makes them milder in heat.
We included a super helpful little chart to give you a Scoville breakdown of some of the most popular peppers.
Chili peppers can have a wide range of heat levels, from mild to extremely hot. The Carolina Reaper is currently the world’s hottest pepper, with a Scoville rating of over 2 million SHU. The Bhut Jolokia, or ghost pepper, is another extremely hot pepper that measures around 1 million SHU.
Peppers in Order of Spice
Bell peppers: Not spicy at all and have a sweet flavor.
Poblano peppers: With a mild heat level, they are commonly roasted or stuffed to add flavor to dishes. A personal favorite of ours.
Anaheim peppers: These peppers have a slightly higher heat level than poblano peppers, and are great in salsas or roasted.
Fresno peppers: Have a medium heat level and are similar in appearance to a jalapeño pepper but slightly sweeter and less spicy.
Jalapeño peppers: These peppers have a moderate heat level but can vary greatly in spiciness.
Serrano peppers: These peppers are spicier than jalapeño peppers and are often used in salsa and hot sauces.
Cayenne peppers: With a high heat level these peppers are commonly found in the dried spice form "Cayenne".
Habanero peppers: These peppers are very spicy and have a fruity flavor. They are commonly used in Caribbean and Mexican cuisine.
Ghost peppers: These peppers are extremely hot and should be used with caution. They are one of the hottest peppers in the world. You'll find them in hot sauces mostly.
Carolina Reaper peppers: These peppers are the hottest peppers in the world and should be used with extreme caution. They have a sweet and fruity flavor, but their intense heat can cause serious discomfort.
Common Dried Peppers
When you look in your pantry you will see a variety of dried chilis & peppers as they are a common ingredient in lots of recipes. We've provided a quick breakdown of the most common in order of least spicy to the most...
Paprika - Made from dried and ground sweet peppers, paprika is known for its mild and sweet flavor. It's often used to add color and flavor to dishes without adding heat.
Ancho chile powder - Ancho chile powder is made from dried and ground poblano peppers. It has a sweet and slightly smoky flavor with a mild heat level.
Chipotle powder - Made from smoked and dried jalapeño peppers, chipotle powder has a smoky and slightly sweet flavor with a medium heat level.
Cayenne pepper - Cayenne pepper is made from ground red chili peppers. It has a hot and spicy flavor and is commonly used in spicy dishes and hot sauces.
Crushed red pepper flakes - These flakes are made from dried and crushed red chili peppers. They have a hot and slightly fruity flavor and are commonly used in Italian and Mediterranean dishes.
Chili powder - Chili powder is a blend of spices that includes ground chili peppers, cumin, garlic, and oregano. It has a medium heat level and is commonly used in Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes.
Ghost pepper powder - Ghost pepper powder is made from ground Bhut Jolokia peppers, which are one of the hottest peppers in the world. It has a very hot and intense flavor and should be used sparingly.
Note that the spiciness of dried pepper spices can vary depending on the specific variety of pepper used, as well as how it was dried and processed. The Scoville scale is commonly used to measure the heat level of peppers and pepper-based products.
Both jalapeño and chili peppers offer a range of health benefits. They are rich in vitamin C, which can boost the immune system and help the body absorb iron. Capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their heat, has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation in the body.
Chili peppers may also help to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. A study by New Mexico State University found that capsaicin may help to prevent the growth of cancer cells. Jalapeño peppers are also a good source of vitamin B6, which can help the body produce neurotransmitters and improve mood.
In conclusion, while jalapeño and chili peppers may look similar, they have distinct differences in heat level and flavor profile.
As far as recipes go in the chili vs jalapeno breakdown, I personally use jalapenos much more often. Adding a spicy kick to many of our favorite dishes like our Jalapeno Shrimp Queso & Smoked Jalapeno Poppers.
As Tabetha's Table grows we will continue to add more recipes and I'll make sure to get chilis in the mix soon. Until then we hope you learned something new about chilis and jalapenos. How they are different and how you can use them all over your kitchen!