As far as chile peppers go, our sister site Fiery Foods Central is the Library of Alexandria (minus the whole ruins-in-Egypt deal). It’s got everything from recipes and histories to how-to’s on chile peppers and spicy food. One of those stories is about drying, smoking, and powders. With all those plants you cultivated bearing hot spicy fruit, we thought we’d drop some knowledge on making powders out of some of them from that story.
Although whole pods keep best because they best retain color and flavor, another way to store peppers is to grind them into powders. All dried chiles can be ground into powder–and most are, including the habanero. Remember, though, that chile powders oxidize more easily than pods, so the must be stored properly. Crushed chiles, or those coarsely ground with some of the seeds are called quebrado. Coarse powders are referred to as caribe, while the finer powders are termed molido. The milder powders, such as New Mexican, can also be used as the base for sauces, but the hotter powders such as cayenne and piquin are used when heat is needed more than flavor.
Adventurous cooks can experiment with creating powders of specific colors. For example, collect the different varieties of green, yellow, orange, red, and brown chiles and separate them into their respective colors. The colors of the powders vary from a bright, electric red-orange (chiltepins), to light green (dried jalapeños), to a dark brown that verges on black (ancho). The colored powders can then be combined with spices, as in our recipe for Chili Powder (this chapter), or they can be stored for later use. Another use for the powders is to turn them into green, yellow, orange, red, or brown chile pastes. Since some of the colors of the powders tend to be a bit dull, they can be brightened up by adding a few drops of the appropriate food coloring when making the pastes. In some kitchens, there are more powders available than the whole pods because the powders are concentrated and take up less storage space. Store the powders in small, airtight bottles.