Need-To-Know: The Ultimate Guide to Mexican Chiles

Need-To-Know: The Ultimate Guide to Mexican Chiles

Mexico produces more than 60 variations of chiles, all fundamental playing roles within Mexican cuisine. They add intensity, complexity, and fire to every dish through the wide variety of available chiles. There are fresh and dried chiles, each with its own set of unique preparation needs and offerings. Let’s take a closer look at the ultimate guide to Mexican chiles and how some complement our Don Emilio Salsa Machas.

Fresh Chiles

It’s important to note that all chiles begin as a fresh chile and evolve from there. You can dry, roast, or smoke fresh chiles to achieve the desired flavor component. From there, you can create masterpieces with texture and depth.


The mountainous territories of Hidalgo, Michoacan, and Puebla bring some of the freshest and greenest serranos in the world. They resemble a jalapeno with their bright green color and medium-range heat levels. Their size contributes to their spice. Generally, a serrano makes for a great addition to a pico de gallo or guacamole, with a SHU (Scoville Heat Unit) ranging between 10,000 and 25,000.


Poblanos register relatively low with SHU heat levels of 1,000 to 1,000. They are red or green pepper with decent size and originate from Puebla, and the reddish variations carry the most heat and work best when stuffed with chili Rellenos. But don’t hesitate to add them to soups and guacamole.


It’s imperative to take special measures when handling habaneros, as they register a 100,000 to 350,000 SHU when fully mature and orange to red in color. A pair of plastic gloves might be to your benefit when working with them. Habaneros are adaptable and carry heat in all variations, from jam to paste. The sweet heat created with habaneros makes them irresistible regardless of their SHU levels.


Jalapeno is one of the most recognized peppers worldwide, and because of that, it’s one of the most versatile. Jalapenos are known as the green powerhouse, but they can also carry a red appearance depending on their maturation.

Their versatility allows for pickling, stuffing, or frying. In authentic Mexican cuisine, you can find them served whole with a slight charring as a companion to a delicious taco. They fall low on SHU scale, ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 SHU.

Dried Chiles

After undergoing an evolution, fresh chiles take on a new identity. After maturation, drying, and a smoking process, a fresh red meko—a variation type of jalapeño—turns into chipotle peppers. Traditional Mexican cuisine begins at the forefront of dried chiles and their contributions to the kitchen.


A unique feature of the cascabel chile is the shake it makes, giving it the nickname “rattle chile.” These plump, round chiles only have a mild heat, making them the perfect companions to stews and salsas. Their SHU levels range from 1,000 to 3,000, making them ideal for tomatillos.


The dried version of poblano chiles brings us the ancho chile peppers. After fully ripening, they become deep red in appearance, and they hover in the mild to medium heat levels, but their spiciness can vary. Their smokey attributes make for excellent marinades and chile paste. Like fresh poblano, they register with a SHU range of 1,000 to 1,500.


A pasilla offers a uniqueness like no other. Nicknamed the “little raisin,” the chile stands true to the name with its wrinkly skin, dark appearance, and intensely sweet fruit flavor. The heat doesn’t overpower a dish’s many other flavors and only registers a 1,000 to 2,500 SHU. In Oaxacan cuisine, the pasilla chile makes an excellent mole sauce.


With its vibrant red skin, the Marisol chile converts to a guajillo chile when dried. With only a touch of earthly notes and a genuine sweetness, guajillo is one of the best chiles for meat rubs and pastes. Guajillo is one of the most popular dried chiles due to its versatility, ranging from chocolate to soup. On the Scoville Scale, this dried chile has a range of 2,500 to 5,000 SHU.


The most mature form of poblano pepper, the mulato, is a dried, almost black, wrinkly chile in color. Like a guajillo or a pasillo, the mild flavor allows the chocolatey sparks to power through as the main character, making mulatos an excellent chile for moles, stews, and of course, salsa macha.


A Morita chile, which comes from jalapeño, is common in the United States. When smoked for a short amount of time, it carries a fruitier flavor and soft texture. A Morita chile makes an excellent addition to soup, chili, and salsa macha. We use dehydrated Morita peppers to create our hot version of salsa macha, as they add notes of smokey spices. This concoction produces a crunch and delivers ancestral traditions in every bite.


For some extra hot salsa macha, add a chile de Arbol to your sauce or salsa. Arbols are traditionally used to make wreaths or garnishes, but they carry an earthiness and toasty heat when used in cooking. If you rehydrate the chile, you pull notes of nuts, and the Scoville ranking sits between 15,000 and 30,000 SHU.

Our custom salsa macha with chile de Arbol adds a kick to every meal, but watch for a case of the tingles, as its red-hot snap never fails.


A piquin pepper is the critical component of chili powder, one of the most popular kitchen spices that spice up any dish. Pequins deliver more heat than jalapenos, with a scale rating between 40,000 and 60,000 SHU. Tiny but mighty, don’t underestimate the power of a pequin, as it’s a key spice in many hot sauces.


A pulla chile resembles the guajillo chile with a much smaller appearance and a more robust heat serving. The American culture knows pulla as puya, and it is the perfect candidate for a mashed or pureed variation. When the red chile pepper is fully ripe, it turns black in appearance and mixes in notes of fruit with a dose of fire. A puya chile registers a 5,000 to 8,000 SHU.

After exploring the ultimate guide to Mexican chiles, it’s clear that there are a lot of variations and uses for chiles. Don Emilio is home to world-class salsa macha that offers hints, notes, and servings of various Mexican chiles from traditional cuisines. Contact us today to experience these unique varieties and bring vibrant flavors to all your meals.

Need-To-Know: The Ultimate Guide to Mexican Chiles