Chile de Arbol: At a Glance
Chile de Arbol (pronounced ARE-bowl) is a small and potent Mexican chili pepper. Its name means “treelike,” and it is also known as “rat’s tail chili” or “bird’s beak chili.” A beautiful little red pepper, chile de arbol has a bright, clean heat, which enhances a dish’s existing flavors without overwhelming them.
Often used in Chinese, Mexican, Asian, and Southwestern cooking, chile de arbol has a smoky, slightly earthy flavor. It is often found in salsas, sauces, stews, soups, curries, and other dishes.
Chile de arbol retains its red color when dried. Because of their beauty, they are often used as decoration. You can find chile de arbol wreaths adorning homes in Mexico.
Chile de arbol is commonly available fresh, dried, or powdered. Some people substitute chile de arbol with cayenne, but there’s no true substitute for the real thing!
Cooking with Chile de Arbol
Not for the faint of heart, chile de arbol peppers are quite hot, with about 30,000 Scoville units. Another way of saying this is that, on a scale of 1 to 10, chile de arbol is a 6 or 7. They make an excellent addition to chili, hot sauce, soup, curry, and other dishes where more heat is welcome. In Mexican food, chile de arbol pairs well with lime, tomatoes, rice, and meat.
In addition to traditional and modern Mexican cuisines, chile de arbol is a key ingredient in Thai curries. Some ways to use chile de arbol in your cooking include:
- Salsa: One popular table salsa calls for tomatillos, garlic, onion, and toasted chile de árbol. Other salsas, including our chile de arbol salsa, are tasty options as well.
- Curry: Substitute chile de arbol for peppers in traditional curry recipes, or try this red river curry, a spicy sauce made with chile de arbol, onions, garlic, spices, tomatoes, and a rich broth.
- Pepper mash: Ferment one part chile de arbol in three parts vinegar for several weeks to create a zingy hot sauce.
This variant of chili contains Vitamins A, C, and B, as well as iron, magnesium, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine. They have no cholesterol or fat and are low-calorie, low-sodium, and high in fiber.
In addition to its culinary adaptations, chile de arbol has some medicinal applications. It is used to treat inflammation, relieve pain, improve cardiovascular health, aid digestion, and strengthen the body’s immune system.
Chile de Arbol: History and Origination
Chile de arbol means “tree chili” in Spanish. Its name comes from its thick, woody stem, which resembles a miniature tree trunk. Chile de arbol is closely related to the pico de pajaro and cayenne chilies. It originated in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Jalisco.
The first evidence of chilies in Mexico dates back to 7500 B.C. Christopher Columbus brought chilies from Mexico to Spain during his travels, and Portuguese traders took them along the spice route to Asia. Diego Alvarez Chanca, a physician and scientist, wrote of chilies’ therapeutic and medicinal uses in 1494. Francisco Hernandez, a naturalist and member of the court of the King of Spain, documented the use of chile de arbol in his writings in 1570, when he was sent to the New World to study Mexican plants.
Today, chilies can be found nearly everywhere in Mexican life. Wreaths of chile de arbol can be found hanging in Mexican households, where it is recognized as a warm welcome and sign of good fortune.
Cultivation of Chile de Arbol
Chile de arbol is grown around the world, and it is typically planted in the spring and harvested in the autumn. It is a hardy, easy-to-grow pepper plant.
The chile de arbol plant blooms best during the summer. It can grow up to 2 feet tall and matures after about 80–100 days. While it can withstand temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it does best in full sun and dry, mild weather. In the beginning, the chilies are green, and then they turn a bright, deep red when they ripen. The fruits should be harvested as soon as they mature to ensure the best flavor and texture. Fresh chilies are typically 4 to 6 inches long.
Hot peppers such as chile de arbol contain a substance named “capsaicin,” which causes the pain receptors in your mouth to tell your brain that you’ve consumed something hot. Because birds cannot taste the heat of pepper seeds, they have helped spread the seeds across great distances.
About Our Chile de Arbol
Our chile de arbol comes from Mexico, where this pepper originated. These peppers grow in a number of Mexican states, including Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas.
Chile de arbol is more than an icon of Mexican cuisine and culture; it is also the livelihood of hundreds of Mexican families who cultivate it for local and international consumption.