Buena Mulata Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are Buena Mulata peppers?

Buena Mulata peppers are cayenne-shaped heirloom peppers that also provide a comparable amount of heat to the cayenne (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units.) The twist to these chilies is their surprising (and often dramatic) color journey they experience as they mature, morphing from a beautiful purple to orange to brown to red and many shades in-between. Beyond their ornamental beauty, the Buena Mulata is a surprising culinary pepper too. There’s a sweetness to it that the cayenne (and most other ornamentals) lack, making it fun to play with in the kitchen.

Young purple Buena Mulata peppers

Buena Mulata pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)30,000 – 50,000
Median heat (SHU)40,000
Jalapeño reference point4 to 20 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginUnited States
UseCulinary, Ornamental
Size6 to 7 inches long, tapered

How hot are Buena Mulata peppers?

These chilies share a similar heat profile to cayenne peppers — 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units. Compare that to our jalapeño reference point (2,500 to 8,000 SHU): The Buena Mulata ranges from four to twenty times hotter than a jalapeño.

For more perspective, let’s compare it to a popular extra-hot chili: the habanero (100,000 to 350,000 SHU.) The Buena Mulata is dwarfed by that heat, sitting anywhere from two to twelve times milder.

Buena Mulata Pepper SHU Heat Comparison

This places the Buena Mulata firmly in the medium range of pepper scale heat — hot enough to notice, but not so hot that they can’t be used day-to-day in the kitchen, whether used fresh or dried.

Where do these chilies originate?

This is one of those chilies with a real story to tell. The provenance holds that William Woys Weaver re-introduced the Buena Mulata to the world via his grandfather’s generations-old seed collection (the same collection that resurrected Baltimore’s fish pepper.) His grandfather was said to have received the Buena Mulata seeds from a famous folk artist named Horace Pippin in 1944.

The story is fascinating and Woys Weaver tells it himself in this Mother Earth Gardener article (a great read!)

Buena Mulata peppers on the vine

What do Buena Mulata peppers look like?

They have a typical cayenne pepper shape: thin and long, growing tapered to six to seven inches in length. But their color variations are what really set this chili apart from the pack. Some call it “chameleon-like” and that’s a very fitting description. They pack a comparable color punch to a fellow ornamental, the aurora pepper.

Buena Mulata peppers start with a beautiful purple hue and as they ripen they take a pretty magical color journey, from pinkish-yellow to orange to brown and finally to a rich red. There are unique shades of these colors all along the way, so it’s a truly stunning to pepper to watch through a season. It looks terrific as an ornamental pepper in both landscaping or as a single potted plant.

What do they taste like?

While this chili is most sought for its looks, its flavor shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Buena Mulata may have a cayenne-like body shape, but it has a lot more natural flavor than the neutral-tasting cayenne (or most other ornamentals for that matter.) There’s a sweetness here that builds in the pepper as it matures.

So know that the beautiful purple hue of young Buena Mulata peppers may look unique on the plate, but they are certainly not going to provide the best overall flavor. They are tasty still, just nowhere near their peak sweetness.

What are some good uses for this pepper?

We love the Buena Mulata as a pickling pepper for two big reasons: the colors are fun and their natural sweetness is a nice culinary foil to the vinegar tang of the pickling brine. It’s also a great chili for drying and crushing into chili flakes or powder. Seeing it’s the same heat as cayenne, the Buena Mulata can be a fun, slightly sweeter take on traditional crushed red pepper.

If you can take the heat, Buena Mulata peppers also just look good fresh on the plate or chopped for salads, salsas, and sandwiches. Their broad color palette does make for a festive looking salsa.

Where can you buy Buena Mulata peppers?

These are rare chilies to just find out and about, even at farmers’ markets or chili pepper farms, so you’ll want to grow them yourself (seeds on Amazon). But truly that’s a big part of the fun of this pepper — experiencing the colors that come to life throughout their growing period.

The good news is you don’t need a large garden or landscaping plot to grow Buena Mulatas. They work extremely well as potted plants, and one plant can provide most with plenty of chilies for the season. Know that you’ll want to monitor the plant as it matures, as the plant may need support to hold the weight of the high volume of peppers it yields.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on June 7, 2021 to include new content.
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What is the size of the plant?