Peppers are universally loved — in the kitchen and in the garden. When you choose to grow peppers in the garden, you have a plethora of pepper varieties to choose from! Knowing a little about each type of pepper will help you make a good decision for you and your taste buds.
Part of the Capsicum genus, peppers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and spice levels. Although they originated in Latin America, peppers are now integral in many types of cuisines, including Mexican, Thai, and Indian.
Although each pepper variety is unique in its own way, one of the key differences (and a very valuable one to know in the kitchen) is the amount of capsaicin or the heat index a pepper has. Capsaicin is the chemical in peppers that causes the heat or spiciness level you experience when you chomp down on a pepper. The level of heat is measured by the Scoville Scale.
What is the Scoville Scale?
Created by Wilbur Scoville in 1912, the Scoville measures heat index of chiles and peppers in Scoville units. The scale ranges from 0 (bell peppers) to 3,000,000 (pepper X, the spiciest pepper there is). The Scoville scale is a good way to know how hot your peppers are, but know that heat varies according to climate and vegetation as well.
- Mild = 0 – 4,000
- Medium = 4,000 – 15,000
- Hot = 15,000 – 50,000
- Very Hot = 50,000 +
How to Reduce Heat
Along with variation in heat, pepper varieties have different and complex flavors. To experience the flavors of various peppers but reduce the spiciness level, remove seeds and interior ribs from peppers before cooking. This contains the bulk of the capsaicin; removing them will reduce the spiciness level.
Additionally, it’s good to have diary products on hand as they contain casein — a neutralizing agent for capsaicin. Be sure to NEVER touch your eyes when handling peppers.
10 Most Popular Pepper Varieties
Whether chiles, bell peppers, or ghost peppers are your favorite, each pepper type has a unique flavor profile and growing style. These are the 10 most popular pepper varieties, their heat rating, and our favorite recipe for each.
Whatever pepper variety you choose, the growing process is remarkably similar for all peppers. See our Guide to Growing Peppers for more detail.
Bell peppers are the mildest of all peppers. Crisp, sweet, and high in water content, they’re great veggies for people who can’t handle the spice. Bell peppers shift colors as they grow — from green to yellow to red. As they mature, they become sweeter. Perfect for fajita veggies, salads, and roasting.
Days to Maturity: 60-80
Scoville Heat Units: 0
Recipe: Stuffed Bell Pepper Recipe
Mini Sweet Pepper
Slightly sweeter than bell, the mini sweet pepper is equally mild as the bell pepper. It has substantially less seeds than a bell pepper — you can take a big big out of one and rarely get a seed! Use them as vehicles for your favorite dip or roast them the way you would a bell pepper.
Shishito peppers are delicious little green peppers that are often pan seared and eaten alone. With a hint of smoky flavor, they’re a pretty mild pepper that occasionally packs a little punch. Shishitos technically mature when they turn red, but we recommend picking while they’re still bright green.
Days to Maturity: 55
Scoville Heat Units: 0 – 200
Recipe: Grilled Shishito Peppers Recipe
These peppers got their name from their looks. Long and yellow, banana peppers are a tangy but mild pepper — only slightly spicier than shishitos. They’re especially great for building sandwiches. You’ll know they’re ready to harvest when they turn from green to their famous light yellow color.
Days to Maturity: 60-75
Scoville Heat Units: 0-500
Recipe: Pickled Banana Peppers Recipe
Polbano are beloved heart shaped peppers that are extremely common in Mexican dishes. Although technically mild on the Scoville scale, these peppers do pack a punch. Mature poblano peppers are dark red-brown and a huge hit when dried. They’re delicious roasted and stuffed.
Jalapeños are the most popular and widely available spicy pepper. It’s the perfect entry point to a little bit of heat while remaining widely palatable. When fully ripened, jalapeños turn red and take on a slightly fruity flavor. When allowed to fully mature, dried and smoked, jalapeños become the delicious chipotle.
Days to Maturity: 80-100
Scoville Heat Units: 2500-3000
Recipe: Jalapeño Grapefruit Margarita Recipe
Fresno peppers pack a little more heat than the jalapeño and host a fruitier, smokier flavor — specially as they’re allowed to mature. Approximately 2-3 inches long, fresno peppers are usually a beautiful red color. They’re perfect for at-home chefs that are looking to make a few exciting decisions in the kitchen.
This long, thin, red pepper has a bright, clean flavor with quite a lot of heat. The smaller the pepper, the hotter it will be. Serrano peppers have super thin skins, meaning there’s no need to peel before enjoying. Roast them, add them to salads, or throw them in chilis.
Days to Maturity: 80-100
Scoville Heat Units: 10,000-23,000
Recipe: Peachy Serrano Pepper Wings Recipe
Most well-known for its dried ground form, cayenne pepper is the main ingredient in chili and the flavor that powers many Tex-Mex dishes. Even a pinch will flavor your dishes immensely. Much hotter than the serrano pepper, it’s a really great energy booster. (Some people eat it instead of coffee!)
Days to Maturity: 70-80
Scoville Heat Units: 30,000-50,000
Recipe: Fettuccine with Sweet Cayenne Pepper Sauce Recipe
Small and bulbous, the habanero pepper is one of the hottest on the Scoville scale. If you can stand the heat, it’s got a beautiful fruity, citrusy flavor underneath the spice that’s very popular in the Caribbean. It’s used in chilis, sauces, and salsas. We do not recommend eating them whole.
Days to Maturity: 75
Scoville Heat Units: 150,000 to 350,000
Recipe: Habanero Hot Sauce Recipe