What Is Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce?

If you’ve tried your hand at cooking any spicy Mexican or Tex-Mex dish, you’ve likely come across the ingredient chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in a recipe or two. You’ve likely also been amazed at the spicy kick it brings to those meals. But what is chipotle peppers in adobo sauce?

The short answer is that it’s dried and smoked jalapeño pepper mixed in a spiced tomato sauce. But that really doesn’t give chipotle peppers in adobo sauce its due. To really understand why this spicy concoction is so tasty and potent, let’s break it down to its parts.

What is chipotle?

If you’ve got five minutes, we highly recommend you read this article on chipotle peppers here at PepperScale. But here’s the short of it – chipotles, as mentioned are jalapeño peppers that have been dried and then smoked. The peppers chosen have ripened on the vine past their mature red jalapeño stage, so they tend to be spicier than your normal raw green jalapeño. On the normal 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units for this chili, expect chipotle to range in the middle to upper portion of that spread.

So chipotle in adobo sauce starts with a chili that’s definitely in the medium-hot range with an intense smoky flavor, perfect for Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican cuisine.

Let’s now look at the other side of the equation.

What is adobo sauce?

Calling it a spiced tomato sauce really simplifies things too much to explain the flavor complexity of this sauce. In fact, most adobo sauces contain paprika. Paprika, if you didn’t know, is dried pimento pepper, so it has a mild spice to it. Other ingredients include bay leaves, garlic, onions, oregano, salt, and black pepper.

This sauce has been used to marinate meats and vegetables for generations as a way to preserve them over months. The small amount of capsaicin in the paprika helped make that possible. Of course with modern refrigeration that’s less important, but the great taste of adobo makes it a favorite sauce in the kitchen.

How much should I use in cooking?

Be careful! This is a potent mix. Most recipes call for a single tablespoon or two maximum. In these case, take a single chipotle with some of the sauce, pulse chop it (or simply use a knife), and measure the sauce according to the recipe. Any more and you may find the recipe a lot hotter than you expect.

Where can I buy chipotle peppers in adobo sauce?

You can typically find it in the ethnic foods section of your local supermarket. It’s also available via many online retailers. If you want a specific brand, it may be best to purchase online.

What else can I make with it?

You’ve likely discovered the chef’s dilemma when it comes to this mix. Recipes call for a small amount, and yet you buy a jar that contains six times what you need!

The good news is this sauce keeps very well. Simple refrigeration in an airtight container will keep it fresh. Or you can puree the remainder of the can and freeze it in small tablespoon dabs. An ice tray works wonders for that.

There are also fun uses that you may not have thought of that are easy to do. Check out our post about fun ways to use that extra chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in your everyday cooking.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content. It was originally published on October 14, 2013.
  • Thanks for the post. I bought the can at a target near me. When opened it is actually looked like bell pepper in oil instead. Was I ripped off? It looks nothing like pictures ive seen.

  • I am making making a 5 pot roast.
    It has 2 cups stock, 12 Oz can beer and
    The recipe calls for 4 chipolte peppers
    In adobo. Does this mean adobo sauce?
    My family just like mild heat.
    Will 4 peppers be really hot. It
    Cooks for 2 1/2 hours. Thanks Ann

    • Hi there – yes, that means in adobo sauce. 4 whole peppers from it is a pretty decent amount. Chipotle are smoked, dried jalapeño peppers, so it’s the same as adding four jalapeño peppers in terms of heat (maybe a bit spicier since chipotle are made from fully ripe red jalapeno.)

  • Great article, helped answer a lot of my questions. BUT, simple refrigeration in an air tight container will keep them fresh. For HOW LONG pretty please? I’ve never cooked with them before and we want to start out slow.

    So my question is, in addition to how long will they keep in refrigerator, but also will they keep better in a plastic snap on type lid container, or would you advise a jar with a screw on lid? I have lots of those because I save my little glass jars that bullion cubes come in. Thanks in advance!

    • Any screw top jar with a rubber seal in the lip or a canning jar would be airtight, just from my experience keeping cannabis fresh and unsmelly

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