This teeny-tiny Mexican chile packs some serious heat and a surprising amount of flavor! Find out everything you need to know about the chile piquín (or piquin pepper) in this detailed guide, including how to prepare it for recipes.
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📖 What are chiles piquínes?
The chile piquín is a small Mexican chile that is said to have originated in the state of Tabasco. Currently, you can find these peppers growing all over Mexico and up into the Southwestern United States.
The chile piquín is green on the vine, but ripens to a bright red color. The name of this teensy pepper is thought to be derived from the word "pequeño," meaning "small" in Spanish.
You may also hear it go by the name bird pepper, which is an elude to how birds, unphased by the spice, spread the seeds by nibbling on the chiles.
To make matters a little more confusing, the chile chiltepín goes by the name bird pepper as well. Although similar, these two peppers are not the same.
Unlike most other chiles in Mexican cooking, the chile piquín keeps the same name in both fresh and dried forms — much like chile de árbol.
🍴 Flavor profile
The chile piquín can be eaten fresh, dried, or smoked. Each of the various forms carries a different flavor profile.
Most describe fresh or dried piquin peppers as having fruity and nutty flavors with hints of citrus.
When piquin chiles are smoked, they impart a pleasant smoky and nutty flavor.
🔥 Spice level
The chile piquín is quite hot, measuring around 40,000-60,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). That's about halfway up the scale compared to other spicy peppers.
For reference, the chile piquín is nearly 10 times hotter than an average jalapeño.
🍎 Health facts
Although small, the mighty chile piquín houses all sorts of vitamins and minerals that help keep us healthy.
For instance, piquin peppers are full of vitamin C, A, K, iron, and potassium. Not only that, piquin peppers contain an interesting compound — capsaicin.
This chemical is responsible for the burning sensation you feel when it contacts your mouth (or skin or eyes!). Capsaicin has anti-inflammatory properties, metabolism-boosting effects, and disease-fighting abilities.
How to Rehydrate Piquin Chiles
- Cast-iron skillet or comal
- 1 package piquin chiles ($1.11)
- Water for soaking
- Heat a cast-iron skillet or comal over medium, then dry toast the chiles for ~60 seconds, stirring frequently, until fragrant.
- Bring a saucepan of water to boil, then turn the heat off, add the piquin chiles in, cover the pot, and let them rehydrate for 10-15 minutes, or until they feel soft.
- Your chiles are now ready to be used in a wide variety of Mexican soups, sauces, and marinades.
- The seeds are not usually bitter like some other dried chile varieties, so we never worry about seeding them.
- The weight used for this recipe is an example only. The amount needed will depend on the size of the recipe.
- You can reserve the soaking water to use in recipes, but some people find it bitter so always taste it first.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
🍽 Piquin chile dishes
There are many dishes piquin peppers can be added to for their spice and flavor. Some of our favorites are:
Keep your dried piquin peppers in a cool, dry, and dark place preferably in an airtight glass container. It's easier to keep consistent moisture levels this way, but just make sure the chiles are sealed to keep bugs out and flavors locked in.
💰 Buying guide
Turning up the spice on your meals means adding in a few piquin peppers! The following tips will help you know what to look for when making your purchase.
What to look for
When it comes to dried piquin peppers, avoid those that are extremely soft or damp as this could indicate moisture damage. Alternatively, dry, cracked, or broken peppers may indicate a loss of flavor intensity.
Instead, choose chiles with a soft, smooth, and pliable feeling to them. If you are purchasing piquin chiles online, be sure to carefully read reviews on the brand selling them.
Where to buy
Finding piquin chiles at the grocery store may be challenging outside of Mexico. If you live in a city with a Mexican or Latin food market, that will be your best bet.
If you aren't having any luck, try ordering piquin chiles online. As we mentioned, be sure to thoroughly read some reviews to get an idea about the brand quality.
The chile piquín brings heat and citrusy flavors to many dishes. If you need a substitution, the following chiles will get the job done:
- Chile de árbol. Similar in flavor but around half as spicy, chile de árbol makes a worthy substituion for the piquin chile in most recipes.
- Cayenne pepper. With a rather neutral flavor, cayenne pepper is ideal to replace the heat from piquin peppers.
🌶 More Mexican chiles
If you're interested in learning about more popular chiles used in Mexican cooking, check out our other detailed guides:
If you find a recipe you've added piquin chiles to bitter, you might have burned the chiles during the toasting process. Unfortunately, there isn't a way to reduce the bitterness if they burn.
When fresh piquin chiles are dried, they are most often not smoked. However, it's not uncommon to find smoked piquin chiles. You can smell them to determine if they have smokier characteristics.
Yes, you can use fresh or dry piquin chiles interchangeably in your recipes.