Pronounced "chi-POHT-lay" Chipotle peppers are indigenous to Mexico and they've become almost synonymous in this country with our fairly recent infatuation with “chiles”. Chiles immediately bring to mind their heat but many chiles may also be a bit more on the mild side while adding a deliciously subtle flavor to many dishes when used in correct amounts. Chipotles are actually fully ripened and then smoked dried jalapenos (Capsicum annuum).
It takes 10 pounds of fresh jalapaneo peppers to make one pound of dried Chipotles. The final result is a dark brown to black colored, shriveled pepper that has a smoky and slightly sweet chocolaty flavor and aroma.
Chipotles are one of the first and oldest cultivated crops in the Western Hemisphere dating back to before the Aztec civilization. They originated in the region of Mexico that today is northern Mexico City. Most chiles can be dried using the sun, but not Jalapenos. Chile historians believe that the Aztecs first smoked jalapeno peppers because the fleshy, thick jalapeno was difficult to dry by the sun and tended to rot. This "smoke drying" process was initially used for drying meats but the Aztecs found that smoking allowed the chiles to be stored for a long period of time, also.
As the Aztec empire began to rise, so did their imports and exports. Chipotles were very highly prized for trading and were also used at royal ceremonies. At an Aztec banquet, chiles were used in a ceremonial sauce that was served to the emperor and his guests. It was prepared with a mixture of chiles, tomatoes, nuts, pumpkin seeds, chocolate and caramel. This sauce was used to flavor venison, fowl and seafood.
Today, Chipotles are grown in Veracruz, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, South Texas and Southern New Mexico.
These chiles have a smoky, somewhat sweet chocolaty aroma and flavor. They are considered a medium heat chile with a bit of a kick to them as they register 5,000 - 10,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units).
Use chipotle powder to give a nice smoky kick to Cincinnati Chili, Mexican Style White Chicken Chili and Spicy Chipotle Hummus.
Chipotles are excellent with beef, chicken and pork chops.
Although red peppers have traveled the globe and are enjoy in many types of cuisines, Chipotles have remained uniquely Mexican.
If you are one of those that prefer even more heat you can add the chipotle powder that your recipe calls for and then add a bit of cayenne or crushed red pepper to the dish, salsa or sauce.
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