Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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10 Chile Pepper Flavor Upgrades Today's chiles display a spectrum of color, flavor and heat.

It’s been a while since the word “chile” was synonymous with “jalapeño.” Now menus feature peppers from all over the world, at all levels of heat, widely available for adding everything from a mild tingle to a blistering attack. No matter what the level, customers are eating them up.

1. Hatch Chile

This distinctive, flavorful pepper from the valley around Hatch, N.M., has garnered a cult following for its terroir and for the festivals that celebrate the brief Hatch season. The chiles are also available frozen and in other preserved forms.

Try this:

  • Add Hatch peppers to queso for a sauce or dip.
  • Chop and bake into cornbread to serve with chile butter or honey.
Menu Examples

Teako’s Tacos: Three juicy, smoked, pulled pork tacos with Hatch green chile and topped with cheddar cheese
—Sparky’s, Hatch, N.M.

Hatch Stew (from Hatch Fest menu): Roasted Hatch green chiles with grilled chicken, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes
—Blue Goose Cantina, Plano, Texas

2. Ghost Pepper

The mythic bhut jolokia of Bengali may no longer be the hottest known pepper in the world (that distinction now belongs to the Carolina Reaper), but at 1 million-plus on the Scoville scale, it still has its uses as a heat seeker’s curiosity on menus.

Try This:

  • Add a tiny bit to wing sauce, salsa verde or other condiment when super-incendiary heat is warranted.
  • Steep into oil and use sparingly for marinades—watch out, or you’ll sear a hole in the space-time continuum.
Menu Examples

“Fiery Ghost” Style: The a la carte burger option features ghost pepper along with fresh-cut and fried jalapeños atop pepper Jack cheese
—Red Robin, multiple locations

Duck: Pulled duck, corn relish, ghost pepper chile sauce, melted Havarti cheese, cilantro
—Wes Welker’s Sports Bar & Grill, Oklahoma City

3. Aji Amarillo

Among the many Peruvian chiles, this bright yellow, sunshiney-tasting pepper may be catching on the fastest, thanks to its fruity flavor and mild-to-medium heat. In its dried form, it’s called aji mirasol.
Try This:

  • Create a twist on traditional Peruvian papas a la Huancaína (boiled potatoes in aji amarillo cream sauce) by serving the creamy sauce as a dipper for fries.
  • Add aji amarillo paste to bean dishes.

Menu Examples
Aji de Gallina: Shredded chicken in a spicy aji amarillo creamy sauce, eggs, olives, potatoes and white rice
—Panca, New York

Hamachi Tiradito: Aji amarillo aïoli, serrano peppers
—26 Sushi & Tapas, Surfside, Fla.

4. Habanero

Right up there on the Scoville scale is this small but incendiary chile from the Caribbean via the Amazon, with its orange color (when ripe) and tingly, citrus-floral mien.
Try This:

  • Similar to the Scotch bonnet, the habanero must be menued and handled carefully, mixed into a barbecue sauce or another application where only a small amount is needed.
  • Add a tiny bit to cinnamon cookies or brownies.

Menu Examples
Mango Habanero Wings
—Wingstop, multiple locations

Single, Double or Triple Habanero Pizza
—Flying Pie Pizzeria, three locations, Boise, Idaho

5. Chiles en Adobo

Chipotles (smoked jalapeños) marinated in a sweet and tangy tomato-based sauce add ready-made depth and zing to a variety of different foods, either together or separately.
Try This:

  • Toss roasted peanuts with chiles and their sauce, plus lime juice, ketchup and agave to create a bar snack or salad garnish.
  • Add to chili, soups or stews, or to egg salad for bright flavor.

Menu Examples
Chipotle Mashed Potato Quesadilla: Chipotles in adobo cooked with mashed potatoes, three-cheese mix, scallions, feta
—Jose Malone’s, Troy, N.Y.

