The planet is home to thousands of types of chiles. They have dazzling shapes, sizes and heat levels, and are generally our go-to when adding heat to dishes. Chiles fall under the capiscum plant genus, and their heat is determined by how much capiscum oil they produce. Though they are often referred to as peppers, chiles aren't peppers at all, but rather fruits.
We've been taste-testing chiles lately, because how else should one spend hot August days? Here are 15 of our favorites and where they fit on the Scoville spice scale.
① Padron (Scoville: 500 to 1,000)
Though beloved in Spain, where the emerald green, thin-skinned chiles are quickly charred and sprinkled with salt, Padrons are actually thought to have originated in Mexico. The peppers are almost always mild, but occasionally a spicy one will pop up.
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② Fresno: (Scoville: 2,500 to 10,000)
③ Hungarian Wax (Scoville: 3,500 to 10,000)
These banana-shaped peppers taste similar to jalapeños and grow up to six inches long. They originate in Hungary (no surprise there) and can be sliced raw and added to salads.
④ Jalapeño (Scoville: 6,000 to 11,000)
A ubiquitous pepper loved across the U.S. and in Mexico, its fleshy skin can be sliced and added to just about anything. Jalapeños can also be marinated with vegetables and pickled like you see in escabeche. When ripened and smoke-dried, the chile transforms into chipotle peppers, which can be canned in adobo sauce or left dried and pulverized to a powder.
⑤ Serrano (Scoville: 10,000 to 25,000)
Widely available chiles that can be green or red, these small pungent peppers should never be used in replace of jalapeños, as they can pack almost double the heat.
⑥ Bolivian Rainbow (Scoville: 5,000 to 30,000)
These tiny peppers grow to be around half an inch long and come in a multitude of colors. Though commonly sold to be ornamental, the chiles have plenty of heat and can be added to salsas for a dash of color.
Medium Heat Chiles
⑦ Chile de Árbol (Scoville: 15,000 to 30,000)
Similar in shape and size to its hotter cousin, the cayenne, the chile de árbol pepper is long and pointy, reaching up to two and half inches. It can be used both fresh and dry. Chile de árbol peppers have a slightly acidic quality, which makes them go well with tomatoes or salsas and other sauces, and can also be combined with fruit to make jam.
⑧ Cayenne (Scoville: 30,000 to 50,000)
This South American chile starts off green and then takes on a bright red hue. As it matures, the pepper's heat increases. It can be used fresh but is commonly dried and essential in Cajun cuisine. Sadly, most ground cayenne seasoning sold commercially does not exclusively use cayenne pepper but is made up of a mix of peppers.
⑨ Piri Piri (Scoville: 60,0000 to 175,000)
Also known as bird's-eye chile or African devil, piri piri is a thin skinned reddish orange chile. It is essential to Portuguese chicken recipes, even though the actual chile reigns from Africa.
⑩ Tabasco (Scoville: 30,000 to 50,000)
⑪ Thai Chile (Scoville: 50,000 to 100,000)
Known worldwide for their contribution to Southeast Asian cuisine, Thai chiles are called prik kee noo in Thai. That translates to "mouse dropping chile," a nod to the chile's tiny size. The chile is thin-skinned and has a pointed bottom and is essential to curries, stir-fries and salad.
⑫ Habanero (Scoville: 100,000 to 325,000)
A little goes a long way with this pepper, which has a slightly tapered, lantern-like tip. Its color can go from pale to medium green to bright orange and yellow. It can be charred and smashed into a paste with lime juice and salt or blended into an oil to add ample heat.
⑬ Scotch Bonnet (Scoville: 100,000 to 325,000)
Similar in shape to the habanero, Scotch bonnets are from the Caribbean and essential to jerk chicken. Their bulbous shape might make them look cute, but their heat is infamous and can last for a long time. However, their bright, tropical fruit notes make them easy to love.
⑭ Bhut Jolokia (Scoville: 1,000,000)
Commonly referred to as ghost chile, this pepper was at one point the hottest pepper in the world and received a great amount of attention for it. The pepper originates from India and should be used sparingly, as it can be quite overpowering when added to dishes.
⑮ Carolina Reaper (Scoville: 2,000,000)
The Carolina Reaper now holds the title of hottest pepper in the world. The pepper was bred in a greenhouse in South Carolina and is a cross between the red habanero and Pakistani Naga. It should not be eaten raw. Repeat: Do not eat a raw Carolina Reaper. (You're still going to, aren't ya?)
This article was originally published on 8/28/15, and was updated with additional photography by Delia Mooney on 1/19/17.