what is chipotle

What is chipotle and how to use it

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When you hear chipotle, you might instantly think of the popular Mexican grill chain, or maybe you think of your favorite chipotle mayo sauce, but chipotle is so much more than that! The delicious, smoky flavor of chipotle has become a favorite ingredient in many dishes, beyond just traditional Mexican cooking. It’s incredibly versatile and delicious, which is why we use it in our vegan jerky! Still, what is chipotle, and how exactly do you use it?

what is chipotle chili

What is chipotle?

Chipotle is a smoke-dried jalapeño  pepper primarily used for Mexican food seasoning. The name itself comes from the Aztec words “chili” and “poctli,” which translate into “hot pepper” and “smoke.”

Chipotle comes in many forms, such as dried or canned. It can also be purchased in powder or pickled form, depending on your preferences and how you intend to use it. This offers more variety for people using chipotle in their dishes.

Chipotle is not to be confused with a regular jalapeño because chipotle is left to ripen fully, after which it is smoked and dried. This gives the pepper that rich aroma, making your dishes spicy yet smooth. 

What do chipotles taste like?

When you hear that a chipotle pepper is a ripened and smoked jalapeño, you may automatically assume that it is very spicy. And while the spice is definitely there, it’s not the “burn your mouth” kind of spicy that you are probably thinking of. Instead, chipotles have a medium heat with smoky notes.

Going deeper, chipotle has a smoky flavor of applewood or pecan, which is perfectly balanced by the cherry-raising fruitiness beneath the spicy heat and the smoke. The flavor has such depth that you may not be able to put your finger on what it is when you first taste it. 

It’s a little grassy, with raisiny notes over the top and a deep smoky aroma. If you use the correct amount, you can easily discern among other flavors. If you are not a fan of very spicy food, start by just adding a tiny bit of chipotle. 

If you use a decent amount of chipotle, the heat will be pleasantly spicy. However, if you add too much, it can become pretty hot. A little goes a long way. 

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Where does chipotle originate?

Although the Aztecs were the ones to give chipotle its name, this spice originates even before the Aztec times. People have been using it and the technique to prepare it, but they did not have a name for it.

When making chipotle, the jalapeños were left on the plant for as long as possible until they were fully ripe and ready. At the end of the growing season (typically in early fall), the chipotles were placed in a smoking chamber that used a firebox for heating, and they were smoked for a couple of days. To this day, the same technique is used to make chipotle.

It’s also believed that Christopher Columbus found these spices on his visit to the New World, bringing them to Spain. From that point, it began spreading into India, Europe, and beyond. The preservation method used to make the chipotle made it easy for these peppers to last the journey ahead of them.

Canned vs. dried chipotles

Nowadays, when cooking food with chipotle, people can choose between dried and canned options. Canned chipotles are those that are cooked in red adobo sauce. They are perfect for people who want a richer sauce with a longer shelf life.

Canned chipotle is typically the better choice for those who want the taste of chipotle but without the extra mouth-burning spice. The sauce has a smoky flavor but without as much heat. When you want to add mild heat to a recipe, all you need to do is add a tablespoon or two of the sauce, skipping the actual chipotle.

how is chipotle chili used

What are the traditional uses for chipotle?

People have traditionally used chipotle to give cooked vegetables a “grilled” or meaty taste – without the meat. This is why it’s so popular in vegan recipes, and it adds some color and depth to a dish. 

That being said, chipotle has been used in various other recipes throughout time. This includes salsa sauces, chili recipes, tacos, and even salads. Chipotle can be placed in pretty much any recipe that you would typically put spices in.

Great vegan recipes you can make using chipotle

There are various vegan recipes that you can make using chipotles. Remember that every person has different spice tolerance, so you may want to start small. Build it up to taste if you believe it needs a stronger kick. Here are just a couple of ideas: 

Fiesta Salad in a bowl with jalapeno chipotle toppings

Chipotle compliments this fiesta salad recipe perfectly. For the salad mix, you will need some lettuce, corn, rinsed black beans, chili powder, diced onion, diced tomato, chopped poblano, and some fresh lemon juice (about one tablespoon). You can throw some vegan jerky in the mix as well.

For the dressing, mix a bit of apple cider vinegar, egg-free mayo, chili powder, and about 3 tablespoons of chipotle. If you have a small tolerance for spices, you may use 1-2 tablespoons and then build it up if you think it needs more.

Vegan Hatch Chipotle Chile Tacos

To make chipotle tacos, you need tortillas, about 2 packages of chipotle jerky, hatch chili peppers, chopped onions, fresh corn, and spices (salt, cilantro, cumin, paprika, and garlic powder). Stir the ingredients in the pot in a taco mix, and then you can also use some avocado for garnish.

vegan chipotle bean chili

Chipotle bean chili

When we think about using spices in food, chili always comes to mind. Sauté some onions with cumin, cocoa powder, garlic, 1 chipotle pepper (or one tablespoon of chipotle adobo sauce), and a few cans of diced tomato. Add the same quantity of canned black beans and some veggie broth and allow it to simmer. Once the sauce thickens, turn the heat off and allow it to cool.

The bottom line

Chipotle is a super-spice that can be used in a variety of recipes. It complements both sweet and spicy dishes and can be used to make everything from vegan jerky to jazzing up a salad. If you use your imagination, chipotle can take every dish one notch up.