Black Bean Wrap with avocado, roasted red bell pepper, pico de gallo, asadero cheese, spinach and chipotle honey
—Artesian Restaurant, Ojo Caliente, N.M.

6. Ancho

This dried version of the poblano brings a sweet, smoky savor that’s slightly reminiscent of raisins. Its heat is mild to medium-hot, which makes it an appealing entry-level chile.
Try This:

  • Powdered anchos make a tasty, colorful “dust” or part of a rub for seasoning a variety of different foods.
  • Add ancho chiles to salsa to bring smoky flavor and depth.

Menu Examples
MC Signature 6-oz. Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin, served with ancho chile bourbon sauce
—Michael’s Cuisine, Fort Worth, Texas

Chipotle Chicken Panini: Antibiotic-free chicken, applewood-smoked bacon, smoked cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes and ancho-chipotle spread, grilled on freshly baked French bread
—Panera Bread

7. Shishito & Padrón

These similar small, thin-walled oblong peppers have been showing up blistered on small-plates menus. Generally speaking, Padróns are a little smokier, but both can vary in spiciness. The element of surprise is one of the reasons fans seek them out.

Try This:

  • Fold into potato or grain salad to stretch the bell-ringer—and add punch to the salad.
  • Ramp up the flavor with a soy-ginger or miso marinade or sauce; toss with panko crumbs for added texture.

Menu Examples
Fried Cheese & Roasted Shishito Peppers with cheddar curds and orange-habanero jam
—Linger, Denver

Okra & Peppers: Okra chips, Padrón peppers, tomato hollandaise, sun-dried tomatoes
—Justin’s, Santa Clara, Calif.

8. Cubanelle

Considered a sweet pepper, this mildly tingly, bright red chile is crossing over from its Puerto Rican and Dominican roots.

Try This:

  • Cubanelles are just the right size and piquancy for stuffing as a finger food or in multiples for an entrée.
  • Cook and purée into a sauce for poached eggs.

Menu Examples
Pineapple Vinegar Mussels: Lime, cilantro and cubanelle pepper, served over crispy papas fritas
—Brazo, Portsmouth, N.H.

Gemelli: Squid ink pasta, calamari Bolognese, cubanelle pepper, citrus
—T.W. Food, Cambridge, Mass.

9. Aleppo Pepper

Named after the Syrian city (and also known as the halaby pepper), this spicy, almost tart pepper is most often dried and crushed, and is widely used in Syrian and Turkish cuisine.

Try This:

  • Dust shrimp, chicken, kebabs or scallops with Aleppo before sautéing for a Middle Eastern flavor burst.
  • Add to hummus or smoked eggplant dip.

Menu Examples
Schnitzel Sandwich: White-meat chicken, Aleppo roasted red peppers, roasted garlic aïoli, kaleslaw, toasted ciabatta
—Spreads Sandwich Shop, N.Y.

Aleppo Roasted Pork with shallot vinaigrette
—Bristol Bar & Grille, Louisville, Ky.

10. Thai Chile

The popularity of Southeast Asian cuisine has brought this small, thin-skinned, very hot red or green pepper into the public eye. In its dry form, a hooked shape (similar to a bird’s beak) gives it the name bird chile, although the moniker is used very loosely.

Try This:

  • Add to mussels with coconut milk or dashi, lemon grass and other Asian flavors.
  • Sauté with mint and lime to dress crispy Brussels sprouts.

Menu Examples
Striped Jack Crudo: Radish, bird chile, lemon vinegar
—Nico Osteria, Chicago

Crispy Rice, Thai herbs, Red Boat fish sauce, crispy shallot, Thai bird chile
—Umai Mi, San Antonio, Texas


About The Author

Joan Lang

A freelance writer and editor living in the Portland, Maine, area, Joan Lang has been writing about food for more than 30 years, beginning her career in the financial and B2B press. She formed her own food and editorial consulting firm, Full Plate Communications, in 1989. She is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and holds degrees in architecture and journalism.