If there is one ingredient that Mexican cuisine cannot live without it would be the chilli. Chillis originated in Mexico and began making their way around the globe during the 15th and 16th centuries after the voyage of Christopher Columbus. They are a fruit related to the common sweet capsicum but, as we know, they pack a lot more punch! It is the Capsaicin and other related chemicals known as Capsaicinoids in chillis that give them their heat when eaten or applied topically. If you have been afraid to add chilli to your Mexican meals in the past, here are some Essential Chillis for Mexican cooking that you can experiment with.
The jalapeño chilli is typically eaten when it is green, but it turns red when ripe. They have a medium heat and can be used fresh as a garnish or added to cooking for warmth and flavour. This is something people can learn about in cooking classes (click here for info about options). As for getting them, they are the most common one found in American grocery stores. You can buy them from the supermarket in jars as well to add to your tacos or to serve alongside your Doña Cholita corn tortillas.
The Chipotle chilli is a dried and smoked version of the Mexican jalapeño chilli. They are added to Mexican cooking for their mild but earthy warmth and spice. Dry toast the chipotles and then soak them in water before using. They are also available in cans as Chipotles in Adobo sauce, which is a tangy, slightly sweet red sauce. They are handy for adding hot, smoky flavouring to Mexican cooking.
The Habanero chilli is a lantern shaped chilli that turns orange and red as it ripens. Don’t be fooled by its pretty appearance! The Habanero is the hottest chilli commonly used in Mexican cooking. Be very careful when preparing and eating them. They are for the brave only!
The Pasilla chilli is a dark, thin, long, dried chilaca pepper. Pasillas are generally used in sauces or moles and go well with fruits, duck, seafood, lamb, mushrooms, garlic, fennel, honey or oregano.
The Arbol chilli can be found fresh, dried or in ground form for making sauces, soups and stews. You can substitute Cayenne pepper in most recipes.
Looks like a dark green capsicum, but has a little spice. These are now available fresh off the supermarket shelf & are AMAZING served as chiles rellenos – stuffed with cheese and fried. Try our Chiles Rellenos recipe here.
These are just six types of many essential chillis for Mexican cooking but we think it’s a good place to start next time you are preparing your favourite Mexican meals.
Some other popular chillis in Mexico include Serrano (pictured above), a deliciously spicy chilli that is perhaps even more common place than Jalapeños, Guajillo a dried chilli that gives a sweet yet spicy flavour, Ancho the dried version of chile poblano, the list goes on…