Do you like chili peppers but have a hard time telling them apart? You’re not the only one! Hot peppers come in such a dizzying variety that it is easy to get confused between jalapenos, poblanos, serranos, habaneros – and the list goes on. And when you are picking peppers to cook with, telling them apart becomes crucial. You do not want to accidentally use extremely hot peppers for a dish that is supposed to be only mildly spicy!

To pick the right pepper, know your Scoville scale

The heat of chili peppers is measured by the Scoville scale, which is commonly abbreviated to SHU (Scoville Heat Units). Bell peppers, which are not spicy at all, are the baseline for this measurement and have a score of zero. Ghost peppers, which are among the hottest peppers around, score up to 1,041,427 SHU!

Where does the heat come from? Capsaicin, a compound found in the seeds and membranes of chili peppers, is what makes them spicy. Since smaller peppers have a higher proportion of seeds and membranes than larger ones, it’s useful to remember that the smaller a pepper is, the spicier it is, in most cases.

9 popular chili peppers, ranked by spiciness

The next time you go shopping for peppers, read the guide below so you know in advance how to identify them and buy the ones that have the right degree of heat for what you’re planning to make.

Poblano Peppers/Ancho Peppers

SHU score: 1000-1500

Size: 4-6 inches long

The mildest of hot peppers, poblanos are medium-sized, with smooth, dark green skin. They are great for recipes that require roasting or stuffing. Dried poblano peppers are called ancho peppers and are dark red in colour. They are used mainly for sauces.

Jalapeño Peppers/Chipotle Peppers

SHU score: 2500-8000

Size: 2-4 inches long

The highly popular jalapeños are very versatile and suitable for most recipes. Most are green, but red varieties can also be found in stores. Chipotle peppers are jalapeños that have been ripened, smoked and dried. 

Hungarian Wax Peppers

SHU score: 5000-15,000

Size: 4-6 inches long

Hungarian wax peppers are light green or yellow in colour. They are usually found fresh or pickled. Common uses for these peppers are in stews, soups and sauces.

Serrano Peppers

SHU score: 10,000-23,000

Size: 1-2 inches long

Serrano peppers are small, bright green peppers with a similar flavour to jalapeños. However, they are three times as hot, so they can be substituted for them when the dish requires more heat.

Bird’s Eye Chili

SHU score: 50,000-100,000

Size: 0.75-2 inches long

Bird’s eye chilis, also known as Thai peppers, are small peppers usually red or green in colour, and sometimes orange. They are very hot and most commonly used in southeast Asian dishes like stir-fries.

Habanero Peppers

SHU score: 100,000-300,000

Size: 0.75-2.5 inches long

Habanero peppers are sweet and fruity in flavour, but extremely hot. They are shaped like miniature bell peppers, and can be found in various colours, from yellow, orange and red to white, pink and brown. Usually, the closer their colour is to red, the hotter they are.

Scotch Bonnet

SHU score: 100,000-350,000

Size: 1-2 inches long

Scotch bonnet peppers got their name from their shape, which resembles a tam o’ shanter hat. They come in various colours, including yellow, peach, orange, red and brown. They are commonly used in Caribbean dishes.

Ghost Peppers

SHU score:

855,000–1,041,427

Size: 2-3 inches long

Also known as Bhut Jolokia, ghost peppers rank among the hottest peppers in the world. They typically have red, wrinkled skin. Ghost peppers are so hot that they are used for making pepper spray. They are usually hard to find in grocery stores but can be found in spice stores or local farmers markets.

We hope you can now shop for hot peppers more confidently. And if you do make the mistake of buying ones that are too spicy – be sure to have some milk lying around to cool off!