How to cook with dried ancho chiles (with recipes)

Ancho chiles dried
Dried ancho chiles are chili pepper commonly used in Mexican cuisine. They are typically dark reddish-brown with a wrinkled, slightly tough texture. Ancho chiles have a sweet, fruity flavor with mild to medium heat and a smoky, raisin-like taste.

What are dried ancho chiles?

Ancho chiles (dried poblano)
Ancho chiles (dried poblano)

Dried ancho chiles (poblano pepper) are dark red dried chili from Puebla, Mexico, widely used in Mexican cuisine. They are part of the “holy trinity” of Mexican chiles, along with guajillo and pasilla chiles, usually in Mexican mole sauce.

Dried ancho chiles are sweet and smoky with a mild to medium heat level. They are often described as having a raisin-like flavor with hints of coffee, chocolate, and tobacco. Their heat level is around 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

How to cook with dried ancho chiles?

Traditional preparation involves removing the stem and seeds and roasting the peppers to enhance their smoky flavor. After roasting, soak them in hot water for 15 to 30 minutes until soft before being chopped or pureed for use in your favorite dish. 

Ancho chili peppers can be blended with vegetables to make a hearty soup or stew base and are a vital ingredient in Mexican cooking, particularly in chili con carne. They also flavor enchilada sauce, salsas, marinades, and adobo sauce, a paste spread over grilled meats. 

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These peppers complement a range of meats, including turkey, chicken, pork, beef, and lamb. They also work well with other chili peppers, toasted nuts, radishes, tomatoes, cinnamon, garlic, onions, and shallots.

5 Recipes that make use of dried ancho chiles

Black mole sauce in a dish
Black mole sauce in a dish
  1. Oaxacan Pipian with Zucchini and Onions: This traditional Mexican recipe features a thick sauce with toasted pumpkin seeds, spices, and dried ancho chiles. The ancho chiles add a smoky and slightly sweet flavor to the sauce, which pairs perfectly with the earthy taste of the pumpkin seeds.
  2. Ancho Chile, Shrimp, and Pasta: This recipe combines the rich flavor of dried ancho chiles with succulent shrimp and pasta for a delicious and hearty meal.
  3. Chilaquiles: The ancho chiles add mild heat to the dish and a smoky, slightly sweet flavor that complements the tomato-based sauce.
  4. Mole Negro Sauce (Black Mole Sauce): This is a complex and rich sauce used in many traditional Mexican dishes. It has many ingredients, including dried ancho chiles and spices like cumin, coriander, oregano, creamy peanut butter, onion, and some sweet spices.
  5. Beef BarbacoaThe recipe calls for a few ingredients that are very common in Mexican food, but it also has some unique elements: the use of ancho chile to flavor and gives a kick to the juicy meat that falls apart – and the addition of some tanginess to balance out the spiciness.

What can I substitute for dried ancho chiles?

If you can’t find dried ancho peppers, you can use a few substitutes with similar flavor profiles. Here are a few options:

Dried guajillo chiles: These are very similar in flavor to ancho chiles and are widely available in most grocery stores.

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Chipotle powder: This is made from smoked jalapeño peppers and has a smoky, spicy flavor that can be a good substitute for ancho chiles.

Red pepper flakes: These won’t provide the same depth of flavor as ancho chiles, but they will add some heat and a slightly fruity flavor to your dish.

Other substitutes that may work:

  • Chili powder
  • Ancho chile powder (the ground version)
  • Mulato peppers

Ancho chili peppers have a shelf life of up to a year in a cool, dry, and dark place, but they should be used within 3 to 6 months for optimal flavor. 

Ancho chiles compared to Pasilla Negro Chiles and Guajillo Chiles

Ancho ChilesMild, sweet, slightly smokyDark reddish-brownMild to medium
Pasilla Negro ChilesEarthy, raisin-like, slightly bitterDark brown to almost blackMild to medium
Guajillo ChilesSweet, tangy, slightly fruityBright red to reddish-brownMild to medium

Each of these chiles has its unique flavor profile and color, but they are all generally mild to medium in terms of heat level. Ancho chiles are known for their sweetness and smokiness, while pasilla negro chiles have an earthy and slightly bitter taste. 

Guajillo chiles, on the other hand, have a sweet and tangy flavor with a fruity undertone. In terms of color, ancho chiles are dark reddish-brown, pasilla negro chiles are dark brown to almost black, and guajillo chiles are bright red to reddish-brown.


Alexandra is a passionate writer with a deep appreciation for food - not just as nourishment but as an expression of culture, a reflection of history, and a celebration of life. She knows that everything in life requires a little spice - and gets a kick (get it?) every time she achieves the perfect combination of heat and depth.

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