Dried Mexican chile peppers add so much flavor to Mexican cooking. And, not all bring heat! From chipotle to ancho, guajillo to cayenne, and so many more, here’s what you need to know about some of the more commonly found dried Mexican chiles and how to use them!
How To Use Dried Mexican Chile Peppers
Mexican cuisine relies heavily on dried chile peppers to add a deep and robust flavor to sauces, soups, salsas, and more.
While dried chile peppers might seem a bit intimidating to use, there’s really a quite simple process to getting their fantastic flavor.
- Remember to always wear gloves when handling chile peppers, especially the hot ones!
- Remove the stem and seeds from the dried chiles. (The seeds and inner membrane are the hottest part, so this is particularly good to do if you want to decrease the heat of the chile.)
- Soak the chile in warm water for at least 30 minutes to re-hydrate the skin.
- After re-hydrating, the chiles can be easily chopped or pureed to a paste to use in seasoning your dish.
What Is The Scoville Scale (SHU)?
We rate each chile in this guide with Scoville Heat Units (SHU). SHU is a widely used scale to measure the heat of peppers.
The scale is very simple to use: the higher the number, the hotter the pepper.
Scoville heat unit ratings are typically given in a range, because pepper heat can vary from plant to plant and depending how ripe the chile is when it is picked.
Dark Dried Chile Peppers
Dried chile peppers are divided into to categories: dark and red.
Dark chile peppers are nearly black when dried, with a wrinkly appearance. These chiles tend to have a deep, fruity flavor with notes of raisins and prunes.
Their deep flavor makes them a top choice for making flavorful mole sauces.
Ancho Chile Pepper
Ancho chile peppers are the dried form of poblano peppers. They are typically low in heat, with a sweet and smoky, raisin-like flavor.
- SHU: 1,000-2,000 (mild)
- Substitutions for Ancho Chile Peppers: These are one of the more common chile peppers, making them pretty easy to find. However, you can substitute mulato or guajillo chile peppers. Or, use 1 tsp ancho chile powder (or paprika) per chile called for in your recipe.
- How To Use Ancho Chile Peppers: Ancho chile peppers are featured in many moles. Their low heat and great flavor makes them perfect for marinating meats and using in soups and stews.
Try These Recipes Using Ancho Chile Peppers:
- Ancho Chili Enchilada Sauce from Major Hoff Takes A Wife
- Homemade Chili Powder from Palatable Pastime
- Albondigas (Mexican Meatball Soup) from Wanderspice
Mulato Chile Pepper
Mulato chile peppers are also dried poblano peppers, but mulatos are made from poblanos that are picked when very ripe. That gives mulatos more heat, more sweetness, and deeper, chocolate-y notes.
- SHU: 2,500-3,000 (mild)
- Substitutions for Mulato Chile Peppers: Mulato chiles are very popular in Mexico, but they are not as well know in other areas. Ancho chile peppers make a good substitute, but they will be more mild.
- How To Use Mulato Chile Peppers: These are great chile peppers for mole sauces because they add rich body and a dark color.
Pasilla Chile Peppers
Pasilla chiles (pronounced puh-SEE-yuh) are also called chiles negros. These are the dried version of the chilaca chile. Pasilla chile peppers are longer and thinner than anchos or mulatos. Their flavor is similar to that of an ancho, but hotter, with deep fruit flavors of raisins and prunes.
As a confusing side note, you will often find ancho chile peppers or even fresh poblano chiles mislabeled as pasilla chile peppers. You’ll know you have a pasilla if it is dried (for starters) and thinner than an ancho.
- SHU: 250-4,000 (mild to medium)
- Substitutions for Pasilla Chile Peppers: Ancho chiles or mulato make a good substitution for pasilla.
- How To Use Pasilla Chile Peppers: Pasilla chile peppers are also good for moles and other Mexican sauces and stews.
Try These Recipes Using Pasilla Chile Peppers:
- Nopales con Costillas (w/ ancho) From All Roads Lead To The Kitchen
- Walnut Mole Stuffed Poblanos from Lively Table
Red Dried Chile Peppers
Red chile peppers in Mexican cuisine are dried peppers that retain some of their red color after drying. These peppers have a smoother skin than the dark chile peppers. They add lighter, more fruity notes to the dishes they are used in.
Cascabel Chile Pepper
The Cascabel chile is also known as the rattle chile. It is small and round in shape, and the seeds rattle around inside when it is shaken. These chiles give a lighter flavors of apricots and dried apples, as well as a slight smokiness.
Cascabels are great substitutes for hotter red chiles if you’re looking for lots of flavor without the heat.
