Scoville Heat Units: 10,000 - 23,000 SHU
The serrano chili pepper is a quite a bit like the well known jalapeño pepper, similar in color, but smaller, about 1 to 4 inches long on average and 1/2 inch wide. They generally grow between 1 - 4 inches long and about 1/2 inch wide though they have been known to grow longer.
They are meaty peppers and are not the best choice for drying, though it can be done. The serrano pepper originated in the Mexican states of Puebla and Hidalgo, in the mountainous regions. The name of the pepper, serrano, actually is a reference to the mountains (sierras) of those areas.
They are commonly red, brown, orange, or yellow, though you are likely to find them in their more common green color, much like a jalapeno pepper.
Serrano peppers are perfect for salsas, sauces, relishes, garnishes, making hot sauce and more. They are usually best when roasted. I personally love serrano peppers for their delicious spicy kick, either roasted, pan cooked, or fresh as a garnish.
Where a jalapeno has a nice bite to it, the serrano steps it up a nice level, and has a fresh flavor similar to the jalapeno.
Roasted serrano peppers are delicious and make a welcomed addition to many a meal. They're perfect for making so many different spicy recipes, not only for the heat and flavor, but because they're easy to grow. They're also commonly found in the grocery store.
About the Serrano Plants
Serrano pepper plants can reach a height of up to 5 feet tall, though smaller plants are more normal. They're very productive plants, holding up to 50 pepper pods at one time.
They grow better in warmer temperatures, above 75°F (24°C), and in soil with a pH between 7.0 and 8.5. They have a low tolerance for frost, as do most chili pepper plants.
Personally, I grow serrano peppers every year and highly recommend them. The plants are always very productive, and they're easy to grow in a simple home garden.
When to Pick Serrano Peppers
Unripe serrano peppers start out green in color and will typically grow to 3 or 4 inches in length on the plant. As with any chile pepper, you can pick and eat them at anytime in the growing process, though the flavors will change as they ripen.
Eventually the serrano pods stop growing and will then change color, from green to red, brown, orange or yellow. After that they will fall off of the plant and can even rot on the plant, so it is best to pick your serrano peppers while they are still green or as they begin to change color.
They will snap right off of the plant quite easily with very little pull when they are ready. Sometimes I enjoy leaving the serrano pods on the plant longer, allowing them to change colors. They are slightly sweeter in flavor, and the colors can make a dish truly pop with visual interest.
What Do Serrano Peppers Taste Like?
If you've ever tried a jalapeño pepper, you'll know what to expect with a serrano. The flavors are very similar. Biting into a serrano pepper will give you a hotter, spicier rush than a jalapeno, but again, very similar.
I characterize the flavor of fresh serranos as bright, vegetable and very green, with a nice level of heat. Roasted serrano peppers are richer, slightly smoky, earthy with good heat.
History of the Serrano Pepper
The serrano pepper has a long and dignified history in Mexican cooking. It is one of the most commonly found chilies in this area of the world and is very flavorful, thus many of Mexico's most heralded dishes involve this pepper as a flavoring.
Serrano peppers get their name from the fact that the area of Mexico where they are principally from - the Mexican states of Puebla and Hidalgo - are incredibly mountainous. The word "sierra" means mountain in Spanish, so "Serrano" is considered a permutation of this word.
Serrano Chili Peppers
Generally speaking, the plants themselves reach about one to one and a half feet tall though as mentioned, they can grow taller. Each plant can produce fifty or more pepper pods. When unripe they are green, but ripe Serrano peppers can be any number of colors, from green to red to brown, orange, or yellow.
Most people consider serranos to have a "crisp" flavor, and they are very commonly used in pico de gallo. They are hotter than their more famous cousin, the Jalapeno pepper, but despite this many people enjoy eating serranos raw.
They are considered to be one of the more flavorful hot peppers on the market in general, which is part of what makes them so popular.
How Hot are Serrano Peppers?
Serrano peppers range from between 10,000 - 23,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units), which is a nice level of heat for general cooking.
However, this might be considered spicy for some who are unaccustomed to eating spicier chili peppers and foods.
Serrano Peppers Vs. Jalapeno Peppers
Serrano peppers are hotter than jalapeno peppers, which measure about 5,000 SHU on average. By comparison, a serrano is roughly 5 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper, though it can be up to 10 times hotter.
New Serrano Strains
In 2019, the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico announced a new serrano strain that is larger and less spicy than your average serrano pepper.
Dubbed the "NuMex CaJohns Serrano", this chili pepper is a large serrano pepper selectively bred, named after John Hard, creator of CaJohns Fiery Foods.
Learn More about it: NuMex CaJohns Serrano – One HUGE Serrano
We enjoy cooking with serrano peppers for their heat and flavor. Take a gander through the majority of our recipes, most of which can incorporate serrano peppers as a substitute, but here are some specific Serrano Pepper Recipes on the site.
Here are some of my favorite recipes that incorporate serrano peppers:
- Spicy Serrano Hot Sauce
- Fermented Hot Sauce (with red serranos)
- Homemade Sriracha Hot Sauce - PERFECT for serranos!
- Strawberry-Serrano Fruit Leathers (Roll Ups)
- Smashburgers with Charred Serrano-Blue Cheese Butter
- Texas Chili
- Pico de Gallo
Other Relevant Information for Serrano Peppers
- How to Make Hot Sauce – The Ultimate Guide
- Growing Chili Peppers
- Preserving Chili Peppers
- How to Pickle Chili Peppers – A Guide
- Saving Chili Pepper Seeds for Growing Later
- What is the Scoville Scale?
NOTE: This post was updated on 10/1/19 to include new information. It was originally published on 9/23/13.