Poblano Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Pairings, And More

Poblano peppers originate from the Puebla region of Mexico, hence the name “Poblano”. They are one of the most popular peppers used in Mexican cuisine. Poblano peppers are known for their mild flavor and slight heat, typically ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units, which is much milder than a jalapeño. They are larger and heart-shaped, usually about four to five inches long and two to three inches wide.

The skin of a poblano pepper is dark green and shiny, but it turns to a rich red when fully mature. Fresh green poblanos have an earthiness to their peppery flavor, which takes on some sweetness as they age. Poblanos are often used in recipes like chiles rellenos because they have thicker walls and are large enough to stuff. And their skin, while tough, becomes pliant and flavorful when roasted. They can also be dried, at which point they are referred to as ancho chilies, a staple in Mexican mole sauces.

Poblano Pepper Nutrition
Fresh poblano peppers

Poblano pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)1,000 – 1,500
Median heat (SHU)1,250
Jalapeño reference point2 to 8 times milder
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
SizeApproximately 4 inches long; broad, bell-like cavity

How hot are poblano peppers?

They are mild chilies. If you’re looking for a heat roughly halfway between a zero-heat bell pepper and a jalapeño, the poblano is a very good match. Poblanos range from 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units (or SHU.) Versus our reference point, the jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), poblanos are anywhere from two to eight times milder, depending on the chilies compared.

Compared to cayenne pepper (30,000 to 50,000 SHU), another kitchen staple, poblanos are more of a hint of heat rather than a fiery contender. They run anywhere from 15 to 50 times milder than cayenne. Versus a chili that the poblano is often compared, the Anaheim chili, the difference is a little trickier. Anaheim peppers (500 to 2,500 Scoville heat units) have a lower floor than poblanos (1,000 SHU), but a much higher ceiling for heat. In fact, at its height, Anaheim chilies can reach the same heat as a jalapeño.

For more detailed comparisons, read our comparison posts where we cover the similarities and differences between a poblano and other popular peppers:

Young green poblano chili on the vine

What do they look like and taste like?

Poblanos, in many ways, have similar features to bell peppers. They grow to roughly four to five inches long and two to three inches wide. They aren’t as rounded as bells, often having a more angular wedge shape. But poblanos have a good amount of width, leading to a large interior cavity. And the walls of the chili are relatively thick compared to many other peppers.

While on the vine, poblanos age from green to a rich red, and they do gain in spiciness as they age. It’s more common to find the green variety in stores. Red poblanos take longer to grow, and they are often used to make ancho chilies instead of being sold on market.

You may also note that poblanos tend to have a shine to them. That’s due to a waxy outer-skin on these chilies. This outer skin is edible, but the texture can taste odd to some.

When green, poblano peppers have a rich, somewhat earthy flavor to them. It adds depth to the general garden-fresh pepperiness that’s present, too. As they age to red, that flavor takes on a level of sweetness as well. And when dried (then labelled as an ancho chili), that earthy sweetness is paired with a delicious smokiness.

Cooking with poblanos

You can eat poblanos raw, but their flavor really comes alive when roasted or grilled. The rich, earthy flavors deepen, especially with a little charring (which brings out some smokiness.)

Many Mexican and Southwestern dishes rely on the poblano as a staple ingredient. The most notable being the Mexican stuffed pepper dish, chiles rellenos. The poblano is a perfect fit as a stuffing pepper, with its large cavity and thick walls. Plus, that waxy outer skin is easily peeled off when roasted. Any recipe where a bell pepper is being used as a stuffing pepper is also a good option for a poblano.

It’s also an amazing ingredient for tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and more. Their heat is very family-friendly compared to many other common options, so this is a chili you can serve to larger groups without much concern.

As a raw ingredient, you can use them as you would a bell pepper, serving them atop salads, sandwiches, and more. But that thin, waxy outer skin may put off some. It gives the poblanos a slightly waxy texture when raw and a papery texture (on the outside) when roasted, if not peeled off after roasting (which is easily done.) You can’t remove that skin when the pepper is raw.

How to remove a poblano’s waxy skin (after roasting)

More cooking tips:

  • Poblanos grill very well. Those thick walls again help the poblanos stand up well to roasting and grilling. They make an excellent side just on their own to grilled steaks, chicken, and all sorts of BBQ. They flavor depth really comes full force here.
  • Remember: Mild heat is still heat. Handle your poblanos properly. Poblanos can be handled whole without much concern for chili burn. But any time you cut open a pepper, you’re releasing oils which contain capsaicin. That capsaicin creates the heat in chilies and it’s the compound that creates the feeling of chili burn. Wear kitchen gloves while cutting poblanos. And it’s best to prepare for the possibility of chili burn by reading our post on treating it.
  • The Anaheim chili makes the best overall poblano substitute. Its heat is comparable (though it can range up to low-medium spiciness), and the flavor has a sweet earthiness to it. For more recommendations, read our complete poblano substitute post for your top alternatives.

Common ingredient pairings with plans

Many of the most common ingredient pairings help amplify the garden-fresh taste of the poblano, along with its natural earthiness.

  • Garlic: Garlic’s strong, pungent flavor complements the mild heat and earthy flavor of poblano peppers. It’s a common pairing in many Mexican dishes, such as chiles rellenos.
  • Cumin: Cumin’s warm, spicy flavor pairs well with the mild heat of poblano peppers and helps amplify the pepper’s earthiness. It’s a staple in many Latin American cuisines.
  • Onion: The sweet and sharp flavor of onions balances the earthy flavor of poblano peppers. They’re often used together in salsas, stews, and roasted vegetable dishes.
  • Corn: The natural sweet earthiness of corn pairs very well with the poblano’s natual flavors. It’s a common pairing in soups, chowders, and succotash.
  • Coriander: Coriander’s citrusy, nutty flavor complements the mild, slightly sweet flavor of poblano peppers. It’s often used in Mexican and Southwestern cuisines, where poblanos are prevalent.
  • Oregano: Oregano’s robust, slightly bitter flavor pairs well with the mild heat and earthy flavor of poblano peppers. This combination is common in many Mexican dishes.
  • Tomatoes: The sweet and tangy flavor of tomatoes balances the earthy, slightly bitter taste of poblano peppers. They’re often used together in sauces and stews.
  • Cheese: Cheese, especially Mexican varieties with a creamy, mild flavor like queso fresco or queso de bola, pairs well with the mild heat and earthiness of poblano peppers. It’s a common pairing in dishes like chiles rellenos and other stuffed peppers recipes.
  • Lime: The acidity and brightness of lime can help to balance the earthiness and mild heat of poblano peppers. It’s commonly used in salsas and sauces featuring poblanos.
  • Cilantro: Cilantro’s fresh, citrusy flavor is a great complement to the earthy, slightly spicy taste of poblano peppers. It’s often used in salsas and other dishes featuring poblanos.
  • Chili Powder: A chili powder blend can amplify the heat of poblano peppers and add a complex flavor. It’s commonly used in dishes like chili or enchiladas that feature poblano peppers.

Poblano recipes to get you started

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 23, 2024 to include new content.
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