Chipotle Pepper Guide: Types, Heat, Flavor, Uses

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What are chipotle peppers?

Chipotle peppers are smoked, dried jalapeño peppers, and as such they share the same medium-level heat as jalapeños (2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units.) It’s a popular chili pepper variety in both Mexico and North America, and growing fast in favor across the globe because of its smoky, earthy flavor. If you like spicy foods and love the smoky tang of barbecue, Mexican food, and Tex-Mex cuisine, then the chipotle pepper should be a staple in your kitchen. There are two types of chipotle, the meco and the morita, and each has its own unique look, flavor, and use case.

Chipotle pepper nutrition
Chipotle morita, alongside chipotle paste

Table of Contents

Chipotle pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)2,500 – 8,000
Median heat (SHU)5,250
Jalapeño reference pointEqual
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
Size2 to 4 inches long, dried
FlavorSmoky, Earthy, Sweet

Chipotle pepper types

What you usually see in the North American market derives from morita chilies. These are chipotles made in Chihuahua in Mexico, and they can be recognized from the dark purplish hue. In the southern areas of Mexico, there’s another version (called meco) which is gray in color. You typically don’t see this variety make its way north as often.

Both types provide fiery smokiness, but they each have their own distinct characteristics. We outline below. For more information on either dried chili, visit their individual profiles provided. You can also learn more through our in-depth Meco vs. morita comparison.

For the purposes of this general cihipotle pepper guide, we discuss chipotle in general, but the morita is more commonly found in the United States. So for cooking use cases and descriptions below (outside of this chipotle types section), we use chipotle morita specifically. That said, for many use cases, either type will work.

  • Chipotle peppers in general:
    • Smoke-dried jalapeño peppers
    • Rich, smoky flavor
    • Used in Mexican cuisine
  • Chipotle Meco:
    • Also known as “chipotle tipico”
    • Grayish-tan color
    • Stiff and dry texture
    • Smoked for a longer period
    • Earthy, more intense smoky flavor
    • Learn more in our meco profile
  • Morita Pepper:
    • Dark purple to black color
    • Softer, more pliable texture
    • Smoked for less time than mecos
    • Slightly sweet, fruity flavor with a hint of smokiness
    • Learn more in our morita profile

How spicy are chipotle peppers?

On the Scoville scale, chipotle peppers are the same overall range as jalapeños: 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units. But expect the heat to be in the higher level of that Scoville heat range. Chipotle are made from ripe red jalapeños, so the capsaicin in them is at its peak as they remained longer on the vine prior to picking. Capsaicin is what gives chilies their heat, so expect a higher overall median heat from chipotle compared to unripened fresh green jalapeños. 

Compared to an ancho – another popular dried pepper made from fresh poblanos, the chipotle is a significant step up. Anchos range from 1,000 to 1,500 SHU, so they are at least three times milder, if not more. 

When compared to other chilies on the Scoville scale, the chipotle, though, is only moderately spicy. It has a more eatable level of heat than the cayenne pepper (30,000 to 50,000 SHU) that it often sits next to on the spice rack. And compared to higher-heat fresh or dried habanero (100,000 to 350,000 SHU) and ghost peppers (approximately 800,000 to one million SHU), the chipotle pepper falls well below in overall spiciness. 

For more differences between the chipotle and other chilies, take a look at some of our chipotle-focused comparisons below:

What is the chipotle smoking process like?

Jalapeño peppers are allowed to mature on the vine from green to their ripe red hue, losing their moisture and increasing their heat in the process. They are then picked for smoking.

Making chipotle is much like how you’d smoke dried meats, The ripe jalapeño chilies are placed for days in an enclosed smoking chamber. They are flipped multiple times during the smoking process, allowing the smoke to penetrate the skin of the jalapeño. For an easy example to imagine, think of the drying like a grape to a raisin (prolonged heat), and then just add smoke. Lots and lots of smoke.

In terms of volume, you probably guessed that in the drying process, the weight of these chilies drop. So if you’re looking to experiment with making chipotle peppers yourself, know that you’ll need about ten pounds of jalapeños to equal one pound of chipotle pepper.

