The Wide World of Chiles
You could not count the number of chiles -- fresh and dried, pickled and ground -- that greet you when you enter a Mexican market center. The chile is ancient -- evidence in Mexico traces it back to 3500 BCE. In the 16th century, the Portuguese explorers brought these fiery wonders from the Americas to digest-term and China, and cooking the world over has never been the same.
Some chiles are hotter than others by nature, though there is no way to know if the mild-mannered poblano you hold is not in fact a fire bomb. In Mexico, chiles don't just heat up sauces, they are also used as thickeners, pickles, vegetables, even as textile dyes and in traditional medicines. Chiles are hottest closest to the stem, and the heat carries down through the white fleshy part and the veins. A chile's seeds, contrary to popular belief, are not its hottest part, but their proximity to the white flesh has made them guilty by association. Chiles are used fresh, dried, roasted, soaked, ground, and charred. Each procedure alters the flavor and heat of the chile, and brings a new voice to the dish. This is why when a mole sauce calls for four each of five different chiles, it is not merely an exercise in overkill or intimidation!
Here's a short list of some choice chiles: