Because of the famous restaurant, you likely recognize the word Chipotle. But what is its origin?
What exactly is chipotle? The famous fast-food restaurant took its name from a versatile and well-loved kind of pepper – the chipotle pepper. Chipotle peppers have been a staple in Mexican cuisine for centuries.
Because of how chipotle peppers are made, there is some confusion as to what exactly they are and how exactly you classify them. That’s where this article comes in!
This will be a short, extensive guide of the chipotle pepper – exploring its origins, history, use within traditional and modern food, as well as where it ranks on the infamous Scoville Scale of heat.
We’ve also added a short FAQ section to answer any burning questions you may have!
What Is A Chipotle Pepper?
The first question we need to answer is what exactly is a chipotle pepper? In short, a chipotle pepper is actually not its sown pepper at all, but a dried version of the jalapeno chili pepper.
Chipotle peppers are smoke-dried, a process that involves exposing the jalapeno peppers to smoke from burning wood – this gives the peppers their distinctive dark coloring.
To understand chipotle peppers, first, it’s worth exploring a little bit about jalapeno peppers. Typically you’ll find either green or red jalapeno peppers.
Red jalapenos have their color because they have ripened, and tend to taste slightly different than green their green unripened version.
It’s important to note here that Chipotle peppers typically come from red jalapeno peppers – however, that’s not to say you can’t use green ones, it’s just they take a lot longer to smoke and dry out.
Jalapenos become chipotle peppers with a simple process. Usually, they are split down the center and all seeds are removed. Then they are laid out to be smoked.
If you’re making chipotle peppers at home, modern smokers can be used, though traditionally and commercially there are different methods.
Once they’re smoked for a long time, the peppers are further dried or dehydrated. It is the smoky flavor from this cooking process that allows chipotle peppers to have their unique flavor.
After this, chipotle peppers are frequently ground down into a powder and used as a seasoning.
The history of smoking jalapenos is a hard thing to pinpoint in terms of direct origin, but it has a very long and rich history that can be traced back all the way to Aztecs.
Mesoamerican use of dried jalapenos is something we have evidence of. And furthermore, we have evidence that after the European colonization of Mesoamerica they were brought back to Spain.
Smoked, dried food is easy to transport over long sea voyages and after this time we begin to see chipotle peppers appearing in Europe and spreading across the world.
The name Chipotle comes from the Nahuatl language, which was spoken by the Nahua peoples, who now live in Central Mexico and the United States. The original word was chīlpoctli which simply means ‘smoked chili.’
There are two main types of chipotle pepper. The first, which is arguably the most common, is the ‘morita.’ Morita peppers are smaller and smoked for a shorter time than its cousin the ‘meco’ pepper.
Meco peppers are a tan color and look similar to cigar butts. Meco peppers are smoked for longer so they have a much more intense flavor.
Meco peppers are typically the chipotle of choice for natives. In the United States, it is much more difficult to find Meco peppers than Morita.
How Are Chipotle Peppers Sold?
Chipotle peppers are made into several different forms. Most commonly we see chipotle powder, which is made fine enough to easily add to different dishes, but there are also larger variations such as chipotle pods and flakes.
It’s not uncommon to see chipotle included within already made sauces or marinades such as adobo sauce.
The Scoville scale is what we use to determine how hot a chili pepper is. Named after American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who created a method to test how hot different chillis are.
The Scoville scale ranges from 0-100, which is something with not much heat at all such as a bell pepper or banana pepper, all the way up to 1,500,000 – 30,000,000 which covers things as hot as pepper spray and Carolina Reaper Peppers.
If the idea of 30,000,000 heat peppers makes your palms sweaty, don’t worry!
Thankfully the chipotle pepper is on the softer side of peppers you might find on the Scoville Scale, typically ranging from 2500-8000 SHU (unit of measurement for Scoville).
If you’re unsure as to how hot that is – typically the best way to describe chipotle peppers is to say they’re a decent level of heat, but nothing that will completely blow your head off.
For most average enjoyers of chillis, they are average heat and will probably be quite enjoyable!
Modern And Historical Use
Chipotle peppers are a very important part of many different staples in traditional and modern Mexican cuisine. Chipotle is one of the most vital ingredients to the marinade known as adobo! Adobo is a famous marinade for different meats.
Chipotle peppers can be used in chillis, sauces, chicken, roasts, fajitas, salsas, and many more! If you find yourself wanting to delve into the world of chipotle, there are thousands of recipes online which you can use to start experimenting with!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here is a short FAQ section to answer any important questions you still might have after the article.
Are Chipotle Peppers Just Jalapenos?
Yes, the only difference between chipotle peppers and jalapenos is the process that they have gone through. Chipotle peppers are jalapenos that have been smoked, dried, and possibly prepared into flakes or powder.
Can You Make Chipotle Peppers Without A Smoker?
You can, however, it’s much more difficult and takes a lot more time. The best way to make chipotle peppers without a smoker is if you have a dehydrator.
This handy piece of cooking equipment can be used to dry your peppers for a long time. You might have to keep them in there for upwards of twelve hours, but once they come out you will have chipotle!
How Long Do You Smoke Chipotle Peppers?
This can vary depending on your equipment and heat, but chipotle peppers are best smoked for 4-6 hours.
You want to smoke them for this long to ensure they absorb as much of the smoky flavor as possible. It is worth keeping in mind that you can smoke them for too long, where they will become burnt and devoid of flavor.
Are Chipotle Peppers Hotter Than Cayenne?
No, typically cayenne peppers are much hotter than chipotles. Chipotle peppers tend to range between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville Heat Units, whilst Cayenne peppers range between 30,000 all the way up to an intimidating 50, 000!
If you’re not one for spicy food and you’re trying to choose between cayenne peppers and chipotle, we recommend you go for the chipotle every time!
Is Chipotle Pepper The Same As Chipotle Powder?
Typically, if you make chipotle powder yourself then it will just be powdered peppers. However, sometimes when you buy chipotle powder in stores it might also include different ingredients and species such as cumin or garlic.
If you’re looking to just have chipotle and nothing else, we recommend keeping a keen eye on the label of whatever you’re buying!
Chipotles are a vital part of Mexican cuisine and a staple for many modern chefs who are looking to either make traditional dishes or add something smoky and spicy to their own.
Chipotle peppers are a great, versatile pepper to use in cooking, so if you’ve never tried them before we really recommend picking them up!
If you have a smoker, it’s a great thing to try and make them yourself! They are cheap and easy to make and can be stored for a long time, ready to be used in a variety of dishes.
They’re also not a bad pepper to introduce to friends or family who might not be so keen on spicy food, because of their mild Scoville count.