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What is a Chipotle Pepper?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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The chipotle pepper is a smoked or dried jalapeño pepper that originated in the area surrounding Mexico City. People who lived there before the Aztec civilization are thought to have invented it. The peppers may have been smoked to keep them from rotting, since the jalapeño is prone to quickly deteriorating when stored.

The pronunciation of the word chipotle is a widely discussed topic among pepper aficionados. Many traditionalists recognize the word's roots in the Nahuatl language indigenous to what is now Mexico. By their reckoning, the word should be pronounced "chee-poatl," with just two syllables and a shortened "uh" sound between the final two consonants. Due to the current rise in popularity of the use of these peppers in restaurants in the United States, however, the Spanish pronunciation is far more common: "chee-POAT-lay."

The process used to make them is similar to that for drying meat. Usually, meat or vegetables are allowed to dry in an enclosed space while exposed to wood smoke. This method of preservation works well for many types of foods.

The chipotle pepper, naturally, resembles a jalapeño, but it tends to be brown and shriveled. It loses little of its heat through the smoking process, and many enjoy both its spiciness and the natural wood smoke taste that accompanies it. Though its first applications were in traditional Mexican dishes, the chipotle now enjoys a broad range of uses throughout the US.

While shoppers can purchase chipotle peppers whole, they are also available as a salt, a seasoning, and in chili paste. The paste is usually canned, adding further to the chipotle’s durability. Canned products may also contain other peppers to moderate the "heat" as it is added to chilis, soups, or to meat prepared for tacos and other fillings. It also makes an excellent rub for grilled meats or vegetables.

Jalapeños, whether smoked or fresh, can produce either medium or high heat dishes. Using whole chipotles in recipes, especially when the seeds are also included, results in hot, though not super hot dishes. A diner who is unaccustomed to a heat of about 7,500 Scoville Heat Units may find the chipotle pepper hot to the point of uncomfortable. A mild pepper, conversely, is measured at about 1,000 Scoville Units. Sweet peppers rank zero on the Scoville scale.

Cooks can remove some of the heat from a chipotle pepper by carefully cutting the pepper in half and gently removing the seeds and the white membranes holding the seeds to the inside of the pepper. Although there is capsaicin in the flesh of the fruit as well, this will remove most of the heat. Caution should be taken not to touch the eyes during this procedure, as the pepper can still be extremely irritating to the eyes and skin. In large recipes, however, using a small amount of the pepper can provide flavor without creating a dish that is too hot.

Recipes that include this pepper greatly vary. They are used in traditional Mexican food, but fusion cuisine includes them as well. Some cooks add them to chicken with spinach, shrimp glazes, and even brownies. These newer recipes give the chipotle pepper a wide range of applications in fine cuisine.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon1004061 — On Nov 07, 2020

A few things to clear up here.

The first photo is not of jalapeños nor chipotle peppers, not a great look for the author of an article pertaining to those chili's. It looks to be Chile de árbol but I could be mistaken.

The hottest chili is neither habanero nor ghost pepper. It is currently a variety of Carolina reaper, although chile growers like one-upmanship and every few years a hotter strain is released.

Various chili's are used for capsaicin extract, although a dried one like chipotle would be less than ideal for the process.

By anon324404 — On Mar 10, 2013

Check out Olo's Chipotle Paste in a tube!

By orangey03 — On Feb 24, 2013

I just can't handle eating chipotle anything. I have a very sensitive tongue and taste buds, and it is just too powerful for me.

I prefer the bell pepper. It is slightly sweet and not hot at all.

By shell4life — On Feb 23, 2013

@JackWhack – I've never eaten the actual pepper, but I love chipotle sauce. You are right about it being rather hot, but I actually like that about it.

One of my favorite dishes is chipotle chicken tenders. The sauce is gooey and sweetened with honey, but the dominant flavor is chipotle.

My husband tried a piece of this chipotle chicken, but he could not handle the heat. So, I got to eat them all by myself.

By JackWhack — On Feb 22, 2013

@Oceana – I believe that pepper spray is made from capsaicin instead of the whole peppers. I'm not sure which peppers they obtain the extract from, but in my opinion, chipotle peppers are certainly fiery enough to be used for this!

I'm not big on spicy foods, though I do eat with friends at Mexican restaurants now and then. I've had some dishes that contained bits of chipotle peppers, and let's just say I drank quite a few glasses of water during that meal.

By Oceana — On Feb 22, 2013

Are chipotle peppers used to make pepper spray? I have some of this stuff for protection, and I've accidentally got it in my own eyes before. It burned as much as if I had rubbed an actual pepper across my eyeballs!

By anon296886 — On Oct 13, 2012

The habenero is not the hottest pepper in the world. The ghost chili is.

By anon282087 — On Jul 27, 2012

I think the habanero is the hottest. I've heard that it's in the record book as the hottest.

By anon76329 — On Apr 09, 2010

There wouldn't be a shortened "uh" between the t and l in Nahuatl -- it's one sound (a voiceless lateral affricate). It's like the "ts" in "cats", but instead of your tongue being in the position for "s", you put it in the position for "l".

Put another way, it's the Welsh double-l sound with a "t" in front of it.

But the likely word wasn't just "chipotle" anyway, so whoever was giving you amateur Nahuatl lessons was probably just making stuff up.

By noah — On Sep 03, 2009

I was under the impression that the chipotle pepper was one of the hottest peppers around. Turns out it isn't if its just a smoked jalapeno. What's the hottest peppers? I've heard its the habanero peppers. I'm looking for a good tasty pepper recipe, any ideas what pepper I can use? Thx.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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