How to Handle Hot Peppers and Chiles Safely
Watch out! Chile peppers can set more than just your mouth on fire. If you're not careful when you're preparing them, the volatile oils inside peppers can irritate your skin and eyes. Follow our tips below for working with hot peppers safely. With the right precautions, you can add them to your recipes without coming into direct contact with the oils. We also include a few pointers on the heat levels for some of the most popular chiles to help you choose the right pepper for your recipe.
Tips for Handling Hot Peppers
Chile peppers, like jalapeños, habaneros, and serranos, have volatile oils that can burn your skin and eyes. Avoid direct contact with them as much as possible. When working with fresh chiles, wear rubber gloves or disposable plastic gloves, or cover your hands with small plastic bags.
If your bare hands do touch the peppers, wash your hands and nails well with soap and warm water (and don't touch your eyes or face until the tingling passes). Depending on how strong the chile pepper is, the oils can create a painful tingling sensation that can last for hours and can't be washed off. If you get some of the oils in your eyes, flush them with cool water.
Oils from chiles can also transfer to knives and cutting surfaces, so wash tools and surfaces with warm, soapy water after use to prevent the oils from transferring to other foods.
Different Types of Hot Peppers
There's more to peppers than just jalapeños and habaneros. Use this guide to help add heat to your cooking.
Anaheim (green chiles): This mild green pepper is a California chile, and it grows 6 to 8 inches long. When you buy canned green chiles at the store, you're buying preserved Anaheim peppers.
Ancho (dried dark chiles): Ancho chiles are dried poblano peppers. They're the sweetest of the dried chiles and have hints of chocolate and plum flavors, which makes them great for chili recipes.
California (dried chile): Rather than green, this is the dried version of ripe red Anaheim chiles.
Chile de Arbol (red chiles): You can find these peppers both fresh and dried; both go by the same name. They have a high heat level and full flavor, which makes them a great choice for extra-spicy recipes. Be extra careful handling these peppers.
Chipotle (small dried red chiles): Chipotle chiles are smoked jalapeños that have been canned in a tangy adobo sauce. They're popular in small amounts in soups, chilies, and sauces.
Guajillo (dark red-purple chiles): Dried guajillo chiles have an earthy flavor and medium heat. They're often used for making tamale sauce.
Habanero and Dried Habanero (orange chiles and small round dried chiles): Watch out! Habanero chiles will set your mouth on fire. They're extremely hot, so start with small amounts when adding them to recipes.
Jalapeno (green chiles): Part of what makes jalapeño peppers so popular is their versatility. They're readily available in grocery stores and have a complex sweet flavor. The level of heat can vary dramatically between peppers, from relatively mild to hot.
Pasilla (dried dark chiles): Dried pasilla chiles are long and slender, medium-hot, and have a deep, smoky flavor. You'll usually find this pepper used in mole and adobo sauces and salsas.
Poblano (large green chiles): The poblano pepper is Mexico's largest chile, and it has a complex flavor with mild heat. You can stuff this pepper or chop it up to use in soups and chilies.
Serrano (green chiles): These hot chiles change color from bright green to red as they ripen. Use them sparingly when you add them to salsas, marinades, and sauces.
Thai Chile (small red chiles): Several different types of chiles are called "Thai chile." Most of these, like the Thai Bird chile, are small, red, and very hot.