Poblano Vs. Jalapeño: PepperScale Showdown

Simmer and pop!

Poblano peppers and jalapeños both stand tall in the world of Mexican chilies. They are staples in the kitchen and popular in sauces, salsas, and well beyond. But beyond these uses, how similar are these two peppers. Does one pack a bigger punch? How do their flavors compare? Can you substitute one for the other? We reveal all below in another PepperScale Showdown.

Poblano vs. Jalapeño: Which is hotter?

While in the world of the pepper scale jalapeños aren’t overly hot, they are much spicier than poblano peppers. Jalapeño peppers reach between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville heat units – a heat grade that places them at the low end of medium-heat peppers. Poblanos range from 1,000 – 1,500 SHU – squarely in the mild pepper zone. That’s between two and eight times milder than a than a jalapeño, depending on the luck of your draw when choosing your chilies. It’s more a simmer to the jalapeño’s pop.

The look: How different are the poblano and jalapeño in the looks department?

The jalapeño has a pod-like shape to it – two to three inches long and slightly curved. It has a definite chili pepper look. The poblano, on the other hand, looks more like a bell pepper, long (up to four inches) but also wide. They both age from green to red, but you typically see both of these chilies for sale fresh in their younger green state.

One commonality that should be overlooked: Both of these chilies have thick walls, so they are excellent to use as stuffing peppers. Poblanos are well-known as the go-to pepper for chili rellenos, while jalapeños are famous for the wide range of jalapeño popper recipes out there.

The taste: How different are the flavors of the poblano and jalapeño?

There’s a big difference in the taste here that goes well beyond the heat. Poblanos have an earthy, slightly smoky flavor to them while jalapeños have a grassier, brighter taste. This is a big deal to the use cases of these two chilies. Poblanos when dried are called ancho peppers, and they’re part of the holy trinity of Mexican chilies used in rich and earthy mole sauces.

Jalapeños find their way into more standard salsas and also pair better with fresh greens as a salad and sandwich topper. Pickled jalapeños, too, are extremely popular as that brightness works very well with the tangy brine.

How easy are they to find in grocery stores?

You can find both, but no chili is easier to pick up than the jalapeño. It’s now a staple at all major grocers, and you can find them both fresh in the produce section as well as jarred in the pickle section. Poblano peppers are growing fast in popularity, especially as a bell pepper alternative, but they don’t typically care the same shelf space.

Both of these peppers have popular dried alter-egos that are becoming more common at grocers (especially specialty stores). The jalapeño smoked and dried becomes the chipotle pepper while the poblano when dried- as mentioned – is renamed the ancho pepper.

Can you substitute the poblano for the jalapeño, and vice versa?

It’s not common. These chilies – beyond their Mexican heritage and uses in salsas and sauces – are very different. It’s not only the flavor and heat differences; the size difference two makes the substituting one for the other awkward, depending on the recipe.

In salsas, substituting is definitely more possible, especially if you are looking for a milder spiciness. There is that flavor difference, but that’s often masked by the other ingredients in the salsa.

Despite all of the differences, both of these chilies are well deserving of their popularity. Find a place for each and enjoy the simmer and pop each brings to the table.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 19, 2022 to include new content.
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