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Your guide to peppers, from mild to blow-your-head-off caliente

Know your hot peppers so you can always use the right amount

If you find yourself pepper shy, there's probably a good reason. You, like so many people, may have made the big mistake of sinking your teeth into an unassuming pepper without realizing how hot it was. Before you swear off peppers forever, you can use this guide to give the spicier stuff a second chance hot peppers that come in different shapes, sizes and colors can add a kick to your favorite dish and are the staple of many international cuisines.

Invented by Wilbur Scoville, the Scoville heat index ranks peppers in order from mildest to hottest. It starts with 0 being the mildest and goes over 1,000,000 to indicate the hottest peppers. Though there are dozens of different kinds of peppers, here's the scoop on the heat index for some of the more widely used types.

Bell pepper

Know your hot peppers so you can always use the right amount
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Bell peppers, which can be red, yellow, green or orange, aren't hot peppers. They are very common sweet peppers. Since this type of pepper has no heat, its Scoville heat index is 0. You can cook bell peppers in a variety of ways, however don't expect this type of pepper to add spice to your food.

More: Tex-Mex stuffed bell peppers

Cherry pepper

Know your hot peppers so you can always use the right amount
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Also known as pimento peppers, cherry peppers are heart-shaped and about 4 inches long and 4 inches wide. These peppers are actually very mild, scoring about a 500 on the Scoville heat index. Cherry peppers are perhaps best known to be the red filling that can typically be found inside olives.

Anaheim pepper

Know your hot peppers so you can always use the right amount
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Another mild type of pepper is the Anaheim pepper. This pepper is usually maroon in color and has a long, skinny body. While the Anaheim pepper usually has a Scoville heat index of around 1,000, some varieties can have a rating as high as 5,000. Relative to the rest of this list, this pepper is not very hot.

Jalapeño pepper

Know your hot peppers so you can always use the right amount
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The jalapeño is one of the most common types of peppers in the U.S. Many people like it because it's spicy yet not overwhelming. Jalapeños are usually either red or green and about 2 to 3 inches long. Their Scoville heat index is around 5,000, however they can range anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000. When used sparingly, they add just the right amount of spicy flavor to most Mexican dishes. Many people also deep-fry jalapeños stuffed with cheese for a tasty appetizer.

More: Spicy vegan jalapeño poppers

Serrano pepper

Know your hot peppers so you can always use the right amount
Image: bhofack2/iStock/360/Getty Images

The serrano pepper is similar to the jalapeño in its look, but this pepper is much hotter. On the Scoville heat index, the serrano pepper can be between 10,000 and 25,000. This pepper is usually small (around 2 inches) and green in color. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the serrano pepper, the hotter it will taste.

Next Up: Cayenne pepper

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