There are many varieties of jalapeños which vary in size and heat. In Mexico, the jalapeño is also known as the cuaresmeño and gordo. Until recently, chipotles were almost exclusively found in the markets of central and southern Mexico. As Mexican food became more popular in the United States in the late 20th century and into the 21st century, jalapeño production and processing began to move into Northern Mexico and the United States.
Typically, a grower will pass through a jalapeño field multiple times, picking the best green jalapeños for market. At the end of the growing season, jalapeños naturally begin to turn red. There is an extensive fresh market for red jalapeños in both Mexico and the United States. Many U.S. growers disk the red jalapeños into the ground. They are kept on the vine as long as possible. When the jalapeños are deep red and have lost much of their moisture, they are selected to be made into chipotles.
The red jalapeños are moved to a closed smoking chamber where they are spread out on metal grills. Wood is placed in a firebox, and the smoke enters the sealed chamber. Every few hours the jalapeños are stirred to improve smoke penetration. The chiles are smoked for several days until most of the moisture is removed. At the end of the process, the chipotles have dried up in a manner akin to prunes or raisins. The underlying heat of the jalapeños is combined with the taste of smoke. Typically ten pounds of jalapeños make one pound of chipotle.
In recent years, growers have begun using large gas dryers. Some processors have even started to use liquid smoke. These techniques produce what most culinary experts believe to be an inferior chipotle chile.
Most chipotle chiles are produced in the Northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. This variety of chipotle is known as a morita (Spanish for blackberry or black raspberry; literally "little purple one"). This is a description of how the chipotle looks. In central and southern Mexico, chipotle chiles are known as chile meco, chile ahumado, or tipico. Whereas moritas from Chihuahua are purple in color, chile meco is tan/grey in color and has the general appearance of a cigar butt. Almost all of the chipotle chiles found in the United States are of the morita variety. Almost all of the chipotle meco is consumed in Mexico, though some is exported to the United States, where it is generally available only in Mexican grocery stores.
Chipotles can be purchased in many different forms, including chipotle powder, chipotle pods, chipotles en adobo in a can, concentrated chipotle base and wet chipotle meat marinade.
In addition to moritas, other varieties of chiles can be smoke-dried, including red jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, New Mexican chiles, Hungarian wax chiles, Santa Fe Grande chiles, and a milder jalapeño called the TAM Mild Jalapeño (a cultivar named for Texas A&M University). Lesser-known varieties of smoked chiles include: Cobán, a piquín chile native to southern Mexico and Guatemala; Pasilla de Oaxaca: a variety of pasilla chile from Oaxaca used in mole negro; Jalapeño chico: jalapeños, smoked while still green; and capones: a rare and quite expensive smoked red jalapeño without seeds. "Capones" translates roughly into "castrated ones."