Everything You Need To Know About Chipotles

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Lior Lev Sercarz is a classically trained chef and founder of La Boîte, a haven for spices in New York City. His new book, The Spice Companion, is a comprehensive schooling on the origins, history, harvesting and drying techniques, uses and recipes associated with the world's most important spices. Whether you're brushing up on your knowledge of peppercorns or learning about your culinary repertoire's new secret weapon, this is the book for you.



A dried, smoked jalapeño that adds complexity to savory and sweet dishes


I love that chipotles have smoky notes with medium heat. They are one of the spices I use often for cooking vegetables to give them a meaty or "grilled" taste. They also add a lot of depth and color to the finished dish. More than just for Mexican or Latin American dishes, they are great ground and sprinkled on cooked or raw dishes. Because of the powder's complex notes, it's also a perfect addition to desserts.


Native to Central America and Mexico. Cultivated mainly in the Chihuahua state of Mexico, but also in Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa, and in the United States in South Texas and southern New Mexico


Chipotles are a great example of how an ingredient can be good, but also completely different, when fresh or dried. Most people do not realize (I was included in this group for many years) that a chipotle is just a dried and smoked jalapeño chile (in the nightshade, or Solanaceae, family). Traditionally when making chipotles, jalapeños are left on the plant as long as possible, until they are deep red and beginning to dry out. They are then harvested at the end of the growing season, in the early fall (though many modern farmers grow their chiles in greenhouses for multiple harvests throughout the season). As has been done since pre-Aztec Mexico, they are always placed inside a smoking chamber heated by a firebox and smoked for several days. Once dry, chipotles become wrinkled and obtain a dull, deep brown color.


Dried whole chiles


The technique of smoke-drying jalapeños is an early example of food preservation used back in Mesoamerica, even before the Aztecs, though the name chipotle does come from their word chilpoctli, meaning "smoked chile." Christopher Columbus most likely encountered these chiles on his trip to the New World and brought them back to Spain, where they would later spread to Europe, India, and beyond. The fact that they are preserved would have made it possible for them to survive the long journey.

Today, chipotles are still predominantly from Mexico, where they produce two varieties: morita, which is mostly what you'll find in the United States, and the larger meco, which is used domestically. I get my chipotles from Mexico and New Mexico, and I personally prefer the morita variety, which is darker in color.

Whichever you use, chipotles add a wonderful medium heat to many dishes including smoky salsas, cooked sauces, scrambled eggs, pickled vegetables, and even brownies. You've probably seen them, or used them, canned in adobo sauce, a rich marinade of tomato, dried chiles, brown sugar, onions, vinegar, garlic, and other spices. Traditionally, you may also find them reconstituted and stuffed with delicious, savory fillings.


Authentic to Mexico

Adobo marinade

Mole sauce

Chipotle grilled chicken

Black beans with chipotles

Tinga de pollo (chicken in chipotle-tomato sauce)


Toasting not recommended


Bean soup

Pimento cheese

Tomatillo salsa

Fish tacos

Grilled flank steak


Annatto, cumin, ginger, oregano, tomato powder


Medium heat


  • Sprinkle ground chipotle into equal parts lemonade and beer for a spicy shandy.
  • Stir ground chipotle into red wine vinegar and serve with deep-fried chicken wings.
  • For a smoky, hot shakshuka, season simmering tomato sauce with ground chipotle and crack a couple of eggs into it.
  • QUICK BLEND Chihuahua

    Season ground pork with this smoky blend while cooking it with fresh corn and tomato paste and use as a side dish or in tacos. It also perks up a savory ratatouille.

    Makes about 2 tablespoons

    1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground

    3/4 tablespoon ground chipotle

    1/2 tablespoon smoked sweet ground pimenton

    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese

    Reprinted with permission from The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices