What Are Serrano Peppers?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Raw Green Organic Serrano Peppers

 bhofack2 / Getty Images

Serrano peppers are a hot chili pepper named for the mountain ridges in Mexico where they originated. They remain popular in Mexican cuisine today, only second to the jalapeño pepper in popularity. The small peppers also appear in Southeast Asian cuisine, adding a spicy bite where ever they appear. With a fiery heat and sharp flavor, they can be eaten raw in sauces and dips, pickled, or cooked.

What Are Serrano Peppers?

Serrano peppers are often confused with jalapeño peppers, but the chilis are smaller and pack more heat. Torpedo-shaped and typically no longer than 2 inches, they can be found in a rainbow of colors depending on ripeness, from green to yellow, orange, red, and even brown. The serrano pepper plant thrives in areas with hot summers and milder winters, like Mexico.

How to Use Serrano Peppers

Serrano peppers can be eaten cooked, pickled, or raw either sliced, chopped, or puréed. The stem is not eaten, and much of the heat is held in the seeds and inner flesh which can be removed for a less intense experience. The peel is thin and edible and is not typically removed.

Use caution when preparing serrano peppers at home. Chili oil released by chopping, seeding, or even harvesting hot peppers will cause a burning sensation, especially when applied to the face. Wear gloves when preparing serranos, careful not to remove them until all prep has been completed and tools and surfaces washed. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and the rest of your face while in contact with chilis. If you are processing or puréeing the peppers, avoid placing your face over the appliance after opening. Hot chili peppers are used to make pepper spray, and puréing in a closed environment can create a puff of noxious spray when first opened.

Organic Green Spicy Serrano Peppers
bhofack2 / Getty Images
Red 'serrano' chili
Charles Imstepf / Getty Images
Honey Serrano Chicken Wings
rudisill / Getty Images
Three Pepper Salsa with Corn
 worksdesigngroup / Getty Images
Vrinda Mahesh / Getty Images

What Do Serrano Peppers Taste Like?

Serrano chilis have a similar flavor to a jalapeño pepper, with a bright, fresh-tasting spice. They have a "delayed fuse," which means that their heat takes a moment to fully kick in when it hits the palate. The level of heat for serranos can depend on the size (smaller can often mean hotter), color (unripe, green peppers tend to be milder), and their exposure to the sun.

Serrano Peppers vs. Jalapeño Peppers

Serrano and jalapeño peppers are often mistaken for each other, especially since serranos are frequently sold while still green in color. The peppers are similar in flavor with one key difference: heat level. Serrano peppers register between 10,000 and 25,000 Scoville heat units on the Scoville Scale. For comparison, jalapeños register at 2,000 to 10,000 Scovilles. For a spicier kick, swap serranos for jalapeño peppers in your favorite recipes.

Serrano Pepper Recipes

Serrano peppers are frequently eaten raw, either sliced or chopped and mixed into salsas, pico de gallo, and guacamole. Cooked in dishes like soups and chilis, the pepper takes on a mellower flavor while still adding spice. Pickled serrano chilis are popular in Vietnamese and Mexican cuisine.

Where to Buy Serrano Peppers

Serranos peppers tend to be readily available at your favorite grocery store or Mexican market any time of the year. Look for firm, plump peppers without blemishes, punctures, or wrinkles. For a slightly milder pepper, choose green, unripe serranos. For a more developed, spicier flavor, choose orange or red peppers when available. When shopping for serranos at the farmers' market, it's easy to remember their peak season: hot peppers are ripe when the weather is at its hottest. Look for locally grown peppers in the summertime.

How to Store Serrano Peppers

Chili peppers like serranos keep best when they are dry and unwashed. Toss the peppers in a plastic bag and store them in the crisper of your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Wash just before use. Pickled peppers will keep for three weeks in the fridge, or for months on the shelf if properly canned.

Serrano peppers can also be frozen and used in cooked dishes at a later date. Slice or dice the peppers and spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze, then add the frozen peppers to a zip-top freezer bag and push out all of the air before sealing. Use within three months.

Nutrition and Benefits

Serrano peppers are a low-calorie food, with most of their calories coming from heart-healthy fiber. The chilis are high in Vitamin C and A, and low in fat and cholesterol. Some early studies suggest that capsaicin, the component that makes chili peppers spicy, may be beneficial to cardiovascular health. Regardless, serrano peppers add a healthy kick of flavor to a wide range of dishes.