Serrano peppers are hot chile peppers named for the mountain ridges in Mexico where they originated. They're considered a fruit, and they're popular in Mexican cuisine—only second to the jalapeño pepper in popularity. The small peppers also appear in Southeast Asian cuisine, adding a spicy bite wherever 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?
The serrano pepper plant thrives in areas with hot summers and milder winters, like Mexico. The price of the peppers fluctuates with supply and demand. The supply is loosely dependent on the weather, which can either help or hinder a crop. Serrano peppers are often confused with jalapeño peppers but are smaller and can pack up to 10 times the heat. Torpedo shaped and typically no longer than 2 inches, serrano peppers can be found in a rainbow of colors depending on ripeness, from green to yellow, orange, red, and even brown. There is minimal preparation with serrano peppers: just rinsing, trimming, and slicing, but it's important to avoid the pepper's chile oils to avoiding burning skin and eyes.
How to Use Serrano Peppers
Serrano peppers can be eaten cooked, pickled, or raw either sliced, chopped, or pureed, and you can make a fine chile oil with them too. 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. Chile oil released by chopping, seeding, or even harvesting hot peppers will cause a burning sensation, especially when applied to the face. Wear kitchen goggles and thick rubber gloves when preparing serranos and be 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 chiles. If you are processing or pureeing the peppers, avoid placing your face over the appliance after opening. Hot chile peppers are used to make pepper spray, and pureeing in a closed environment can create a puff of noxious fumes when first opened.
What Do Serrano Peppers Taste Like?
Serrano chiles have a flavor similar to a jalapeño pepper, with a bright, fresh-tasting spice. They have a "delayed fuse," meaning their heat takes a moment to fully kick in after it hits the palate. The level of heat for serranos often depends on their size (smaller often means hotter), color (unripe, green peppers tend to be milder), and the exposure they've had to the sun.
Serrano Pepper Recipes
Serrano peppers are frequently eaten raw, either sliced or chopped, and mixed into salsas, pico de gallo, or guacamole. Cooked in dishes like soups and chilis, the pepper takes on a mellower flavor while still adding spice. Pickled serrano chiles are popular in Vietnamese and Mexican cuisine.
Where to Buy Serrano Peppers
Serrano peppers are typically available at your favorite grocery store or Mexican market at any time of the year, sold by the pound—loose or packaged. 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, so look for locally grown peppers in the summertime.
Gardeners living in climates like the Deep South should have good luck with serrano peppers, sowing seeds directly into the vegetable garden. Everyone else needs to start them indoors about eight weeks before transplanting them outside. Some people grow serrano peppers indoors year-round using grow lights, but it's not recommended with pets in the house.
How to Store Serrano Peppers
Chile 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 two 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 chiles are high in vitamin C and A, and low in fat and cholesterol. Some early studies suggest that capsaicin, the component that makes chile peppers spicy, may be beneficial to cardiovascular health. Regardless, serrano peppers add a healthy kick of flavor to a wide range of dishes.
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 serrano pepper is usually 1 to 2 inches long, while the jalapeño is 2 to 3 inches long—but that may not be enough to tell them apart. 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 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units. For a spicier kick, substitute serranos for jalapeño peppers in your favorite recipes.