Food & Drink

What Are Serrano Peppers and How Do You Use Them?

Published on October 4, 2023 | 0 Comments
green serrano peppers

When you want to add spicy heat to a dish, consider reaching for serrano peppers instead of jalapeños. Serrano peppers are one of the most versatile and easy-to-source chile peppers available. They’ll provide that signature kick to salsa and pico de gallo that you’re looking for without setting your mouth on fire. Serranos peppers are easy to work with and can be used in a wide variety of foods and drinks.

So what exactly is a serrano pepper? How are serrano peppers different from jalapeños? Will they be too hot for my taste buds?

Serrano peppers are an ideal chile pepper to work with because they deliver a kick without overpowering. They add a fresh crunch when used raw and a noticeable but mellow spiciness when cooked. As with other chile peppers, you can control some of the punch by removing ribs and seeds, so whether you're looking for a hint of heat or you really want to bring the fire, serrano peppers deliver.


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What Is a Serrano Pepper? 

Serrano peppers are a form of chile pepper commonly used in Mexican, Asian and Latin American foods. They are primarily sold when they are green in color, though you may occasionally see yellow or red serrano peppers. These days, serrano peppers are almost easier to find in your local grocery store than jalapeños, so if you’re not already using these versatile chiles, it’s time to try them.

Serranos are named after the mountainous region in Mexico where they were originally produced. They are easy to grow and can be very prolific (one plant can yield 50 peppers), so they have become widely available in the United States. Once you learn about serrano peppers, they’ll likely become your go-to chile for everyday culinary use.

green and red serrano peppers
via Canva

Serrano Pepper vs. Jalapeño

So what is the difference between jalapeño and serrano peppers? They are actually very similar, which makes it easy to interchange them in recipes. Both peppers are primarily used when they are green in color, but if you allow them to ripen, they will eventually turn red, signaling a hotter pepper. Raw jalapeños and serrano peppers provide that fresh green crunchy taste that you get from raw green bell peppers but with just the right amount of spicy heat.

Jalapeños (pictured below) are larger and more oblong in shape, making them a better choice for stuffing, while serrano peppers are long and skinny with shiny, smooth skin. Both peppers are great choices for adding heat to salsa or pico de gallo and can be just as powerful raw as they are when added to cooked dishes.

jalapeno peppers
via Canva

How Hot Is a Serrano Pepper?   

Did you know there is an actual scale for measuring chile pepper heat? The Scoville scale is the official way to rank peppers according to how hot they are, so it's useful to know where serrano peppers rank. It’s a good tool to know about when learning how to eat hot peppers.

To get a feel for the various heat levels of chile peppers, let’s look at some common examples. Your typical green bell pepper ranks 0 on the Scoville scale because they are not a hot pepper. Poblano peppers, which are very mild, rank from 1000-1500 Scoville heat units (SHUs), while fresh cayenne gets 30,000-50,000 SHU and intimidating habaneros have 100,000-300,000 SHUs.

The serrano lands in the comfortable range of 10,000-20,000 SHUs, which is just slightly hotter than your jalapeño (5000-12,000 SHU). It’s a safe pepper to work with for almost any palate.

a variety of colorful peppers
via Canva

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What Do Serrano Peppers Taste Like?

Serrano peppers taste very similar to jalapeños. They have that distinct green pepper freshness followed by a kick of heat. While some peppers like poblano or pasilla peppers are known for having a smoky undertone, serrano peppers are closer in flavor to your standard green bell pepper, which is generally mild.

serrano peppers close up, some sliced
via Canva

Tips for Working With Serrano Peppers

To have the best experience when handling serrano peppers, it is always a good idea to have some disposable latex gloves on hand. As with all hot chile peppers, the capsaicin contained within the ribs and seeds of your chile pepper can easily travel to your skin and cause a lingering burning sensation. Always be careful not to touch your eyes or other sensitive body parts when working with serrano peppers.

If you do accidentally transfer capsaicin to your skin and are feeling the burn, cold, high-fat milk is the best solution. Dip your hands in a glass of it and wait.

If you get capsaicin from serrano peppers in your eyes, you'll want to soak a paper towel in cold, high-fat milk and place it over the affected eye. The relief will come fast, but the heat will return, so keep doing the milk trick until the pain has reached a manageable level.

Because the majority of the heat is in the light-colored ribs and seeds of the serrano pepper, you can moderate how much heat you put into a dish by simply removing those parts. Slice your serrano pepper in half lengthwise and use a paring knife to scrape the seeds and ribs out before slicing the rest of the pepper.

a neatly sliced serrano pepper on a cutting board
via Canva

Culinary Uses for Serrano Peppers

Learning to work with serrano peppers will bring a new level of complexity to both your raw and cooked dishes. If you’re nervous about incorporating hot chiles into your food, consider taking cooking classes near you to get started. Whether it's cooking classes in Scottsdale or cooking classes in Vancouver, you'll be taught by chefs that understand the different varieties of chile peppers and how their heat levels translate to the taste buds. If you can’t find in-person lessons, try online cooking classes geared to Mexican or Latin American cuisine to get some tips.

Cooking classes can teach you to use serrano peppers and other chiles.
via Cozymeal

Serrano Peppers in Food

Using serrano peppers in food is easy. Just substitute them anywhere you’d use jalapeños. Thin slices of serrano peppers can provide the signature crunch and kick to your pho or the punch of green and heat that you expect in enchiladas verdes. Love sushi? Super-thin slices of serrano go perfectly on top of fresh salmon sashimi with a squeeze of lemon juice. Thin serrano slices also make a perfect topping for your tuna poke bowl.

From salads to sandwiches to salsas, serrano peppers are a versatile ingredient that delivers both heat and color to any dish. Serrano peppers can also be pickled, which tames their heat and gives them a longer shelf life. Try adding serrano peppers to your homemade jellies for unexpected punch.

enchiladas verdes
via Cozymeal

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Serrano Peppers in Drinks

In addition to being a key ingredient in Mexican and Asian dishes, serrano peppers are surprisingly popular in craft cocktails. They work well with liquors like tequila or vodka, which mellow some of the heat. Don’t be surprised to find a thin slice of serrano floating in your next margarita. Check out online mixology classes for other ways to learn about incorporating serrano peppers into your drinks.

cocktails garnished with chile peppers
via Canva

Serrano peppers are a safe and easy choice when you want to delve into the world of spicier foods without getting burnt. The world of chile peppers is enormous and can be intimidating if you aren’t sure what you’re working with. But enjoying the rewards of unique and complex flavors can be worth the risk.

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