- SHU: 1,000-3,000 (mild)
- Substitutions for Cascabel Chile Peppers: Guijillo or pequin chile peppers are good substitutes for cascabel chile peppers. You could also use cayenne, but you will need less because cayennes are hotter.
- How To Use Cascabel Chile Peppers: Cascabel chile peppers are great for adding a light heat and fruity flavor to soups, salsas, stews, and sauces.
Guajillo Chile Pepper
Guajillo chile peppers (pronounced gwah-HEE-yoh) are long, skinny, bright red chile peppers with a smooth skin. They are moderately hot chiles that add a sharp, fruity flavor to dishes and sauces.
- SHU: 2,500-5,000 (medium)
- Substitutions for Guajillo Chile Peppers: Guijillo chile peppers are one of the more easy to find Mexican chile peppers. If you need a substitute, cascabel chile peppers work well, although they will bring less heat.
- How To Use Guajillo Chile Peppers: Guajillo chile peppers are great for using as rubs for meats, in salsa, or to add a lighter flavor and moderate heat to stews and sauces.
Try These Recipes Using Cascabel Chile Peppers:
- Mexican Beef Stew from In Mama Maggie’s Kitchen
- Pozole Rojo from Thrift and Spice
- Enchilada Sauce from The PKP Way
Pulla (or Puya) Chile Pepper
Pulla chiles are long and thin, like guajillos, but smaller and spicer. They are similar to guajilos in their fruity flavor, but bring more heat.
- SCU: 5,000-8,000 (hot)
- Substitutions For Puya Chile Peppers: A combinatino of guajillo chiles and cayenne chiles make a good substitute for puya chiles. The guajillo chiles will bring flavor (without much heat) and the cayennes will bring the heat.
- How To Use Puya Chile Peppers: Pulla chiles bring great flavor and heat to enchilada sauces and salsas.
Try These Recipes Using Puya Chile Peppers:
Chiles de Arbol
Chiles de Arbol are bright red chiles with a nutty flavor. They are also known as bird’s beak or rat’s tail chiles.
- SHU: 15,000-30,000 (hot)
- Substitutions for Chiles de Arbol Peppers: Dried cayenne chile peppers are a great substitute for chiles de arbol.
- How To Use Chiles de Arbol Peppers: With their fiery heat and bright color, chiles de arbol are a natural choice for making salsas and hot sauces. They also lend a nice kick to soups and stews. (Remove the seeds to tone down the heat slightly.)
Try These Recipes Using Chiles de Arbol Peppers:
Cayenne Chile Peppers
Cayenne peppers are bright red and often used dried and powdered.
- SCU: 30,000-50,000 (very hot)
- Substitutes for Cayenne Chile Peppers: Cayenne chile peppers are quite common to find. If you can’t find them whole, you’ll probably be able to find them dried as cayenne powder or crushed as red pepper flakes. 1 cayenne chile pepper is roughly equal to 1/8 tsp ground cayenne powder. If you’re looking to substitute for a whole dried chile, chiles de arbol will do the trick.
- How to use Cayenne Chile Peppers: Because of their heat, cayenne chile peppers are typically used in small quantities to add some heat to a dish or sauce.
Smoked Chile Peppers
While most chiles are air dried, some are dried by smoking. Smoking gives the chiles a unique flavor that is widely loved in sauces and pairs wonderfully with meat.
Chipotle Chile Peppers
Probably the most well known smoked chile pepper are chipotles. Chipotle chile peppers are also called moritas. They are made from smoked, very ripe jalapeno peppers. The ripeness of the jalapenos used gives them a pronounced, sweet heat that mingles expertly with the deep smokiness.
- SHU: 2,500-10,000 (medium to hot)
- Substitutions for Chipotle Chile Peppers: Ancho or mulato chiles are good substitutes for chipotles, but they won’t be quite as smoky. If you’re looking for a substitute for chipotles in adobo sauce, try mixing 1 Tbsp ketchup + 1/2 tsp liquid smoke + 1 chopped jalapeno (red, if you can find it).
- How To Use Chipotle Chile Peppers: Chipotle chile peppers are often used in Tex-Mex cooking. They add a nice smokiness to sauces and robust meat dishes. It is most common to find them canned or jarred with an adobo marinade of vinegar, paprika, and spices which creates a tasty sauce and acts to preserve the chiles. The adobo is just as useful in the kitchen as the chiles themselves!
Try These Recipes Using Chipotle Chile Peppers:
- Pork Tamales (w/ guaj) from Thrift and Spice
- Barbocoa (in adobo) from Living Sweet Moments
- Tacos Al Pastor from Living Sweet Moments
- Chipotle Tomatillo Salsa from Compas and Fork
Do you have a favorite way to use dried Mexican chile peppers?