If eating chili peppers were like playing a video game, trying a poblano would be like playing on “easy” mode.
But just because the peppers don’t kick off as much heat as their more fiery cousins doesn’t mean, by any means, that they’re not worth trying.
In fact, on the contrary, poblano peppers are one of the most popular types of chilies in their native Mexico and far beyond – and it might be precisely thanks to their low-level heat.
So how hot are poblano peppers? When it comes to the Scoville scale, the official designation of chili pepper spiciness, poblanos rank at just 1,000-2,000 Scoville heat units, or SHUs. That may sound like a lot, but believe us when we say that it’s barely a prick on the tip of your tongue.
For comparison, the popular jalapeno pepper pulls in between 5,000 – 10,000 SHUs, making the otherwise relatively humble jalapeno as much as five times hotter than the poblano. (For even more context, consider the cayenne pepper, widely thought of as a middle-of-the-road heat with anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 SHUs.)
In fact, the only major capsicum cultivar that packs less heat than the poblano is the sweet pepper, specifically named after their lack of spice and pulling in an impressive zero Scoville heat units.
But unless you’re totally coo-coo for capsaicin – the chemical compound providing the spicy punch to chilli peppers – you can still find plenty about the poblano to love.
Hailing from the state of Puebla in Mexico, poblano peppers are named after the term for residents of the region: poblanos.
And the chile pepper has been a mainstay of cooking in the area for hundreds of years.
That’s thanks, at least in part, to the pepper’s mild pallet. Poblanos have a unique taste to them, coming in more earthy and vegetable-like than many other peppers, and making them a lovely addition to any number of dishes, sauces or salsas.
The poblano’s color is also highly prized in Mexico: While the plants start out as a deep purple or green, before maturing to an equally-dark red or even black. But most are picked in their forest green phase. And in Mexico, that makes the chilies a popular choice for national Independence Day festivities, where fare made in the Mexican flag colors of red, white and green is especially prized.
(Red poblano peppers are another varietal of the pepper. Far less common than their green poblano cousins, the cultivar is also much spicier.)
And then, of course, there’s the pepper’s texture and size. Poblanos are much larger than most other chili peppers. And their thicker walls – and generally “meatier” feel, means they’re good for a hearty, filling bite.
Which is great for all of us – because it means this delicious pepper has popped up in any number of recipes.
Stuffed poblano peppers are by far one of the most popular poblano pepper recipes. That’s because the heart-shaped peppers have plenty of room inside, making them the perfect vehicle for everything from black beans to bread crumbs to cheese or anything else a budding chef could imagine.
Roasting poblano peppers is another common choice in the kitchen – and, again, the pepper’s unique size and texture can be thanked for these delicious dishes. Since poblanos have such thick skins, they can stand a good deal of roasting – add that treatment to a stuffed poblano pepper, and you get double the deliciousness.
And thanks to their mild kick, poblanos make a popular substitute for sweet peppers in everything from tacos to enchiladas.
Of course, fresh poblano peppers are not the only culinary option out there. Many times, people will dry out poblano peppers – at which point, they’re called anchos or ancho chiles. And ancho chiles make the base for a number of decadent sauces, including the deeply flavorful perfection that is Mexican mole.
Thankfully, both fresh poblanos and ancho chiles are both widely available at the grocery store – especially in the Southwest. Because whether you’re just staring out on your chili pepper journey, or your tongue just needs a break from the more lethal stuff in this pepper eating video game, poblano peppers are a winning choice.