The Piquant Tale of the Poblano Pepper: From Puebla to Your Plate

BY: 
Sofia Jones
 | November 9, 2023

If you’ve ever eaten Mexican food, chances are you’ve unwittingly encountered a poblano pepper. 

Known as one of the mildest peppers on the planet, they’re found in all of the popular Mexican dishes: tacos, enchiladas, and even guacamole.

But the poblano’s story doesn’t stop there.

Some say these peppers (Capsicum annuum) were used as early as 700 AD, cultivated in the fertile soil of Mesoamerica, and used as a secret ingredient in flavorful feasts. 

Their name comes from where they’re originally from, the mountains of Cholula, an ancient city in the Mexican state of Puebla, one of Mexico’s oldest and most famous cities, according to History.com

Puebla is also the birthplace of mole poblano, a dark red-brown sauce which contains the chile as a key ingredient, and has quite the origin story.

“It’s said that mole was born in the 17th-century by a group of Spanish nuns who were trying to make a last-minute meal for a visiting archbishop,” an article on Komos Knows explains. “Legend says the nuns threw together whatever was in their pantry; a quick-witted, off-the-cuff concoction that included chiles, warm spices, seeds, nuts, chocolate and several-days-old bread (which the nuns apparently served over turkey).  Luckily for us, the archbishop was pleased — and mole poblano was born.”

A Sneaky Flavor Ninja

These peppers are like the friendly neighbors of the chili world for being approachable, versatile, and easy to grow. Growing to about four inches, they’re a dark green, slightly wrinkled pod, which is larger than a jalapeño but smaller than a bell pepper. 

When dried, they become the ancho chilis, also a staple in Mexican cuisine. 

As for its spicy levels, the green poblano chile clocks in at a modest 1000-2000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), a measurement of the number of times capsaicin needs to be diluted by sugar-water. Their SHU makes them them milder than jalapeños. Jalapeños? They’re 2.5 to 5 times hotter on the Scoville Scale. 

“When you purchase a poblano, there is always a chance of getting a pepper that has a little more kick than you were originally counting on if you go with the red,” the site Chili Pepper Madness explains.

Cooking with Poblanos

So next time you spot a poblano at the market, embrace the adventure. Whether you’re a culinary explorer or a home cook, enjoy the following new recipe, Poblano Frittata, from our friends at the American Heart Association. It’s healthy, ready in less than 15 minutes, and a great reason to cook with poblano peppers.

Poblano Frittata

Servings: 4 

Ingredients: 

4 large eggs
1/4 cup fat-free milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 medium poblano peppers, seeds and ribs discarded, chopped
2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
2 medium green onions, chopped
1/4 cup finely shredded Cotija cheese or crumbled queso fresco
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream

Directions: 

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk and cilantro.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat oil, swirling to coat the bottom of skillet. Cook poblano peppers for 3 minutes, or until browning on edges, stirring frequently. 

Stir in corn and green onion. Reduce heat to medium-low and carefully pour in egg mixture. Cook, covered, 10 minutes, or until mixture is just set on edges and still soft in center. Avoid overcooking. Remove from heat. 

Sprinkle it with cheese. Cut into eight wedges. Place two wedges on each plate. Top with tomatoes and sour cream. 

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Featured image is from the image Hoja Suelta, by José Guadalupe Posada, 1901.
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