Serrano Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are serrano peppers?

If you’ve been a fan of jalapeño peppers and you’re looking for the next jump up the Scoville scale, then a great next landing point is serrano peppers. They have a clean, some say even bright, flavor and a surprising medium kick (10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units) that’s hotter than a jalapeño, without being scorching hot.

Serrano Pepper

Serrano pepper fast facts

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 10,000 – 23,000 SHU
  • Median heat: 16,500 SHU
  • Origin: Mexico
  • Capsicum species: Annuum
  • Jalapeño reference scale: Near equal heat to 9 times hotter
  • Use: Culinary
  • Size: Approximately 2 to 4 inches long, curved
  • Flavor: Bright, Grassy

So this is bearable heat even for those less adventurous?

It can be, but that’s not to say these chilies aren’t hot. In terms of the pepper scale, serrano peppers are considered around medium heat (10,000 to 23,000 SHU) somewhere in the range of 5 times hotter than a typical jalapeño and about 10 times less spicy than a habanero pepper. In this way, this is an excellent stepping stone if you feel you’d like more zing than a jalapeño, but jumping to habanero right now is a little too much.

Some serranos are actually pretty mild, nearer in heat to the jalapeño, but it’s always tough to gauge what you are going to get. Peppers vary widely in heat even on the same plant, so you can just imagine the differences between peppers grown in different regions, soils, and temperatures.

Where does the name come from?

Serrano peppers hail originally from the same region as poblano peppers, the Puebla region of Mexico. The name actually translates to “from the mountains” giving you a really good hint on where serranos love to grow (though they are not at all frost resistant). Today, it’s widely grown in Mexico and the United States. The main growers of serrano peppers in Mexico actually cultivate about 180,000 tons of these chilies every single year! That’s a lot of pepper.

What makes serrano peppers special?

As you can see, this is a very popular pepper in Mexico, and for lots of reasons. Its overall look fits right in with the jalapeño. It’s sort of like an elongated version of it, tapping out at about two to four inches and coming in multiple colors when ripe. They can easily be eaten raw as the skin of this chili pepper is really quite thin, not waxy and thick like a poblano pepper. And they make excellent salsa peppers because of this. You don’t need to peel them; after roasting, they can be chopped and added to the salsa right away.

You can also find serrano peppers in supermarkets more often than a lot of other hotter chili peppers, especially if you live in Texas, New Mexico, or in urban areas around the United States.

But you should note that the thin skin and narrow shape do not make serranos an ideal choice for drying. It’s possible, but it’s not the typical choice for these peppers.

What types of serrano pepper products are out there?

Well, there are salsas, as mentioned. There are a lot of highly popular salsa varieties that rely on the serrano as the base pepper, especially in the medium to medium-hot category. There are also many hot sauces featuring the serrano pepper as a big part of the flavor mix, if not the base. You’ll also find it in rubs and powders, and there are many pickled and canned serranos on the market as well if you can’t find them raw. If you can’t find these tasty hot peppers in your local supermarket, you can find a big selection of product options online (Amazon), including serrano pepper seeds and plants.

So if you’re looking for that step up the ladder from the jalapeño, landing on serrano peppers is a very good choice. They’ve got the added heat without being scorching hot and offer a lot of options in terms of eating and products. Take the dive and give the serrano some quality time in your kitchen.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on October 23, 2021 to include new content. It was originally published on July 3, 2013.
  • What I like about Serrano Peppers is that their heat is concentrated in mouth, not the throat. They seem to provide a nice clean hotness without much lingering effect.

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