A chipotle (//, chi-POHT-lay; Spanish: [tʃiˈpotle]), or chilpotle, which comes from the Nahuatl word chilpoctli (meaning "smoked chili"), is a smoke-dried jalapeño. It is a chili used primarily in Mexican and Mexican-inspired cuisines, such as Mexican-American, Tex-Mex, and southwestern dishes. The name was adopted and the chili pepper used for a logo on the American restaurant chain Chipotle.
Jalapeño varieties vary in size and heat. In Mexico, the jalapeño is also known as the cuaresmeño and gordo. Until recently, chipotles were largely found in the markets of central and southern Mexico. As Mexican food became more popular abroad, especially in the United States and Canada, jalapeño production and processing expanded into northern Mexico to serve the southwestern United States, and eventually processing moved to the United States and places like China.
Typically, a grower passes through a jalapeño field many times, picking the unripe, green jalapeños for market. At the end of the growing season, jalapeños naturally ripen and turn bright red. In Mexico and the United States, there is a market for ripe red jalapeños. They are kept on the bush as long as possible. When they are deep red and have lost much of their moisture, they are picked to be made into chipotles.
The red jalapeños are moved to a closed smoking chamber and spread on metal grills, but in recent years, producers have begun using large gas dryers. Wood is put in a firebox, and the smoke enters the sealed chamber. Every few hours the jalapeños are stirred to mix in the smoke. They're smoked for several days, until most of the moisture is removed. In the end, the chipotles have dried up in a manner akin to prunes or raisins. The underlying heat of the jalapeños combines with the taste of smoke. Typically, ten pounds of jalapeños make one pound of chipotles after being thoroughly dried.
Most chipotle chilis are produced in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. The variety of chipotle grown there is known as a morita (Spanish for small mulberry). In central and southern Mexico, chipotle chilis are known as chile meco, chile ahumado, or típico. Whereas moritas from Chihuahua are purple in color, chile meco is tan/grey in color and has the general appearance of a cigar butt. Most chipotle chilis found in the United States are of the morita variety. Almost all of the chipotle meco is consumed in Mexico.
Chipotles are purchased in numerous forms: chipotle powder, chipotle pods, chipotles en adobo in a can, concentrated chipotle base and wet chipotle meat marinade.
Other varieties of chilis are smoke-dried, including red jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, New Mexico chilis, Hungarian wax peppers, Santa Fe Grande chilis, and a milder jalapeño called the TAM (a cultivar named for Texas A&M University). Lesser-known varieties of smoked chilis include cobán, a piquín chile native to southern Mexico and Guatemala; pasilla de Oaxaca, a variety of pasilla from Oaxaca used in mole negro; jalapeño chico, jalapeños smoked while still green; and capones ("castrated ones"), rare smoked red jalapeños without seeds.
Chipotles, often a key ingredient in a recipe, impart a relatively mild but earthy spiciness to many dishes in Mexican cuisine. The chilis are used to make various salsas. Chipotle can be ground and combined with other spices to make a meat marinade – adobo. Chipotle is used, typically in powdered form, as an ingredient in both homemade and commercial products, including some brands of barbecue sauce and hot sauce, as well as in some chilis and stews. Usually when used commercially, the product is advertised as having chipotle in it.
Chipotles have spiciness and a distinctive smoky flavor. The flesh is thick, so the chilis are usually used in a slow-cooked dish rather than raw. Whole chipotles are added to soups, stews or in the braising liquid for meats. They can also accompany beans or lentils.