Think Anaheim with extra heat…
Scoville heat units (SHU): 5,000 – 7,000
Jalapeño reference point: Near equal to 3 times hotter
Origin: United States
The Sandia pepper (a.k.a. NuMex Sandia) is another of a long list of delicious chili hybrids developed by New Mexico State University. Just by looking at its shape, you can see its Anaheim pepper roots, large and long. But behind that similar shape is quite a bit more heat than the mild Anaheim, rivaling the spiciness of a jalapeño pepper. Sandia peppers are delicious roasted, dried and crushed into chili powder, or used fresh in salsas and salads. They are also a common decorative chili used in chili ristras.
How hot are Sandia peppers?
The Sandia hybrid packs a surprising punch considering its New Mexico chili pepper roots. Its Scoville heat range of 5,000 to 7,000 Scoville heat units (SHU) puts it on par with the hottest possible jalapeño peppers. It can be surprising for many eaters who may look at this chili and immediately expect a heat level comparable to other New Mexico chilies like the Anaheim (500 – 2,500 SHU) or Hatch chilies (1,000 to 8,000 SHU). There aren’t many chilies of its size that pack a comparable heat.
What do Sandia peppers look like?
They share the same long and wide shape as the Anaheim pepper, growing to six inches in length and one and a half inches wide. The Sandia tapers and slightly curves, providing a beautiful pepper silhouette for gardens. They age from green to a rich red.
What do Sandia peppers taste like?
There’s a mild fruity sweetness here that’s again reminiscent of the Anaheim. It’s a very eatable flavor – not too sweet, not too bright – so the Sandia can be counted on for versatility in the kitchen.
How can you use these chilies?
While green Sandia peppers are certainly eatable, it’s the red Sandia which gets much of the attention by growers and eaters alike. In its mature red form, the Sandia provides heat at the upper end of its limit, perfect for drying and crushing into chili powders and flakes. Plus, when red the Sandia reaches its decorative peak. They are a popular choice, as mentioned, for chili ristras due to their elongated tapered look.
When green, the Sandia isn’t as popular as many other New Mexico chili hybrids that often have thicker walls. A Sandia variety has been released (called Sandia Select) that increases wall thickness over the typical Sandia pepper. If you’re considering using this chili at all stages, opt for the Select for growing over the traditional hybrid.
In the kitchen, the Sandia has a lot of versatility, especially once they reach full-red maturity. When red, the Sandia’s walls have a medium thickness which makes for an excellent roasting pepper. The walls are also thick enough at that point for a delicious fresh crispness for salads and salsas. If you’re into drying chilies, this pepper – again in its red form – is an excellent choice as well.
Where can you buy Sandia peppers?
Outside of New Mexico and surrounding states, the Sandia may be difficult to find fresh. You may find them at farmer’s markets, but expect to search them out. If you’re a grower, Sandia pepper seeds are easy to pick up online and the chilies are relatively easy to grow, working well in both gardens and containers.
If you hunt down the Sandia pepper (or grow it yourself), you’ll enjoy a New Mexico chili that packs a certain surprising punch for its size. It’s unique among its cousins for this heat, while still providing a very eatable flavor. If you want a step up from the Anaheim or Hatch chili in terms of heat, the Sandia is for sure a good place to land next.