Dried Guajillo Pepper chiles have a narrow oblong shape and average 10-15 centimeters in length. Their thin shiny flesh develops a deep reddish brown color when dried. When compared to the deeply rich flavored Ancho chile, its common partner in Mexican cooking, the Guajillo pepper adds a complimentary high note of zingy spice reminiscent of pine and bright cranberry.
They have just a touch of smokiness and a medium spice level, ranging from 2500-5000 units on the Scoville scale.
Guajillos are one of the most commonly grown chile peppers in Mexico today. They are a species of Capsicum annuum that is closely related to the Mirasol and Pulla cultivars. Though known by the same name whether fresh or dried, Guajillos are almost always found in the dried form.
Guajillo Pepper chiles, Capsicum annuum, is the dried version of the Mirasol chile. Pronounced “wha hee oh”, which translates to “little gourd” for the rattling sound the seeds make when shaking the dried pods. Guajillo Chiles are the second most popular chile in Mexico surpassed only by the Ancho chile. While Guajillo chiles may not be a staple in your pantry they are absolutely worth seeking out, these leathery, dark reddish brown chiles are ideal for dishes where one doesn’t want to overpower other flavors.
Guajillos are most frequently sold as a whole chile and it’s a bit more difficult to find in the ground form. Guajillo pepper chiles are usually combined with Ancho and Pasilla chiles to make Mexican moles.
Guajillo pepper chiles look very similar to the harder to find Puya chiles which tend to be a bit smaller and pack more heat (5,000 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units). Puya chiles are used by chefs of authentic Mexican cuisine who are searching for a little bit more unexpected kick.
If you like your chiles on the slightly sweeter side, then you will find the Guajillo Pepper Chile an excellent pepper to experiment with in your kitchen. It has a surprising range and a heat most everyone can enjoy.
History of Guajillo Chiles
The name Mirasol means “looking at the sun” in Spanish, which describes the way these peppers grow on the plant. Mirasol chiles are native to the central and northern Mexico states of Aguascalientes, Durango and San Luis Potosi.
By the time that Columbus arrived in the Americas the Aztecs were cultivating jalapeno, chilaca (known as pasilla when dried), poblano (when dried called ancho), serrano, de arbol and mirasol chiles. Bernardino de Sahagun, a Franciscan friar, missionary priest and pioneering ethnographer arrived in New Spain (modern-day Mexico) in 1529.
He quickly learned the Nahualt language and spent the next 50 years studying the Aztecs and their culture. He wrote of the typical Aztec market as having “hot green chiles, smoked chiles, water chiles, tree chiles, flea chiles and sharp-pointed red chiles. To further illustrate the importance that the Aztecs placed on chiles they classified them into 6 categories based not only on the level of pungency (low to high) but also on the type of pungency (broad to sharp).”
The ancient Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilizations held chiles in such high regard that they withheld them from their diets during religious fasting periods.
Guajillo Chile Cultivation
Mirasol chiles grow best in arid climates and the best tasting of these chiles are grown in the drier climate of north-central Mexico. The chile plant produces good yields of 4-6” long by ¾-1” wide hot peppers that grow upright (pointing towards the sun) and mature from green to red.
Guajillo chiles are also cultivated in China, Peru and the US (New Mexico, Colorado and California). Chili Heads do not consider Guajillo chiles grown in Peru and China to be authentic as the “Guajillo” chiles grown in these two countries tend to be hotter.
Depending on the time of year and product availability our Guajillo Chiles may come from Mexico or Peru.
Appearance, Heat and Flavor Profile of Guajillo Chiles
This chile has an elongated shape that tapers to a point and is sometimes slightly curved. The color is a deep burgundy with brick red to copper tones. This chile can vary more than most other chiles in looks and because of this can be hard to identify to the untrained eye. Sometimes they’re smaller, other times larger, their skin may be a bit smooth or wrinkled. Really can be quite inconsistent.
