So, you think you can take the heat?
Here are some of the spicy peppers commonly used around the world — though they’re not nearly the hottest!
What’s the Scoville scale?
The Scoville scale is a measure of the spiciness of peppers and chilies based on the concentration of capsaicin in them (the chemical compound that gives peppers and other spicy foods their heat).
A pepper’s Scoville Heat unit (SHU) is determined by diluting the pepper’s extract until a panel of tasters can no longer detect the heat. The SHU is the amount of times that pepper’s extract has to be diluted to be heat-free, so the higher the Scoville rating, the hotter the pepper!
That being said, now you know how to read Scoville Heat Units and you have a better idea how to gauge whether you’ll like a hot pepper or not!
(also, you can figure out if you’ve got what it takes to be on “Hot Ones!”)
Here are some of the most common hot peppers around, their SHU and, of course, how to best cook with them!
24 types of spicy peppers
Though not a hot pepper, the bell pepper serves as a good reference point of spiciness (or lack thereof). Put bell peppers in everything from salads to fajitas to curries to sandwiches to… well, everything.
SHU 50 to 100
Shishitos aren’t usually spicy, but every now and then you may get a bit of a kick when you bite into this sweet, East Asian pepper.
SHU 0 to 500
Banana peppers aren’t hot, but they have a flavor that tastes spicy without actually being spicy. This makes them a good option for sandwiches and Mexican dishes that benefit from a spicy-like flavor.
SHU 100 to 500
Similar to a banana pepper but with a little extra tang of freshness, these peppers are often pickled or served with pimento cheese. They’re also a great option for stuffed peppers if you’re looking for something spicier than a bell pepper but milder than a jalapeno.
SHU 500 to 1000
Hailing from Northern Spain, this pepper is similar to the banana pepper and the Sweet Italian, though it has a thicker skin that makes it a better option for roasting and canning.
We’re starting to get a little spicy, but nothing too crazy yet. The Cubanelle pepper is a popular substitute for red bell peppers since it has a similar texture, but a slightly tangier flavor. Use it in a roasted red pepper hummus or as a mole sauce!
SHU 1,000 to 2,000
The spiciness of these peppers will change depending on the color. The green peppers are mild, but the red ones have a little more kick to them. Their size, shape and flavor make them good for stuffing, for roasting and for blending into thick, rich sauces.
SHU 500 to 2,500
Anaheim peppers are named for the Californian city they were brought to, but they’re much hotter in their native New Mexico. They’re juuuuust mild enough to eat raw, but they’ve got a decent enough kick to them that they’re also made into canned green chilies.
SHU 2,500 to 5,000
These small, cherry-tomato-like red peppers are less popular on grocery store shelves, but they’re often used to make mole and dried ground chili powder.
SHU 1,000 to 2,500
Now we’re getting into some hotter stuff! These small, long, green peppers are one of the most popular kinds of green pepper for pickling, so you’ve likely had them in a restaurant before!
SHU 1,000 to 8,000
The jalapeno is a versatile pepper that is one of the most popular around. Use it fresh to add a spicy kick to salads, nachos or salads, or dry it out and blend it to make rich, roasted pepper sauces and soups!
SHU 2,500 to 10,000
This cousin of the jalapeno is a little hotter and has a slightly smoky taste. Use it in chilis, soups and salsas to add a new depth of flavor to your creations.
SHU 100 to 15,000
You’ll notice these peppers have quite the range in Scoville heat units, and that’s because there are so many kinds out there. The yellow chili pepper was one of the first peppers introduced to Europe from South America, and since then the pepper has been cultivated all over the world!
SHU 10,000 to 25,000
These peppers are another popular grocery store staple and ones you can find in dishes of all kinds. Though fairly spicy, their compact size makes these crunchy peppers ideal for slicing raw and sprinkling onto other dishes for a fresh burst of flavor, texture and clean heat!
SHU 2,500 to 30,000
This is a great example of how peppers can have different names at different points in their life! Mirasol chilis are the fresh version of this pepper, but once it’s dried it becomes a guajillo chili. Both fresh and dried versions have a sweet, fruity tang accompanying their spicy flavor, making them ideal for salsas and sauces.
SHU 35,000 to 50,000
You’re most likely to find this pepper in its dried, ground form in spice packets and seasoning blends. Its flavor becomes bolder when dried and while it’s certainly got a kick, it’s just the right amount of spiciness to work well as an all-purpose powder to add to your favorite recipes.
SHU 30,000 to 50,000
Yes, these are the same ones used to make Tabasco sauce!
Not only that, but they’re also the only kinds of pepper that are juicy on the inside, rather than dry — making them a great option for sauces and salsas.
SHU 30,000 to 100,000
Watch out for these little devils, as they’re eerily similar to a plain old mini red bell pepper. You won’t know the difference until it’s much, much too late.
SHU 50,000 to 100,000
These small, long, reddish-yellowish peppers are the main culprits in spicy Thai food. They pack quite a punch for their diminutive size and are often mixed into sauces, soups and curries for a blast of flavor and heat.
SHU 50,000 to 175,000
Also called “African Bird’s Eye” peppers, this hot red chili is more popular in Portugal, the southern Mediterranean and in South Africa, where the peri-peri chili is transformed into a stunning spice blend rebranded as “Peri Peri”.
SHU 100,000 to 300,000
This pepper may look like any other small, red, pointy chili pepper, but it’s the only pepper to have had an entire festival dedicated to it in Florida! The Datil Pepper Festival showcases the many ways chefs and home cooks make use of the pepper, as well as offer a chance for attendees to put their heat-sensitivity strength to the test! The festival isn’t happening this year (2023), but keep an eye out for future events!
SHU 100,000 to 350,000
These small, round, misshapen peppers are a hit in the Caribbean and the Yucatan Peninsula. The peppers come in an array of colors ranging from red to yellow to orange and even a little bit green, so they’re an aesthetically-pleasing pepper as well as a flavorful one. They’re best used in sauces and salsas where their slightly floral flavor compliments other fresh ingredients.
SHU 100,000 to 400,000
The Scotch bonnet pepper resembles the flat Scottish tammie hat, hence the name, but is most popular in Jamaica and the Caribbean where it’s a staple in jerk seasoning and other Jamaican dishes. Be aware that it packs a powerful kick along with its sweet flavor!
SHU 350,000 to 570,000
The Red Savina is a cousin of the habanero that has been selectively bred to be sturdier, spicier and larger than its tamer family peppers.
This is about where peppers start getting into the really, really hot range, with Scoville units soaring up to the millions! We’ll go over some of those later, but right now just enjoy your face slowly melting off and the profuse full-body sweats that is totally normal in the human culinary experience.
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/HansLinde