The Best Guatemalan Chiles

by Diana Pastor

Guatemalans don’t like spicy food —don’t like it, at least, in comparison to their Mexican neighbors to the north, who are famous for their fondness of tongue-sizzling tastes ranging from the mild but addictive flaming hot cheeto to the nuclear fire of the ghost pepper. Guatemala, nonetheless, is not the Midwest of the United States, where ketchup is sometimes regarded as spicy. Chapines use some spice in their foods, like most of Latin America, and this article will serve as a brief survey of the most popular peppers that you can find in our cuisine.

The chiltepe: This is the classic Guatemalan pepper —an old standby that can be found in markets across the country. If you say that someone is a chiltepe, that means they’re small or short with a personality that’s fiery bordering on explosive. The chiltepe is a small pepper—a tiny red or green bulb on the end of a short stem. You can find them pretty much anywhere and buy a small bag for the modest price of a single quetzal. Pop one in your mouth and bite down, and you’ll experience a small detonation of spice that will quickly clear your sinuses and bring a brief wave of tears to your eyes. Don’t worry; you’ll be okay. It’ll be over soon. Sizzle scale: Three fire alarms out of three

The chile cobán: The chile cobán comes from the northwestern part of the country, including Cobán, Lanquín, Cahabón, and neighboring provinces. You toast these suckers before you eat them. You can grill them, too, and add some charcoal-black stripes to the peppers a bright red color. Dry them in the oven, and you can smash them into pieces on your mortar and pestle. Throw them into a tomato sauce, and you can actually get close to the phantom spiciness that Midwesterners taste in ketchup. An ounce is three quetzales, or a small bag from a tienda is a single quetzal. Sizzle scale: 2

The porrón or seven soup pepper: This pepper grows highland regions with climates ranging from chilly to pleasantly cool. The pepper itself, however, is as hot as Guatemala’s southern coast —not quite so concentrated as the chiltepe, but a formidable palate-roaster in its own right. They’re about 5 centimeters long, and sold individually —think 50 centavos to a quetzal per chile. If you chop it up, use a small piece, and leave the rest on the shelf, it’ll slowly cool off, losing its punch. Thus always to hot things, from a bed of coals left behind by a campfire to the sex life of a married couple. Sizzle Scale: 3

The white pepper: You can find the white pepper in Guatemala’s hot regions —the southern coast, the dry east, and the humid jungles of Petén. as the name implies, the white pepper is whitish-yellow in appearance. Price and size are similar to the cobán chile. White peppers are commonly found in paches —Guatemalan tamalaes made from potatoes or rice. You can buy them behind Xela’s central market most days of the week, although the prime selection is on Thursdays and Sundays. Sizzle Scale: 1 -2

Dog’s tooth, chocolate, or zambo peppers: These grow naturally in pastures, paddocks, and forest clearings. Before maturity, they’re a whitish-green color. When the pepper starts cleaning up its act, drinking less, and going to bed at a reasonable hour, they turn reddish-yellow and get a bit longer —about three to five centimeters in length. Best served toasted, grilled, or otherwise cooked. They’re not very spicy. Sizzle Scale: 1

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