What's The Difference Between Jalapeños And Chipotle Peppers?

If you're a fan of Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, jalapeño poppers, or prefer your drinks on the spicier side, you're probably familiar with the heat chipotle and jalapeño peppers can bring to recipes. While one of these peppers is aged, dried, and smoked, both varieties lend unique flavors to meals, sauces, and drinks. Though both of these peppers have the same beginnings in Mexico and come from the same place, you probably couldn't guess it if you weren't already in the know.

While you'd think the same ingredient would taste the same in recipes, the two peppers offer distinct flavors for chefs to work with. The next time you're looking to add spice to a dish or make a flavorful sauce from scratch, consider which pepper will enhance your meal — and not distract from your attempted culinary masterpiece. Wrinkly, dried chipotle peppers are, in fact, jalapeños, but they do not deliver the same taste when used in the kitchen.

Crisp jalapeño peppers

Green jalapeños peppers offer a crisp, mild spice that brighten recipes. Since the heat of fresh jalapeño peppers isn't an overbearing culinary addition, the pepper can easily be incorporated into main dishes, stuffed to serve as appetizers, sliced on top of salads, and diced into flavorful salsas. You may have even seen slices of jalapeño served in a drink like the spicy jalapeño shrub cocktail.

If left on the stem, a green jalapeño pepper will turn into a red hue as it ripens. Growers have to collect nearly 10 pounds of the green peppers to produce a single pound of smoky chipotle peppers. While the green peppers are collected to be sold, the red peppers have a different fate waiting for them — and a process that can take several days to ready the peppers. If you're looking for a smokier, bolder taste to kick up a meal, reach for the jalapeño's drier, older form: the chipotle.

Smoky chipotle peppers

The earthy taste of chipotle peppers can flavor barbecue sauces and deepen recipes. If not used well, the ingredient can take over the steering wheel of a recipe, but in the hands of a skillful cook, this bold flavor can elevate a dish. 

To produce chipotle peppers, jalapeño peppers are smoked for days and dried. The way in which the peppers are dried will determine how the product is sold. Jalapeño peppers that aren't dried as long are known as morita peppers. Morita peppers are deep red in color and bring a fruity, gentle flavor to dishes. When smoked for longer, the pepper turns gray or dark tan. These meco peppers offer an earthier, smokier flavor to recipes.

Since chipotle peppers carry a bit more heat than jalapeño peppers, the inclusion of paste or canned peppers in recipes needs to be carefully considered. For other peppery alternatives that can help give dishes a flavorful kick, we have 13 substitutes for you to try.