Japones peppers are often used in Asian, Caribbean, and Latin cuisines. This pepper is also known in different names such as Hontaka, Santaka, Oriental chile, Chinese chile, and Japanese chili.
The name “Japones” (pronounced ha-po-NAYS) is the Spanish word for “Japanese”. Contrary to the name, Japones chile is native to Jalisco and the Central Valley of Mexico; the Spanish and Portuguese explorers carried this chili to Europe and Asia in the 15th and 16th Centuries.
This pepper is often confused with the Japanese specialty pepper Yatsufusa, also known as chiles Japones.
If you want to replicate the authentic flavors of some of the Schezuan and Hunan dishes, you must know about Chile Japones.
What Are Japones Chile Peppers?
The Japones chile or Japanese chili is a moderately hot chili pepper that belongs to the Capsicum Annuum species. The dark reddish-brown pepper is similar to Chile De Arbol with a wide body and pointed tail-end. In comparison to Arbol peppers, they have thicker skin and a flatter body.
Originating from South America, it’s now a popular chili pepper cultivar in Japan, China, Korea, and a few regions across Asia and the Caribbean. Chefs have nicknamed this pepper as“fire bringers” for it adds a delicious kick of heat without overpowering the original flavors of the recipe and gives the dish a more complex flavor.
Today, this pepper is an integral part of Schezuan and Hunan cuisines. You’ll also find it often used in the Caribbean, Latin American, and Indian dishes. In fact, it’s one of the most commonly used dried red chilies in India and East Asian countries.
Key Facts In A Gist
- Capsicum species: Annuum
- Origin: South America/ Asia
- Heat level: 15,000 – 30,000 SHU
- Median heat: 22,500 SHU
- Size: approximately 2 inches long, ½ an inch in diameter
- Shape: thin, flat
- Color: ripens from green to red, rusted or burnt red when dried
- Flavor: peppery
- Uses: Culinary (chutneys, dim sum, infused oil, salsas, sauces, stir-fries, etc.)
- Products: Dried peppers, chili powder, chili flakes
- Harvest: 65-80 days after transplanting
- Best Substitutes: Thai Chile Peppers, Arbol Chile Peppers, or Guajillo Chile Peppers.
Chile Japones Scoville
The Japones peppers stay at the lower end of medium-heat peppers with a heat level ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale. In comparison to Jalapeno peppers (average 5,000 SHU), they can be 2 to 12 times hotter. The median heat of this pepper comes in the same range as serrano pepper. The hottest Santaka chili has a heat point that equals the mildest cayenne pepper.
Overall, this pepper has a heat profile similar to Chile De Arbol and these two chilies can be used interchangeably in your recipes. While comparing, Japones chili does not come anywhere close to its fiery Asian cousin, the Tien Tsin pepper at 50,000 to 75,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale.
What Do They Look And Taste Like?
In appearance, they’re typically elongated and small, somewhat similar to cayenne peppers in shape. They grow around 2 inches long and half an inch wide with a pointed tail-end. They start off with a green color but turn reddish-brown on ripening. Some variants of the peppers put on brighter yellow color as well. Dried Japones chilies take on a rusted or burnt red color.
With regard to flavor, they’re more or less neutral in taste like the cayenne pepper. They hardly add any flavor to your dish except the spiciness. However, dried peppers do have a noticeable earthiness and mild smoky flavor and they’re spicier than fresh peppers. In fact, these peppers are popular because they add an enjoyable moderate heat to dishes without altering the original flavors of the recipe.
Uses In Cooking
Dried chile Japones are commonly used in a wide array of dishes in Japanese, Indian, and Chinese cooking, especially in stir-fries, chutneys, and sauces. Generally, before adding to dishes, they’re roasted in oils to give them smoky-oily flavor and crispy texture.
They are used fresh or dried, ground or whole, and chopped or pureed. Also, the dried peppers are ground into fine powder or flakes to be used in dry rubs, roasted dishes, or as a substitute for regular red chili powder or red chili flakes.
In Asian cuisines, often dried peppers (usually sautéed in vegetable oil) are added to the dishes and are typically removed prior to serving the meal. You may also leave them in the dish if you wish the meal to be extra spicy.
Like the Chile De Arbol or Tien Tsin, chile Japones make excellent infusion chilies, spicing up anything from vodka, gin, or oil, as well as many citrusy beverages and cocktails.
More tips for use:
- Use in hot peanut sauces, hot soups, and Thai basil curry.
- Works well with relishes, bread, and sauces.
- Rehydrate the dried chilies in hot water for 10 minutes and then dice or puree them to be used in dishes.
- Use the crushed pod in stir fires.
- Excellent infusion chili for making any spicy beverages, hot oils, cocktails, vodka, or gin.
Chile Japones Vs Chile De Arbol
The Japones chilies are a lot similar to Chile De Arbol in appearance, but the former is a little wider in the middle and becomes flat when dried.
What is identical between these two peppers is the same heat profile; both ranks 15,000 to 30,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale.
Chile De Arbol has a slightly complex flavor with fruity undertones compared to the clean and neutral flavor profile of the Japanese chili. However, you can use them interchangeably in any dishes that call for either of them.
In Asian cuisines, Japones and Tien Tsin are the preferred choices because their neutral flavors let the original flavor of the dish shine.
In terms of availability, the Chile de Arbol is a Mexican chili pepper mostly cultivated in Mexico and a few regions of Central and South America. Whereas, the Japanese pepper is primarily popular in Asia and the Caribbean, especially in Japan and China.
What is a good Japones pepper substitute?
Chile De Arbol is the highly preferred substitute for Japanese chili as both have the same level of heat and similarity in appearance and flavor. But Chile De Arbol has a slightly fruity taste. Thai Chile Peppers (Bird’s Eye), Guajillo Chile Peppers, or Serrano pepper can also be a possible substitute for Chile Japones. Flavor-wise, Tien Tsin pepper is the perfect replacement for it but about five times hotter.
Where can you buy Japones peppers?
They can be found relatively easily in larger Mexican spice stores, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Indian markets. You get to buy the dried chilies in a bulk bin, without the pepper caps and stems. Also, dried chilies can be bought from online stores; you can also pick up seeds for growing them in your garden.
How hot is dried Japones pepper?
Dried Japanese chile peppers have more intense heat and taste than fresh peppers because drying concentrates the flavors. The dried peppers are highly valued for their clean taste and enjoyable heat. The heat level of dried Japones chiles ranges from 15,000 to 30,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale.
How do you use dried Japones pepper?
Dried Japones chilies are highly versatile and can be used in different ways according to the need of the recipes. Often, the dried chilies are sautéed in hot oil and added to the dishes as whole chilies or as broken pieces. They can also be ground into fine powder or chili flakes to be used like cayenne pepper flakes or powder. Dried peppers are often soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and then they’re chopped or pureed to be used in various dishes.