Chipotle Pepper: Smoked, Dried Red Jalapeno Peppers

chipotle meco and morita
Chipotle peppers are smoked, dried red jalapeno peppers popular in Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes for their characteristic smoky flavor. They are usually served on popular dishes like enchiladas, tacos, and chipotle navideños.

What Are Chipotle Peppers?

Chipotle peppers are smoked and dried ripened jalapeno peppers. They are made by smoking and drying jalapeno peppers left to mature and ripen on the vine to a deep red color. 

Chipotle comes from two Aztec words—chili, meaning hot pepper or chile pepper, and poctli, which means smoke. The name thus means smoked pepper. Chipotle peppers are also called chilpotle peppers.

Since they are smoked jalapenos, you can’t grow and harvest chipotle peppers. You’ll have to grow green jalapenos first and allow them to mature and ripen fully on the plant before harvesting and drying them to make chipotle peppers.

Red jalapeno peppers are usually smoked over applewood or pecan, which infuse a characteristic smoky flavor that compliments the raisin and cherry fruitiness of the peppers.

The peppers may also be smoked with oak or cherry wood.

What Do Chipotle Peppers Taste Like?

Chipotle peppers have a lingering sweet, fruity taste complemented by bitter, earthy, chocolatey, and smoky notes.

The bitter notes come from the seeds, which contribute to the heat level as well.

Smokiness is the defining taste of chipotle chilis. It may vary depending on the wood used to smoke the peppers and how long the chilis are smoked. We’ll discuss these variations in one of the following sections.

Red jalapenos range 2,500-8,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) on the Scoville Scale. They are medium-heat peppers on the lower end of the scale.

Again, the heat levels of chipotle peppers may differ based on how ripe they are. Overripe red jalapenos will produce chipotle peppers with more concentrated capsaicin than ripe jalapenos.

Why Are Chipotle Peppers Smoked While Other Dried Chile Peppers Are Not?

Chipotle peppers or ripe jalapenos require smoking because they have thick, fleshy walls that would otherwise not thoroughly dry when dried in the sun. The remaining moisture content makes them prone to rotting.

Other chile varieties with thinner walls dry easily and thoroughly in the sun without leaving moisture that would be detrimental to stored dried peppers.

Chipotle Morita Vs. Chipotle Meco

There are two types of chipotle peppers differentiated by the level of ripening and the duration of the smoking process.

chipotle morita vs meco
Chipotle morita vs. chipotle meco.

Chipotle morita peppers are made from fully ripened jalapenos left to mature and ripen to deep red on the vine. Since they remain on the plant for a shorter time, they are usually smaller and have lower heat levels. 

Morita means little mulberry or blackberry, as informed by the peppers’ small size and sweet, berry-like flavor.

Chipotle moritas are more common in the US, where they are smoked for a shorter time to leave them with a bit of moisture after drying to make them more leathery, softer, and pliable. The shorter smoking time also makes the smokiness milder.

A chipotle morita pepper is dried to a deep burgundy color until it shrinks and the skin wrinkles.

On the other hand, Chipotle meco peppers are made from overripened jalapenos and are smoked twice as long as chipotle moritas. 

You may come across the names tipico or chile ahumado, referring to chipotle mecos. This chipotle version is more common in Mexico and features prominently in Mexican cuisine. It is commonly referred to as the “true chipotle pepper” because of the extended ripening and smoking times.

Leaving red jalapenos to overripen on the vine means they turn darker red, larger, and spicier than chipotle morita chilis.

Chipotle mecos turn a deep tannish color due to the longer drying and smoking time, and the texture is stiffer and more wrinkly because there is no moisture left in them.

The definitive smoky flavor of chipotle mecos is fortified with grassiness, extra spiciness, and fruitness.

What Are Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce?

Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce refer to smoked and dried red jalapenos infused into a spiced, tomato-based sauce. 

Adobo sauce may or may not feature tomato paste. However, the tomato-based version is preferred for making chipotle adobo sauce. The tomato base provides a flavor milder.

Mixing adobo sauce with finely chopped chipotle peppers infuses extra spiciness and smoky flavor into the sauce.

chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

How To Use Chipotle Peppers

Because of their definitive smoky taste, chipotle peppers are a common spice in many cuisines in various forms in different dishes. You can use them in the following ways:

  • Reconstituting dried whole chipotles and pureeing them for sauces.
  • Grinding into chipotle pepper powder or chili flakes—either chipotle morita chili powder or chipotle meco chili powder.
  • Complementing other hot sauces with more spiciness and smoke, such as adobo sauce and mole sauces.
  • Cooking into stews, soups, and casseroles.
  • Toasting and rehydrating into a marinade for meats like pork, chicken, shrimp, beef, and chicken.
  • Pureeing into a dipping sauce for chips, tortillas, and other snacks.
  • Rehydrating and chopping into salsas and salads.
  • Making spicy mayonnaise.
  • As a garnish on eggs.

Chipotle chiles feature in popular dishes such as:

Where To Buy Chipotle Peppers

You can buy chipotle peppers from Latin markets, online specialty stores, Mexican markets, and grocery stores in the Mexican food aisle. Chipotle meco peppers may be rare outside of Mexico.

Substitutes For Chipotle Pepper

You can substitute chipotle peppers with chipotle in adobo sauce, smoked paprika, guajillo chiles, crushed red pepper, pasilla peppers, and chile anchos

Smoked paprika makes a good chipotle pepper substitute for its fruity flavor, but it’s milder, especially if it’s sweet smoked paprika (pimentón dulce). You can add cayenne peppers to make the smoked paprika spicier.

Pasilla, guajillos, and ancho chiles are ideal if you want a milder substitute. Guajillo peppers have a similar taste profile to chipotle peppers, but they are slightly tangy and have hints of green tea and berries.

Chili peppers flakes or crushed red peppers usually have a cayenne base and are thus hotter than chipotle peppers. You’ll lose the earthiness and smokiness you would get in the chipotles.

Chocolate habanero peppers are a suitable substitute for chipotle peppers if you want a super hot replacement with smoky, fruity, and earthy flavors.

Pasilla de Oaxaca peppers from the Oaxaca region of Mexico are also an excellent substitute for chipotle peppers if you want a smoky replacement. However, they are hard to find and milder.

The two chipotle pepper varieties can also sub each other. Chipotle morita can sub chipotle meco if the recipe requires a less smoky pepper.


Peppers have become the meeting point for three of Alex's greatest passions—gardening, cooking and writing. He is happiest watching small plants grow big and heavy with produce, and he can't wait to harvest self-grown fresh produce for his kitchen. When he is not taking care of his pepper plants, you'll find him busy cooking and sampling different peppers as he seeks the next hotter pepper.

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