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Mexican Chiles 101

Mexican Chiles 101

If Mexican cooking was a religion (which to some like us, it is!) the gastronomic trilogy, the father, the son and the holy spirit of the cuisine, Chiles - the Father, corn - the son and beans - the holy spirit, no pun intended!

Most of our traditional celebratory meals wouldn't be in the celebration mood if it weren't for the hint of spice or kick of heat that our chiles give it. A traditional mole is basically chocolate peanut butter if not for the carefully selected chile medley that goes into it. Contrary to popular belief, not all Mexican food is spicy, our dried peppers are mostly mild and are used to add flavor, smokiness and texture to a dish rather than spiciness.

Here is a list of some of the most popular chiles you will find in Mexican recipes,

Chile Guajillo

This chile is one of the most basic peppers in Mexican gastronomy, it has a long conical shape measuring about 3 1/3 to 4 inches in length and about 3/4 inches wide. Its skin is smooth and shiny, with a deep red color. Chile Guajillo is very popular in México, and it blends very well with other chiles like chile Ancho, chile Mulato, and chile Chipotle. Chile Guajillo (as well as Chile Ancho) gives a beautiful red color to many caldos or sopas (stews).

When it is fresh, it has a green color that changes to a deep red when it ripens. The fresh version of this pepper is called "Chile Mirasol". When buying Guajillo Peppers, make sure they have a dark color and a thick texture, there are many peppers sold as Guajillo, but their color is lighter and they skin is thin, those peppers are form China and are not the Guajillo Peppers from Mexico.

SCOVILLE RATING: 2,000 – 5,000

Recipes using Chile Guajillo include; Red Pozole, Red enchiladas, Mole de Olla, Asado de Boda, Salsa Roja.

Chile Ancho

This chile measures about 4 to 5-½ inches in length, and about 2-3 inches wide. When is fresh, it's a Chile Poblano that once it matures it changes to a red color. To dry them, the fresh chile poblanos are left on the plant until they are mature and had a red color. After that, they are sun-dried. The skin texture of this pepper is a bright-corrugated soft skin, and it has a dark red color. It is also a very mild chile with a fruity flavor.

It's important to mention that it is called by different names depending on the region of the country. Here are some of the names: Chile Color, Chile Colorado, Chile Ancho Chino, Chile Pasilla Rojo. It is a key ingredient in adobos, moles, and sauces for enchiladas and salsas.


Recipes using Chile Ancho include; Mole Poblano, Adobo Sauce, Enchiladas Rojas, and many more..


Chile Mulato

This is also a Chile Poblano when fresh, but it has a darker color. When it dries, the color is almost like a deep reddish brown, very close to a chocolate color. The difference between Chile Ancho and Chile Mulato comes from a pair of distinctive genes that makes them ripen in a special color. Sometimes, if you get confused between Chile Ancho and Chile Mulato, just place the two of them together and the one that has a darker color is a Chile Mulato. Its skin has the same characteristics as an Ancho pepper, and the same dimensions. Uses for this pepper are, Moles, stews, and salsa. It has a slightly sweeter - chocolate flavor.


Chile Chipotle

Chile Chipotle (also knows as Meco), which name comes from the Náhuatl word chilpoctli, which means “smoked pepper,” is a chile jalapeño that has to ripen to a red color on the plant then harvested and dried and smoked to achieve that color and flavor. Nowadays, most of the process is done by industrial drying machines, but there are still a few regional small producers that smoke and dry the peppers using old-fashioned methods with Guava and Oakwood. Depending on the smoking method, and the humidity on the environment, the Chipotle chiles can take from one week up to a month to dry.

Their size varies but the average Chipotle Chile is 3” long with a light dusty brown color and a wrinkled skin.

SCOVILLE RATING: 5,000 – 10,000
Chiles Chipotle are very popular, especially the ones sold in a canned version with an adobo sauce, they are used in salsas, and to add flavor and spiciness to stews like Caldo Tlalpeño.

Chile de Arbol

This is a spicy, long skinny pepper, with thin and bright red skin. They measure between 2 – 3 inches long and ¼ inch width. They are used to add heat to table sauces and stews, like for the famous Salsa Taquera!

Seeds and veins are not usually removed from these peppers when you cook them. Make sure to buy the peppers that had the stem, that they are fluffy and not flat, and the skin is a little thicker. The ones sold without the stem are from Chinese or even India, a very different pepper than the Mexican Arbol Pepper.

SCOVILLE RATING: 15,000 – 30,000

My favorite way of using Chile de Arbol is the way my grandmother Tita taught me, by making a Chile de Arbol Oil.


Chile Pasilla

The pasilla chile or chile negro is the dried form of the chilaca chili pepper, a long and narrow member of species Capsicum annuum. Named for its dark, wrinkled skin, it is a mild to hot, rich-flavored chile. As dried, it is generally 6 to 8 inches long and 1 to 1 ¹⁄₂ inches in diameter. They are considered low in the heat spectrum you can expect an almost sweet taste, as the name pasilla, literally translates to 'little raisin'.

SCOVILLE RATING: 1,000 – 3,999

These are typically used for salsas, but can also be stuffed with meats or seafood.

Chile Piquín

These are very hot small peppers, also known as “bird peppers’ with an elongated shape, it measures about ¼” long and ⅛” width. There are several small types of hot chiles (some are a cylindrical shape too) that are called indistinctly “piquín” when they are dried but when they are fresh they receive other names according to their shape and the region where they are grown. Like the Chile Tepin that is very similar but is round. Piquin pepper is a very common chile on the northern state of Nuevo León, México.

Other peppers in the country similar in size and form to piquin peppers are; chilpaya, tepin, timpinchile, totochile, quimiche, chile de monte, Chile bolita, chile canica, piquin de Coahuila, and others that change by region.

SCOVILLE RATING: 50,000 -25,000

They are typically used for salsas, like this Piquin Salsa, or ground and for toppings for Mexican mariscos.

Mexican Cook Tips on Handling Chiles

If you had never cooked a meal with dried peppers, make sure to use plastic gloves to avoid skin irritability when cleaning the peppers and removing the seeds and veins, better safe than sorry. If you don't use gloves, as many of us do, but still feel a little burning sensation in your hands or fingers, dip them in cold milk to sooth the feeling. Milk also helps to reduce the burning sensation if your food is too spicy for your taste, drink a little milk and the sensation will go away.

When you buy dried chiles make sure they are not broken, that they still have their stem and they also look clean from dirt, dust and any small insects. The color should be bright and you should be able to slightly fold them. If the peppers break when you try folding them, it means they are old.

During the time the chiles stay in storage they will keep dry. They will change in color and texture, but they won't lose their flavor. Store whole chiles in plastic bags in your freezer, this way they will keep their texture and color for at least 6 months. Or better yet, make them into a paste roasting the chiles and mixing them with oil, this way they will be handy when you are in a hurry to cook something delicious and authentic.

To reduce the hot spiciness of some chiles, remove the veins and seeds. Chiles also lose a little bit of their spiciness when they are soaked.

Find our selection of dried chiles at the best prices here!

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