Famously known around the world, the chile chipotle meco (or chipotle pepper) brings smoke and flavor to many Mexican-inspired dishes. Learn everything you need to know in this guide, including how to prepare it for recipes.
Table of Contents
📖 What are chipotle peppers?
Chipotle peppers, often referred to as just chipotles, are the dried and smoked form of ripe jalapeño peppers. In fact, "chipotle" is derived from the Nahuatl word "chīlpoctli," meaning smoked chile.
But wait, there's more! There are actually two main varieties of chipotle peppers (dried jalapeño peppers):
- Chile meco
- Chile morita
So, what are the differences?
It's quite easy to spot the differences, even at first glance. Moritas are short, dark purple, and slightly shriveled. Mecos are tan, long, and have a tobacco-like appearance.
While both are ripe jalapeño peppers, meco chipotle peppers are left to ripen until they are much darker red and larger than morita chiles. They are also smoked for a longer time period, giving them a more intense smoky flavor.
Meco chipotle peppers are often referred to as true chipotle peppers, whereas morita chiles aren't typically sold under the name chipotle (rather just chile morita).
We'll be focusing on the chile meco in this post, but we'll refer to it as either chipotle pepper or chile chipotle for reference. You can find out more information about morita chiles in a separate post.
🍴 Flavor profile
Chipotle peppers carry some heat, but they are often added to dishes for their complex earthy flavor and ability to impart a heavy smokiness.
Many also describe their taste as grassy and slightly fruity.
🔥 Spice level
Chipotle peppers are considered to be medium-hot, landing in at 5,000-10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the Scoville Scale.
Since they are the dried form of jalapeños, they contain a more concentrated level of capsaicin (the compound that gives chiles their spice).
🍎 Health facts
You may not be aware, but chipotle peppers carry a substantial amount of health properties all wrapped up in a tiny package.
As we mentioned already, they are rich in capsaicin. This compound not only gives chiles their spice, but it also provides us with a myriad of benefits.
Capsaicin contains anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the risk of heart disease. On top of that, this compound has been shown to increase metabolic rate, which can ultimately lead to a healthier weight.
How to Rehydrate Chipotle Peppers
- Kitchen shears
- Cast-iron skillet or comal
- 1 package chipotle peppers ($0.96)
- Water for soaking
- Using kitchen shears, cut off the stems of the chiles and cut them open. Remove the seeds and veins and discard.
- Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium, then dry toast them for ~30-60 seconds per side, or until fragrant.
- Bring a saucepan of water to boil, then turn the heat off, add the chipotle peppers in, cover the pot, and let the chiles rehydrate for 10-15 minutes, or until they feel soft and pliable.
- Your chiles are now ready to be used in recipes like salsa or stuffed chipotles, or chili.
- 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.
🍽 Chipotle pepper dishes
In order to achieve that smoky flavor everyone loves, chipotle peppers are a must. Here are some ideas for recipes you can try this tasty chile in:
- Chipotle salsa
- Chipotles navideños
- Smoky mole poblano
- Chipotle chili
Store chipotle peppers in a dark, dry, and cool place so they stay fresh (a cupboard is ideal). We recommend using glass containers to store dried chiles because it helps to keep bugs out and seals in the flavors.
💰 Buying guide
Now that you know what chipotle peppers are and when to use them, it's time to familiarize yourself with the buying process. The following tips will help you find the best chiles.
What to look for
To make sure you're buying true chipotle meco chiles (not morita chiles), look for tobacco-colored, cigar-like, and stiff-feeling chiles.
Avoid chipotle peppers that are overly soft or damp, which could indicate moisture damage.
Alternatively, extremely dry or cracked chipotle peppers can indicate a decreased flavor as they are probably older.
Where to buy
True chipotle meco chiles are much more difficult to find outside of Mexico than morita chiles. If you live in a city with a Mexican or Latin market, you may be able to find them there.
If you'll be cooking with them often, another option is to order chipotle peppers online.
Because of how unique the chipotle pepper flavor is, it's more challenging to find a good replacement. However, there are a few options that should do the trick if you're in a pinch:
- Morita chiles. Although slightly fruitier, morita chiles also impart a smoky flavor, but it will be less intense than chipotle peppers. You might want to add a few more in if it's the smokiness you're after.
- Chipotles in adodo. Available in most grocery stores, chipotle peppers in adobo work great for many recipes. But since they are covered in adobo, they may not work as a replacement for every dish.
- Pasilla de Oaxaca. Pasilla de Oaxaca chiles are equally challening to find but provide lightly fruity notes and smoky flavors. The spice level is similar to chipotle peppers at 4,000-10,000 SHU.
🌶 More Mexican chiles
If you're interested in learning about more popular chiles used in Mexican cooking, check out our other detailed guides:
Yes, chipotle peppers are the most heavily dried and smoked pepper you can find.
No, cayenne powder is considerably hotter than chipotle powder. Cayenne powder is between 30,000-50,000 SHU, whereas chipotle powder is around 5,000-10,000 SHU.
If you have access to jalapeño pepper seeds, you can grow your own (leaving them on the plant until very dark red). However, you will need access to a smoker as well.