What do chipotle peppers taste like?

If you love smoky flavor, then this chili will become a mainstay in your kitchen. Chipotle peppers have a smoky, earthy flavor due to the smoking process. There is also an underlying sweetness to it that comes from the extra time the jalapeños had on the vine. Red jalapeños are sweeter than unripened green jalapeños which tend towards a brighter, grassier flavor). See our comparison on green and red jalapeños for more on this. 

You’ll often find these chilies packaged as chipotle in adobo sauce. Here, you’ll still get the smoky flavor, but the spiced tomato sauce becomes a prevalent flavor as well. 

What do they look like?

These are jalapeño peppers, so they share a similar length. Chipotle peppers tend to be two to four inches long. And, as they are dried, they are flattened and wrinkled compared to the smooth, pod-like shape of the jalapeño. In the case of the morita, the chili takes on a rustic reddish-brown color, while the meco (which is smoked longer) takes on a gray/coff-brown hue.

What’s a good chipotle substitute?

If you’re heading to a supermarket soon, check the spices area. Your supermarket may not carry the whole dried chilies, but they likely carry chipotle powder. You can also find it in our Spicery. If you’re looking for a milder option, take a look at pasilla peppers or ancho. For more alternatives, check out our chipotle substitutes post

Cooking with chipotle peppers

Chipotle peppers are really very versatile. It’s just as good added to BBQ (perfect for smoky BBQ sauces), Tex-Mex, and Mexican dishes as it is on snacks like popcorn. Give it a shot – sprinkle some chipotle powder with a dash of oil over your favorite popcorn and shake well. You can also add chipotle to eggs for a smokier take on breakfast. It makes for an excellent huevos rancheros seasoning. 

You can also grind the whole peppers down to chili flakes and use them instead of traditional crushed red pepper. It’s a slightly milder heat with that delicious smoky flavor. Try pairing that with tropical fruits in salsas, salads, or even atop pizza.

More cooking tips:

  • Dried chilies can still cause chili burn. Capsaicin oil is still plenty present in dried peppers like chipotles. Don’t go thinking because it isn’t fresh, you don’t need to worry about chili burn. Still use precautions: Wear kitchen gloves while handling, especially during cutting. And learn how to treat chili burn if it does happen.
  • Remember, chipotle are picked for drying at their highest heat peak. They are picked and dried when red, so their level of capsaicin is at the highest it would be in the fruit. And drying chilies does not remove their capsaicin. Consider that when using. While you’ll still find milder chipotles out there, there’s less of a chance of that than with green jalapeños. Or put another way: It’s easier to over-spice a dish with chipotle. Don’t use a heavy hand. Add the minimum you think required and build up from there.
  • The smokiness of chipotle can overpower subtler flavors. It’s not just the heat that can be heavy-handed. If you’re trying to add more spiciness to a dish that’s using chipotle, you may be better off using a more neutral-in-flavor chili like cayenne. You get the spiciness you want without drowning out the nuance of your dish in smokiness.

Some of our favorite chipotle pepper recipes

Where can you buy chipotle peppers?

Whole chipotle chilies may be hard to source at your local supermarket, but that’s not the case for the powder and chipotle in adobo sauce (which uses the morita type.) Both are very common in stores and can easily be purchased online, too. You can also find many hot sauces featuring this smoky pepper, both in-store and online. Tabasco makes a very popular version of its hot sauce featuring chipotle (read our review of it here) that’s widely distributed. 

If you’re seeking whole chipotle chilies, check specialty stores or gourmet grocers with large Mexican ingredient sections. You can also purchase them on the web.

  1. Chipotle Powder

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  2. Mexican Chipotle Paste
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    02/18/2024 08:49 am GMT
  3. Dried Chipotle Morita Peppers, 5 oz.
    $6.97 ($1.74 / Ounce)

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  4. Chipotle Meco, 4 oz.
    $6.97 ($1.74 / Fl Oz)

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    02/18/2024 09:29 pm GMT

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on November 27, 2023 to include new content.
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