We here at FruitStand love all our fruits equally – but despite our best attempts at spreading peace and love through the plant world, some natural battles naturally arise.
So seems to be the case when it comes to chili peppers, with the capsicum’s signature heat signatures seeming to bring out the competitive side of heat eaters everywhere.
Still, even in this high-octane atmosphere, the serrano pepper plays more nicely than most, with a (relatively) mild heat index and delicious and unique flavor that’s been treasured for centuries.
Indeed, many pepper aficionados liken the serrano to jalapeno peppers – and the comparison makes sense in many ways.
The chile peppers look a lot alike – roughly the same size and shape and, often, color. And both offer a similar veggie-like crunch when they’re fresh that’s oh-so-satisfying.
But in the grand tradition of pepper heat competition, the two represent arch rivals of the Scoville scale – the official measure of chili pepper hotness – and here, the serrano beats out their jalapeno friends.
When it comes to capsaicin, the naturally-occurring compound that makes chili peppers so heated, serranos routinely round up between 10,000 – 25,000 SHUs, or Scoville heat units. For comparison, the average jalapeno pepper typically maxes out around 10,000, but more often keeps it closer to 5,000-7,000 SHUs.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, the serrano pepper is barely a blip on the Scoville scale radar, with its relatively mild-mannered spice signature making it a treasured favorite in the culinary world.
Serranos have been widely loved nearly from the moment of their cultivation.
The peppers first put down roots in South and Central America, truly coming into their own in the Mexican states of Puebla and Hidalgo.
In fact, the hot peppers’ name is a shoutout to their point of origin. Puebla and Hidalgo are particularly noted for their close proximity to the stunning Sierra Madre mountain range, with “sierra” meaning mountain in Spanish. “Serrano” is widely thought to be an adaptation of this word, with the peppers officially christened in Mexico for their association with these naturally dramatic areas.
And thanks to their dramatic flavor – which carries a sweet, tangy spice – they’ve become a beloved ingredient in their native Mexico and beyond, with no shortage of recipes with serrano peppers popping up all over the globe.
Still, they’re most closely associated with the more traditional fare of their area of origin, making appearances in all manner of delicious Mexican food like pico de gallo, guacamole, and a range of other sides and sauces, thanks to their more-mild-but-still-undeniable heat.
As such an in-demand crop, the serrano pepper has caught the attention of many gardeners over the years, and a number of different cultivars have been developed.
Still, the most commonly sighted type of serrano pepper at the grocery store isn’t one of them! The green version of the capsicum so often lining the produce aisle shelves isn’t necessarily indicative of a particular cultivar as much as it’s an indicator of when the pepper was harvested.
Green peppers of all types – including serranos – indicate a fruit that was (purposely) picked a bit prematurely. Many pepper growers do this intentionally – with less ripe versions of the produce carrying a slightly different, more vegetable-like taste and crunch. And many times, as is the case with the serrano, these under-ripe peppers also carry a less potent heat factor.
The less common red serrano is actually the same cultivar as most green serrano peppers, but picked closer to the plant’s ripest state. Since red serrano peppers were left longer on the vine, the plants were able to absorb more of the pepper’s nutritional benefits, including the vitamin A responsible for the pepper’s stand-out hue.
Red serrano peppers also typically pack more of a Scoville punch, registering at higher decibels on the official heat scale – so proceed with caution.
Still, there are a number of other types of serrano peppers that represent their very own cultivars. All told, there are around a dozen different types of serrano peppers, but some of the most popular varietals include:
Technically a hybrid of several serrano types, this chili pepper cultivar has become a favorite of gardeners everywhere, thanks to its impressive size and growing speed – coming in twice as big as its serrano cousins and two to three weeks earlier in the growing season.
But their taste is also nothing to sneeze at, packing a pungent, uniquely-serrano punch. And with a relatively mild SHU rating of 5,000 – roughly the same as jalapenos – these types of peppers are a shoo-in for a number of traditional Mexican recipes, including a variety of salsas and sauces.
Arguably the most beautiful version of this wonderful hot pepper, purple serranos are one of the rarest – but most highly-sought – serrano.
They’re slightly longer than their serrano brethren, though they typically blossom in the same horn-like shape and carry a similar spicy bite and meaty flesh. But their deep purple color at maturity – along with their plant’s stunning dark purple flowers – are truly a sight to be seen.
One of the most popular types of serrano peppers in Mexico – and in Mexican food generally – these chili peppers offer a flavor pallet all their own: A delicious mix of earthy, tangy and hot.
They’re also known to be particularly pungent, adding a whole other dimension to the sauces and sides, like pico de gallo and salsa, that they’re mixed into.
Still, it doesn’t take a chile pepper expert to sniff out the fact that adding any type of serrano pepper to a recipe is a great idea.