Pequin Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are pequin peppers?

The pequin pepper may be small, but its upper-medium heat (40,000 to 60,000 Scoville heat units) and smoky, fruity flavor go a long way. It shares many similarities with its cousin the chiltepin, and they are often confused as the same thing. But really the pequin is a unique chili all its own, and they can be found in a surprising amount of products, including Cholula, a very popular hot sauce.

Pequin pepper

Pequin pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)40,000 – 60,000
Median heat (SHU)50,000
Jalapeño reference point5 to 24 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginMexico/United States
SizeApproximately 1/2 to 1-inch long
FlavorSmoky, Fruity, Citrusy, Nutty

How hot are pequin peppers?

The pequin is an upper-medium heat chili pepper (40,000 to 60,000 Scoville heat units, or SHU.) Comparing that to our reference point, the jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU): Pequins will run anywhere from five to twenty-four times hotter than the jalapeño. That puts it in roughly in line with cayenne pepper (30,000 to 50,000 SHU), but the pequin will always be hotter than the mildest cayenne and has the potential for more at the top of the range, too.

Let’s compare the pequin to the chili it’s most often confused with, the chiltepin. Where pequin are solidly in the upper-middle of medium heat chilies, the chiltepin actually flirts with extra-hot at its top spiciness (50,000 to 100,000 SHU), reaching the floor of habanero-level heat. So, yes, both can be equal in spiciness, if you’ve landed on a pequin at the upper at of its potential heat and a chiltepin at its most minimum. But more often that not, a chiltepin is hotter than a pequin.

What do they look like?

This is a tiny chili. It’s so small that many underestimate the potential (and significant) heat within.

Pequin are typically less than an inch in length, oval-like in form. Pequin follow the typical maturation color pattern of most chilies: green when young and aging to a rich red when they mature. The shape does add to the confusion with chiltepin, as they look similar. But pequin tend to get a little larger overall. And their shape is more elongated like a grain of rice, rather than circular. It’s why pequin are sometimes referred to as rice peppers.

Adding to the pequin/chiltepin confusion, is another name that both are sometimes called because of their size: “bird peppers”. And for good reason – the pequin (and its cousin), because they are so small, are easy for birds to eat. And as birds aren’t affected by capsaicin the ways that humans are (they don’t feel the heat), they are often popular treats for birds.

What do pequin taste like?

When green, pequin have an expected peppery flavor with hints of smoke and even a hint of citrus to the taste. But it’s when pequin mature to their ripe red hue that they their taste really reach their peak. Red pequin have a natural smokiness to them that often tastes a bit nutty. There’s also a layer of citrusy fruitiness that runs throughout the taste. They again, are similar to chiltepin in flavor, but pequin tend to have more underlying fruitiness to the flavor.

Red pequin are often used dried, and when dried that smokiness takes on even more of a pronounced flavor, almost like a sunburnt smokiness.

Cooking with pequin peppers

You may be surprised how often pequin are used in dishes, particularly in Mexico and the Southwest of the United States. When green, fresh pequin are common ingredients for fresh salsas and other Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. Fresh red pequin are used in salsas as well, but, as mentioned, they are more often used dried. Dried red pequin have a ton of uses, from salsas and flavored oils, to hot sauces and soups.

In fact, one of the most popular hot sauces around (Cholula), uses pequin chilies as its main ingredient. Granted, that pequin heat is tempered by all of the other ingredients in the hot sauce (Cholula is very mild.)

More cooking tips:

  • Don’t be fooled by its small size. Many home chefs have been bitten by the pequin, overusing the chili because of its tiny shape. You can’t measure chilies needed by size, especially when small chilies with significant heat are on the docket. If you take four or five pequin chilies instead of one jalapeño, your dish will be well over-spiced.
  • Wear gloves when handling, and learn how to treat chili burn prior to prepping. Again, this comes down to underestimating this chili. There’s a decent amount of capsaicin within pequin, and their small size makes them harder to handle without you touching their internal walls and membrane. Kitchen gloves are highly recommended. Also read our post on treating chili burn prior to handling pequin.
  • Experiment with pequin and barbecue. The smokiness of this chili is a natural pairing for the bold, smoky flavors found in many barbecue sauces.

Where can you buy pequin peppers?

These chilies won’t likely be at your local grocer unless you live in the southern United States or Mexico. Your best option is to shop online where you’ll find a wide variety of products including pequin seeds, plants, dried pequin, and all sorts of sauces and salsas that’ll bring your taste buds to life.

The pequin is pretty unique in the hot pepper world: tiny in shape, but fiery hot in taste. If you’re serious about your heat, try some dried pequin, or for those with milder tastes, pick up one of the many pequin-based hot souces out there to get some of this smoky goodness into your kitchen.

Must-read related posts

  • The Hot Pepper List: The pequin is one of over 150 chilies that we profile on our list. Search for chilies by heat level, flavor, origin, and more.
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: This chili powers Cholula. Want to see what other peppers power your favorite hot sauces? We rank over 100 hot sauces by flavor, heat balance, and more. Plus, you can search by chili used in the hot sauce.
  • Small Peppers Guide: Tiny culinary chilies aren’t all that common. Check out the ones you should know (both culinary and ornamental.)

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 2, 2022 to include new content.
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great for a hot pepper sauce. vinegar base they grow wild here in Texas

Paying attention

These Pequin peppers are good tasty dried red peppers. Crush and sprinkle on your food, or if you are stuck buying a mild salsa crush some and stir them in to had some Good Warmth or Heat and flavor. Many people prefer the chiltepin. But if you want to grow either of them. I recommend you go to your grocery store is the spice or “mexican food” isle. or depending on where you live you may have to find a “Mexican Market” Buy a bag of the (hopefully sundried) chilis that are “fresh/newer” The More REDDISH or Maybe even a… Read more »