One of the holy trinity of Mexican chilies, guajillo chiles deliver a complex earthy, tangy, and fruity flavor to dishes. If you run out of this spice, some guajillo pepper substitutes include ancho, pasilla, dried New Mexico, and cascabel chilies.
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Guajillo chili: flavor profile and Scoville scale rating
Guajillo chile is one of the most-used spices in Mexican cuisine. The three make up the so-called holy trinity of Mexican chiles.
Guajillo is also known as guajillo chili, guajillo pepper, or guajillo chili pepper, and it’s the dried version of the mirasol pepper. It is available as whole chili peppers and chile powder. It has a tangy, fruity, and sweet flavor profile. It also has a smoky flavor, with notes of tea and berries.
Cooks usually use guajillo as a base flavor in stews and soups and in preparing salsas, moles, pastes, marinades, fillings for tamales, and sauces for enchiladas and tacos.
The smaller variety — guajillo puya chiles — is hotter than the longer and wider variety. Guajillo has mild to medium heat at the Scoville scale, with around 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). The Scoville test is a way to measure the heat level of various chile peppers. Here’s how other chiles compare to guajillo:
|Bell peppers||0 SHU|
|Anaheim peppers||500 – 1,000 SHU|
|New Mexico chiles||800 – 1,400 SHU|
|Poblano or ancho peppers||1,000 – 2,000 SHU|
|Cascabel peppers||1,000 – 3,000 SHU|
|Mulato peppers||2,500 – 3,000 SHU|
|Guajillo peppers||2,500 – 5,000 SHU|
|Chipotle peppers||2,500 – 8,000 SHU|
|Jalapeno peppers||2,500 – 8,000 SHU|
|Serrano peppers||8,000 to 22,000 SHU|
|Cayenne peppers||30,000 – 50,000 SHU|
|Chile de arbol||15,000 – 65,000 SHU|
|Thai chili||50,000 – 100,000 SHU|
|Habanero peppers||150,000 – 575,000 SHU|
|Ghost peppers||800,000 – 1,000,000 SHU|
What can I use instead of guajillo chiles?
If you’re creating Mexican dishes but don’t have a supply of guajillo, most of the best substitutes you can use are certain peppers, which are also a staple in this cuisine. Here are six of them.
- Ancho peppers
- Pasilla peppers
- Cascabel chilies
- Dried New Mexico chiles
- Mulato chilies
- Chipotle chili peppers
|Ancho peppers||Pack more sweetness and some notes of chocolate and raisins, great for marinade, sauce, or meat rub|
|Pasilla peppers||The closest in flavor, good substitute in cooking stews, soups, and moles|
|Cascabel chilies||Have a woodsy and smoky flavor profile, work well with stews, soups, or salsa|
|Dried New Mexico chiles||Provide dishes with a sweet and earthy flavor, with hints of dried cherry and a trace of acidity, great substitute in seasonings, chutneys, enchiladas, tacos, salsas, soups, and stews|
|Mulato chilies||Have sweet, smoky, and earthy flavor, work well with mole and sauce recipes|
|Chipotle chili peppers||Have a distinctive earthy and smoky flavor and can replace guajillo in equal quantities in salsa recipes, stews, or soups|
1. Ancho peppers
Ancho chili is the most popular pepper in the Mexican culinary world. Ancho peppers, or dried poblano peppers, have an earthy flavor akin to guajillo chile peppers. However, they pack more sweetness and some notes of chocolate and raisins. They are also meatier and juicier.
Because of their milder taste, use them following a 1:2 substitution ratio when making moles, soups, and stews. Use them when a marinade, sauce, or meat rub recipe calls for guajillo.
2. Pasilla peppers
Regarding flavor, pasilla peppers are the closest, especially when it comes to that tea-like earthiness that guajillo serves.
These long, thin, black wrinkled peppers are less spicy and have a slightly sweet flavor with cocoa and berry notes. They also go by the name chile negro.
When using this substitute in cooking stews, soups, and moles, follow a 1:1 ratio.
3. Cascabel chilies
Though cascabel chilies have a different appearance than guajillo (they are short, round, and dark brown-red), they can somewhat replicate their nutty flavor. Cascabel pepper also has a woodsy and smoky flavor profile.
If you’re cooking up some stew, soup, or salsa that demands notes of nuts, you can count on cascabel. Use it in equal amounts as you would a guajillo.
4. Dried New Mexico chiles
The dried version of New Mexico chili can provide dishes with a sweet and earthy flavor — with hints of dried cherry and a trace of acidity. This dried chili originates from the southwestern area of the US, and its other names are red chile and Hatch chile.
These chiles work well in seasonings, chutneys, enchiladas, tacos, salsas, soups, and stews. Try pairing them with chile de arbol to add that spicy kick, as they are milder. They also make for a suitable replacement for sauces, but you can try another Mexican favorite as a swap — tabasco (usually available or used in sauce form).
5. Mulato chilies
Mulato may lack the tea and berry-like essence of guajillo chiles, but they also have that sweet, smoky, and earthy flavor. They also have a taste comparable to licorice and chocolate.
Available as whole dried chiles, flakes, and chili powder, you can count on it as an alternative for mole and sauce recipes. They are also usually pureed and added to soups. Use Mulato in equal measure as guajillo.
6. Chipotle chili peppers
Chipotle peppers are the smoked and dried version of jalapeno. They have a distinctive earthy and smoky flavor and can replace guajillo in equal quantities for your salsa, stew, or soup.
They are also ideal for making marinades and sauces (particularly barbecue sauces). You can also sprinkle them onto snacks like popcorn to up their spiciness.
Can I use California Chile instead of guajillo?
Compared to guajillo chiles, California chiles (dried anaheims) have a milder flavor profile, with a crisp and sweet flavor and subtle acidity. Appearance-wise, guajillos have that deep, fiery red color, while their California counterparts tend to be brighter.
Because California chile comes from the same flavor family as guajillo, it can be a replacement — though it shouldn’t be your first choice. They’re ideal when making soups, stews, casseroles, and sauces.