Pequin Peppers – All About Them
Pequin peppers are very small chili peppers that pack a punch of heat. The pods ripen to a vibrant red, and offer a spicy, nutty, smoky flavor.
SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 30,000-60,000 SHU
Pequin peppers, or chili pequin (sometimes spelled “piquin”), are tiny peppers that mature from green to a vibrant red color, and offer up some serious heat.
This pepper is also called the “Bird Pepper”, because it is consumed and spread by wild birds. It is a tiny pepper, (pequeno in Spanish means small or tiny) measuring only ½ to ¾ inches long, but don’t be fooled, this little chile packs quite a wallop. The heat continues to grow the longer the peppers stay on the plant.
It is sometimes confused with the Chiltepin pepper, which is a similar but different pepper.
The hot peppers are harvest for commercial use in Mexico, where they are very popular, though they can be found growing locally in the southwestern U.S. and south America.
How Hot is a Pequin Pepper?
The pequin pepper measures in with a range of 30,000 SHU to 60,000 Scoville Heat Units on the Scoville Heat Scale. That is quite hot. Compare that to a the common jalapeno pepper, which averages 5,000 SHU and you’ll find the hottest chili pequin can reach 12 times hotter. It is closer to the heat of the bird’s eye pepper, or the more commonly known cayenne pepper. Bell peppers, as a reference, have 0 Scoville heat units (no heat).
Pequin Pepper Flavor Profile
Some describe the flavor of chili pequin as fruity, citrusy and nutty when consumed fresh. When smoked, the smoked flavor stands out. The greener, less riped peppers are typically used for making salsas and other dishes. As they ripen to red and get hotter, they are usually dried or smoked, then dried, and sold or ground for chili flakes or powders.
Pequin Pepper Appearance
Pequin peppers are very small, measuring roughly 1/2 to 3/4 inch (2 cm) in length and 1/4 inch (1 cm) wide, and oval or oblong in shape.
Cooking with Pequin Peppers
Pequin peppers are popular for making sauces, hot sauces and salsas because of their combination of fruitiness and heat. They can be easily added to pots of soup or stews, with just one or two of these tiny peppers, punctured or sliced, adding a nice kick of heat to a whole pot of food. They can be dried and ground into chili flakes or powdered, or pickled.
Pequin Peppers offer an excellent flavor with heat that is not overpowering when made into a hot sauce. In fact, the popular brand of hot sauce, Cholula, uses chili pequin in their sauce. Cooking with them can present a challenge, as they are quite small and you need to use a lot of them for any substantial amount of sauce, but they are worth cooking with for their flavor alone.
Dried pequin chile peppers are a big commodity in Mexico and very popular for seasoning many dishes. The peppers are sold in both green and red forms for various uses.
Where Can I Buy Chili Pequin?
These peppers are not commonly found in grocery stores, though you might find them in dried form at your local Mexican grocer. You can purchase them online at various resources. Here are some affiliate links to Amazon for certain products.
Got any questions or comments? Ask away! Contact me anytime or leave your questions/comments below. I’d love to hear how you enjoy cooking with these wonderful peppers.
NOTE: This page was updated on 6/2/20 to include new information and photos. It was originally published on 9/27/13.