Desperate to discover the difference between a jalapeño and a serrano? Looking to add a little heat to your cooking without traumatizing your taste buds? Here’s a guide to 10 different peppers ranked from least to most spicy, as well as some tasty recipes that incorporate them in a variety of creative ways. You’ll be a smokin’ hot pepper expert in no time! This is by no means a fully comprehensive list, so feel free to check out websites like this one for even more info on the wide variety of peppers out there.
The Scoville Scale
First, a note about how the spiciness of peppers is typically ranked. In 1912, Wilbur Scoville created the Scoville scale the potency of different chili peppers. It was initially based on how much water was needed to dilute the heat of each pepper, but now is determined by the overall concentration of capsaicin (a chemical that makes peppers spicy). The scale goes from 0 to 16,000,000 (the highest being the rank of pure capsaicin), but most peppers fall somewhere between 0 and 1,000,000. The heat of each individual pepper depends on when it was picked and where it was grown.
Now, onto the peppers, from mild-mannered to scorching hot!
1. Bell Peppers (0 Scoville units)
0 Scoville units. Fun fact: green, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers are all the same plant, just in varying stages of ripeness, which explains why green bell peppers are more bitter than the other three, since a riper pepper is sweeter. Though not spicy, bell peppers offer a crisp sweetness and a hefty dose of vitamin C to any dish. They can be sliced into stir-fries, stuffed with beans and rice, or roasted and used as a tasty pizza topping. Looking for recipe ideas? Check out these Cheesy Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers or these Mushroom and Bell Pepper Baked Beans.
2. Banana Peppers (0-500 Scoville units)
0-500 Scoville units. These tangy, mildly spicy peppers are frequently pickled and used on sandwiches or pizza, and though they’re normally yellow-green in color, can also turn red or orange as they mature. Though usually found in cans or jars at your local grocery store, they can certainly be eaten fresh as well! If you’re interested in pickling your own banana peppers, check out this article about just how simple it can be to create homemade pickled vegetables. For a tasty dinner with banana peppers, try this Brussels Sprouts and Pepper Pasta.
3. Poblano Peppers (1,000 to 2,000 Scoville units)
1,000 to 2,000 Scoville units. Also called ancho chilies when dried, poblanos originated in the state of Puebla in central Mexico, and are about the same size as bell peppers, but spicier and with a rich, earthy flavor. They are often used for stuffed peppers, as in Mexican Chiles Rellenos. While that recipe isn’t the traditional Mexican version, it’s still a delicious vegan option! Poblanos are also delicious when roasted. For more recipe ideas, check out this Creamy Roasted Poblano Soup, or get your hands on some decidedly untraditional, yet still mouth-watering Baked Roasted Poblano Kale Falafel.
4. Anaheim Peppers (500-2,500 Scoville units)
500-2,500 Scoville units. Though these peppers, at their least intense heat level, can technically be milder than poblanos, they can also be much spicier. As with poblanos, Anaheim peppers make excellent stuffed peppers because of their larger size and sturdy exterior. They originated in New Mexico but are named after the city in California where they were first grown. Though they start out green, they eventually turn red as they ripen, after which they can be dried and are usually called California chiles or chile seco del norte. Try making these Loaded Crispy Smashed Sweet Potatoes With Avocado Roasted Chile Crema with Anaheim peppers!
5. Jalapeño Peppers (2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units)
2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units. These popular peppers were used by the Aztecs long before the Spanish conquest, and when smoke-dryed, they were called chilpoctli (or today, chipotle), meaning “smoked chile.” The word jalapeño comes from the town Xalapa, which is the capital city of the Mexican state of Veracruz. Though these peppers are often thought of as extremely spicy, they actually only fall in the middle of the Scoville scale, and will add heat to a dish without destroying your taste buds. For some spicy recipe ideas, check out these Cheesy Rice Stuffed Jalapeños, or try making some Homemade Pickled Jalapeños.
6. Serrano Peppers (10,000 to 23,000 Scoville units)
10,000 to 23,000 Scoville units. An ideal pepper for salsa, serranos are somewhere in between a jalapeño and a habanero in terms of hotness, though as with others, it greatly depends on when they are picked. Large, smooth, firm, bright-green serranos tend to be much less spicy than the smaller, riper ones with visible veins and more wrinkled skin. “Serrano” means, roughly, “from the mountains” in Spanish, and this pepper originated in the same Mexican state as did poblano peppers. If you’re looking for a sweet-and-spicy use for serranos, check out these Blistered Sweet Potatoes with Serrano and Lime – or try this Serrano Pepper Avocado Toast for a unique breakfast!
7. Cayenne Peppers (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units)
30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. Though typically pictured as the fiery red powder found in the spice aisle at your local grocery store, fresh cayenne peppers can also be an excellent addition to many dishes. However, fresh cayenne peppers can sometimes be trickier to find than cayenne powder. Cayenne is used as the base for many popular hot sauces, and offers a dose of heat without being quite as overwhelming as a habanero. For recipe ideas, check out this Super Spicy Jambalaya, or dig into a bowl of this Warming Carrot Ginger Soup.
8. Habanero Peppers (100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units)
100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units. Small yet mighty in terms of spiciness, the red-hot habanero pepper originated in South America, is most frequently grown in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, and is thought to be more than 8,500 years old. It is closely related to the Scotch Bonnet pepper, which like the habanero has a slightly fruity and citrus-like flavor. There are multiple varieties of habanero peppers, such as the Red Savina habanero (one of the top 10 spiciest peppers) and the Peruvian White habanero. If you’ve conquered the previous peppers on this list and want to start experimenting with habaneros, check out these Habanero Kale Chips, whip up a batch of Lemon Garlic Habanero Sauerkraut, or be the hit of any party with some Sweet Chili Habanero Glazed Cauliflower Wings.
9. Bhut Jolokia Peppers (AKA Ghost Peppers) (855,000 to 1,041,427 Scoville units)
855,000 to 1,041,427 Scoville units. Here’s where things start to get more intense, heat-wise. The ghost pepper made headlines for being the first pepper to break 1 million Scoville units, and for a time was thought to be the spiciest pepper in the world. It comes from India, and bhut translates to “ghost.” Just a tiny nibble of this potent pepper will give you a tingling tongue and watering eyes, so try at your own risk! Ghost peppers are often used as an ingredient in certain hot sauces. A little goes a long way, so if you’re considering adding a bit to your next meal, remember to wash your hands well after touching it, or your eyes may pay the price. If you’d like to try this bracingly hot pepper for yourself, use it as a base for this Trinidad Hot Pepper Sauce.
10. Carolina Reaper (1,400,000 to 2,200,000 Scoville units)
1,400,000 to 2,200,000 Scoville units. The Carolina Reaper is currently known as the spiciest pepper in the world! It was cultivated by Ed Currie in South Carolina and is a hybrid between two other extremely spicy peppers: a red habanero and a Naja Viper pepper. It officially became the world’s hottest pepper in November 2013, pushing the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper out of the number-one spot. Warning: it is not recommended to even try this one raw, and just touching it with your bare hands can cause burns. Still, it makes for a fascinating spectacle, if only in the Guinness Book of World Records!
Craving more pepper info? Check out this article on the health benefits of cayenne pepper, or read about the mild-mannered shishito pepper, a Japanese pepper that ranks just above the bell pepper on the Scoville scale. In addition, don’t forget to download the Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook. This app contains thousands of delicious vegan recipes similar to the ones listed here, and is an excellent tool for those transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle. Happy pepper-hunting!