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1 October 2019

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. 

Serrano Peppers

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.

Learn more about the Scoville Scale here.

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

Serrano Pepper Recipes

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:

Other Relevant Information for Serrano Peppers

NOTE: This post was updated on 10/1/19 to include new information. It was originally published on 9/23/13.

10 comments

  1. Paul Applegarth

    I am currently growing some Serrano Chilli plants, never grown these before,
    I am also growing Apachie Chilli plants which is first did last year. I have grown
    10 of each type, and have been giving the plants to friends and neighbours so
    everyone can enjoy them.
    How ever the Plants I grew Last year Died in Winter – so do I need to keep re-growing
    each year – or can I keep them alive over winter. Thanks in advance 🙂

  2. Aaron Suever

    I got started from seed late last year. Took the plant in over winter because it was so small (under a foot). Babied it in the basement. It almost didn’t make it, but I planted it outside asap this spring. At first it didn’t seem like it was going to do anything, but it’s my biggest pepper plant now. It’s about 4′ high. It had so many peppers on it, and they stayed green a long time. I tried one green raw, and it is clean and crisp. Tried another red and it was sweeter but hotter.
    In the last week about half of them (30) have turned red, which I picked yesterday. After reading this, I will probably go ahead and pick the other half now too.
    The plant is already putting on a third flush of blooms, and there’s plenty of time left in my season. I’m curious to find out how big it will get after hearing they can get to 7′ in a greenhouse! (Mine is in a box outside though.)

    REPLY: This is awesome, Aaron! Nicely done! — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  3. Minerva A. Dacanay

    I harvested more than 30 kilos of ripe serrano chillies in one day . I have a litele more than a thousand plands. I made whole pickles, puree, sliced pickles. Exacty same question. What else can I do with them. Any demmands for serrano pods?

    REPLY: Dang, that’s a lot! You might try contacting local restaurants, etc, to see if you can supply them. I’d hate to see all that go to waste! — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  4. Hi, I just picked a few serranos and they have a thin “tail” or “stinger” at the bottom about 1/4 inch long. I have never seen this before. Any Help?

    REPLY: Leo, I’ve never seen a serrano with a tail as you describe, so it might be a different pepper. Send me a pic and I can try to help you identify it. — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  5. Thanks for the comments! Very helpful. I was surprised in a greenhouse they get 7 feet tall! Woah!

    I work in food service and a lot of recipies calk for serano peppers. I liked them green when I made them at work and grew some in the garden. They were pretty in the green state so I let them turn just to see the phases. At red I picked and went to use in a dish at home. Wooohooo fire! So after reading your article I will harvest the green ones and try roasting them and freezing. Thanks again!

  6. antonette Lobo

    Denny Graham,my husband just came home with a 3lb bag of Serrano peppers, here is the answer to your question, what to do with 500 Serranos, wash, remove the stems, and put them in a freezer bag and use them for your cooking. chop some , sprinkle pickling salt, and let sit for an hour, put them ins glass jar, and make a syrup with equal amounts of venegar and water, a little sugar, bring to a boil and while still hot pour over the salted peppers, close tightly and leave for a day on the counter, they will turn to a olive green color, refrigerate and use them as a garnish for your tacos, rice or any food you want tobe spicy.

  7. Katie Mcclain

    Can I use the to make hot sauce with vinger

    FROM MIKE: Yep, you sure can.

  8. Denny Graham

    A published description for Serrano peppers: “Generally speaking, the plants themselves reach about one to one and a half feet tall, and each plant can produce fifty or more pepper pods” may be true for soil gardening, but in my small greenhouse in AZ the two plants are over 7′ tall and have so far produce about 250 pods each. Problem: what does one do with over 500 Serrano’s?

    1. 500 Serrano’s? Curries!!!
      If you have any East Indian restaurants in your area, I’m sure they would love them.

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