The best quality Guajillos will have a shiny, smooth skin that is still pliable (indicating freshness). Older Guajillo chiles will look dusty and will crack when bent. Older chiles can still be used but their flavor has faded and your dish won’t be as rich.
Guajillo chiles are considered a mild heat chile and come in at 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
The flavor profile of Guajillo chiles is slightly fruity with a sweet heat, tannic with a hint of pine, tart berries and light smoky undertones.
Cooking with Guajillo Chiles
Small amounts of Guajillo chiles are used in Mexican cooking to add flavor, mild heat and color. They’ve frequently used in pastes or rubs to flavor all kinds of meats, especially chicken. In addition to Mexican moles use this chile in enchiladas, salsas, sauces, soups, stews, and tamales. Guajillo chiles are also used to make Harissa, a hot chile paste mixture used in North African cooking. They’re also very common in Peruvian cooking.
Guajillo’s unique flavor makes it a fun one to experiment with, especially with sweet sauces and fruits. When ground into a powder it can be sprinkled on rich desserts for an extra kick. Guajillo chiles pair very well with chocolate.
A puree of Guajillo chiles can be made by splitting and seeded the dried fruit, soaking the skins for about 15-20 minutes, smashing into a thin paste, then cooking with garlic, Mexican oregano, pepper, cumin, chicken stock and olive oil to produce a thick, red, flavorful sauce.
Because of its thick skin, the Guajillo chiles require a longer soaking time to rehydrate than most other dried chiles. Per ounce, Guajillos provide much less pulp than Anchos.
In Mexico, dried Guajillo pepper chiles are often toasted in a dry, hot pan to release their sweet flavor and heat before other ingredients are added. To toast them, heat a pan to medium hot. Place the chiles the pan and toast them for about 20 to 30 seconds per side until they start to become fragrant. Do not let them burn or they will develop an acrid taste. Once toasted, they’re ready to be used in any recipe that calls for them.
One of our favorite recipes using dried Guajillo chiles is Pozole Rojo.
The Guajillo Chile, with a mild heat, is great when used in your favorite chili, soup, sauces, or salsa.
Guajillo Chile Substitutions and Conversions
What are the best substitutes for Guajillo Chiles? The easiest substitute to find is the Ancho Chile, the one with the closest flavor profile and heat is the Pasilla Negro and the best to add some excitement to a dish is the Cascabel.
1 Guajillo Chile is equal to 1 teaspoon of Guajillo Chile powder.
Guajillo Pepper-Chile Fish Tacos with Cabbage Slaw
Fish tacos weren’t always a popular Texan dish. Like all tacos, they were originally found in Mexico, primarily in the Baja area on the West Coast, though you could also find versions in the Yucatan as well.
- 6 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
- 4 cloves garlic
- ½ cup cilantro
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 1 pound of tilapia fillets
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 serrano chile, diced
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ cup cilantro
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- Flour or corn tortillas
- Cotija cheese, crumbled
- Lime wedges
1.- In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the guajillo chiles on each side for about 10 seconds, or just until they start to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover the chiles. Leave the heat on until the water begins to boil, then turn off the heat and let the chiles soak until soft, about 30 minutes.
2.- Drain the chiles and place in a blender with the garlic, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, ginger, lime juice, and olive oil. Blend until a smooth paste form. Add salt to taste.
3.- Rinse and dry the fish, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and place in a nonreactive container. Cover the fish on all sides with the guajillo chile paste and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
4.- While the fish is marinating, you can make the cabbage topping. Toss the shredded cabbage with 1 teaspoon of salt and let it sit unrefrigerated for 1 hour. Drain off the excess liquid and then mix the cabbage with the serrano chile, cumin, cilantro, mayonnaise, and lime juice. Add salt and black pepper to taste and refrigerate.
5.- After the fish has marinated, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Shake off any excess marinade and then cook the fillets for 3 minutes on each side. Add salt to taste. Cut the fish into bite-size pieces and place in warm tortillas. Top with the cabbage slaw and serve with Cotija cheese, lime wedges, and salsa.