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10 December 2019

A chipotle pepper is a smoked, dried jalapeno. As they turn red on the vine, they are plucked and smoked until dried, turning them into chipotle peppers. Learn all about them.

SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 2,500 – 8,000 SHU

What is a Chipotle Pepper?

Chipotle Peppers are smoked, dried jalapeno peppers. Most jalapenos are sold green. However, as jalapeno peppers age, they turn red on the vine as they fully ripen and eventually begin to dry. These red jalapeño peppers are plucked and smoked for days with soaked wood until dried, turning them into chipotle peppers.

It takes about 10 pounds of jalapeno peppers to make 1 pound of chipotle peppers.

Chili growers typically pick unripe green jalapeños for selling, but let many stay on the plants to ripen and turn red as long as possible for making chipotle peppers. Once they have fairly dried, they are picked then wood smoked in chambers or grills for several days until completely dry.

There are actually two types of chipotle peppers, depending on how long the are dried. Morita peppers are red ripened jalapenos that have been smoked and dried for half the time of darker chipotles, leaving them dark red in color, softer and fruitier. They are more commonly used in chipotles in adobo sauce.

The other is chipotle meco, which is more tan or grayish in color. They are smoked for twice as long, resulting in their darker color.

What Do Chipotle Peppers Look Like?

When they are sufficiently dried, chipotle chilis resemble dried raisins or prunes. The skins are wrinkly and dry, and while many are darker in color, some are more gray and resemble cigar butts.

How Hot is a Chipotle Pepper?

Chipotles are as hot as your typical jalapeno peppers, which range from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units on the Scoville Scale. They give a good level of heat, but nothing dramatic. It isn’t really a hot pepper, but for some people, the heat is just right. 

What Do Chipotle Peppers Taste Like?

Chipotles offer up an earthy, smoky flavor and lend that spicy smokiness to any dish you’re cooking. As they are dried, you can grind them into chipotle powder for mixing into soups, sauces, salsas and chilis, or you can rehydrate them and process them into a wonderful chili paste that will flavor anything you’d like.

It is widely used in Mexican cuisine, but also Tex Mex cooking, and has found it’s way into all manners of American cooking.

Quick Chipotle Pepper Facts

  • Chipotles are smoked, dried jalapeno peppers that have turned red
  • Chipotle chiles are dried red jalapenos
  • Not all chipotles are alike since there are so many varieties of jalapeño peppers
  • Chipotles are just about as hot as a jalapeno pepper
  • 5,000 to 8,000 Scoville units, medium heat
  • You can purchase chipotles in whole pods, ground, in adobo, or other ways, but the first three ways are most popular

Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

When some people hear the word “chipotle”, they first think of a can of chipotles in adobo sauce that is found in many grocery stores. While this product is delicious and made with chipotles, they are not the same thing. Chipotles in adobo is made with rehydrated chipotle peppers that are pureed with tomato, vinegar, garlic and spices. The resulting sauce is rich, smoky and spicy, perfect for adding to many, many dishes. Sometimes you will find whole chipotles in the sauce. They are very soft and can be used as-is or processed with the rest of the sauce.

Cooking with Chipotle Peppers

You can cook with chipotles just as you would with any other dried peppers. You can grind them up into chili flakes or powders, then use them as a dry rub or a seasoning for making Mexican dishes, sauces or chili. I use chipotle powder quite liberally in my kitchen. You can also rehydrate them in hot water until they are softened, then remove the stems and seeds. Process them in a food processor, blender, or a molcajete with other ingredients to form a chili paste or a sauce. The smoked peppers will bring a wonderful smoky flavor to your dishes.

What is a good substitute for chipotle?

The best substitute for chipotle peppers is chipotle powder, but if you’re looking for more of a direct substitute, consider the guajillo pepper or look for other smoked dried peppers. Guajillo peppers offer a bit of heat along with smoky notes and a berry-like flavor, though you won’t get the heat. 

What is a good substitute for chipotle powder?

Smoked paprika is a good substitute, as both will bring their telltale smokiness, though the flavor won’t be exactly the same. Chipotle powder is considerably darker and earthier, where smoked paprika is brighter and can very from product to product. Consider mixing some smoked paprika with dark chili powder.

What is a good substitute for chipotles in adobo sauce?

Try chipotle powder or rehydrated chipotle peppers combined with a bit of tomato sauce for a quick substitute. Or, make a quick version at home with this simple homemade version:

  • 5 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeds removed
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • pinch of salt
  • 1.5 cups water

Stir together all of the ingredients in a small pot then simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, until the peppers completely soften. The liquid will reduce to about half. Process the mixture in a food processor or blender to use as a sauce. Strain if you’d like for a smoother sauce.

Chipotle Pepper Recipes

Try some of my popular recipes that incorporate chipotles:

Where Can I Buy Chipotle Peppers?

You can usually find chipotles in Mexican grocers or in the Mexican section of your local grocer. I often find them at farmer’s markets, so keep an eye out for them. Or, buy chipotles online at Amazon (affiliate link, my friends!)

Learn More About These Other Mexican Peppers

NOTE: This recipe was updated on 12/10/19 to include new photo and information. It was originally published on 9/22/13.

4 comments

  1. Very nice review, Mike, thank you! I only know chipotle morita, is the flavor or the meco really different?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Jeremie. There are some similarities, but the chipotle is very unique and has a flavor unto itself. Definitely recommended for cooking if you can find them.

  2. I have purchased a Chipotle pepper plant with small green pods (still early in the season. Is this really a habenro? Does it need to dry on the vine and then be smoked before being used.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Don, chipotle peppers are actually jalapeno peppers that have been smoked and dried. As jalapeno pepper age, then turn red on the vine and begin to dry. These red jalapeno peppers are plucked and smoked for days until dried, turning them into chipotle peppers.

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