Chiltepin Vs. Pequin: PepperScale Showdown

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Chiltepin chilies are also known as chile tepin or bird peppers — the latter nickname comes from the fact that birds love the pepper, consume it heavily (because of their tiny size) and spread the seeds. Pequin peppers — also called piquin peppers — get their name from the Spanish word for small, which is pequeno. So, there are similarities in size. But which is hotter? Do these peppers look alike outside of the shape? How do their flavors compare? We cover all these questions and more in our showdown.

Table of Contents

Quick comparison: Chiltepin Vs. Pequin

Scoville heat units (SHU)50,000 – 100,00040,000 – 60,000
Median heat (SHU)75,00050,000
Jalapeño reference point6 to 40 times hotter5 to 24 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuumAnnuum
OriginUnited StatesMexico/United States
SizeRound, approximately 1/4 to 1/2-inch longRound, approximately 1/2 to 1-inch long
FlavorSmoky, EarthySmoky, Fruity, Citrusy, Nutty

Which is hotter, the chiltepin or pequin?

Chiltepin peppers will almost always be hotter than pequins. Chiltepins measure between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), which places them at the lower end of extra-hot chilies, bordering on the likes of the habanero (100,000 to 350,000 SHU). And easily double the heat of cayenne pepper (30,000 to 50,000 SHU).

Pequin peppers are a good bit milder than chiltepin, with their spiciness ranging between 40,000 and 60,000 SHU. That places the pequin at the upper-end of medium-heat chilies. It’s hotter than cayenne pepper, so don’t let our comparison to chiltepin fool you into thinking there’s no heat here. There’s still plenty of it.

Let’s compare these chilies by how often they are typically searched for globally online. When comparing all of their common name variants, the results are very close.

Chiltepin takes a slight edge in the popularity department, with roughly 17,000 searches per month globally. Pequin, though, is not far behind, with approximately 15,000 global searches per month.

Overall both of these chilies are moderately popular. They don’t compare to the most searched chilies (which can receive 300,000+ searches monthly), but there are many peppers that don’t come near their marks.

How does each pepper taste?

Chiltepins have a reputation for offering a tangy and fruity flavor; some people detect hints of smokiness and earthiness in their flavor profile. Pequin chilies have a distinctive citrus note and an even stronger fruitiness than the chiltepin’s tanginess.

How do they differ in shape and colors?

It is important to note here that these peppers do have similar appearances and are sometimes mistaken for each other. It is especially common to mislabel chiltepins as pequins. Chiltepin chilies are oval-shaped with some being closer to spherical and berry-like — they have a diameter of about 1/2 an inch. Chiltepins ripen bright red, but are consumed in both ripe and green states.

Pequin chilies are more elongated though they do have the same 1/2 inch diameter as the chiltepin. Penguins are typically about 3/4-inch long but some can grow up to an inch. Pequins ripen red, but green and red fruit are both consumed.

Where does each originate?

The chiltepin chili is an ancient pepper that was once grown by the Aztecs and may have been the very first chili from which all others came. The chiltepin has been given the title of the only pepper native to the United States and grows wild on the border between the United States and Mexico. Because of its status as the only native US pepper, it is protected in some national parks. Texas has also claimed the chiltepin as their native state pepper. These peppers are also heavily used in Northern Mexico and Arizona by the Yaqui and O’odham people. Traditionally, indigenous Americans used chiltepins as medicines for stomach ailments and applied them topically for muscle pain.

Pequin peppers are native to Mexico and specifically to the state of Tabasco. Famously, pequin peppers are one of the two peppers used to make the famous Mexican hot sauce from Jalisco called Cholula.

Which is easier to find fresh?

Chiltepins will not be easy to find fresh in mainstream US grocery stores. Unless you live in Northern Mexico, the only place you are likely to see these chilies fresh is in a store that specializes in Mexican foods and Mexican produce in particular. The most likely place to find chiltepins will be around the border between Texas and Mexico.

You may be able to find fresh pequin peppers in some Mexican grocery stores.

Which is used most often in commercial products?

Products from chiltepins are more common but not particularly varied — they are pretty much all sauces, flakes, and dried whole peppers.

In addition to hot sauces like Cholula, you can find pequin peppers dried whole and powdered. Pequins are also popular for use in pepper jams, possibly because of their fruitiness.

  1. Whole Dried Chiltepin (4 ounces)

    Whole, these tiny dried chilies can be rehydrated for use in Mexican foods or simply ground into a delicious (and smokier) alternative to traditional red pepper flakes.

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  2. Dried Pequin Peppers (1 ounce)

    Dried whole pequin peppers are an excellent way to add upper-medium heat to many dishes. Rehydrate them or crush them into flakes or powders. Their natural smokiness and fruitiness make them an excellent chili for use with barbecue sauces.

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  • The Hot Pepper List: These two chilies are two of over 150 that we profile. See our list that allows you to search these chilies by heat, flavor, origin, and more.
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: We rank and review over 100 hot sauces so that you can discover your next new favorite.
  • Small Peppers Guide: These two peppers are among the tiniest on the Scoville scale. Which others are among the smallest?

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 16, 2022 to include new content.
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