While most of us don't have what it takes to enter a hot pepper-eating competition, cooking with hot peppers is still a terrific way to add a kick to any meal. Peppers may come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but many people steer clear of them because there's no telling how hot a pepper may be once you sink your teeth into it. Don't let this hot pepper confusion keep you away from your love of spicy food — check out our hotness guide to the most popular peppers, designed to make "cooking with fire" easy.
Invented by Wilbur Scoville, the Scoville heat index ranks peppers in order from mildest to hottest. It starts with zero 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 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 zero. You can cook bell peppers in a variety of ways, however don't expect this type of pepper to add spice to your food.
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.
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.
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.
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: More types of hot peppers
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