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Different types of dried Mexican chili. Which dried Mexican chili do you need?

Updated on May 3, 2009

I love the grassy heat of a fresh Serrano or jalapeno, and the complicated spice of a poblano, but although fresh chilis enliven a lot of dishes I love, the dried chili with its incredible complexity of flavor reigns supreme in Mexican cooking.

There are a number of different varietals of dried Mexican chili's, and they all have very different heat, flavor and textures. Some can be substituted for each other, but many cannot. Here is a brief description of the more common dried chilis used in Mexican cooking.

Ancho, sweet and easy...

The Ancho

The king of the Mexican chilis, the ancho is simply a dried poblano, and like the poblano which can vary greatly in heat so too can the ancho, although it is not a particularly spicy chili. The ancho is used as the backbone of most mole sauces, and a great many other dishes, and is often used in conjunction with other chilis. The ancho has a rich, and almost sweet taste, and slight coffee/chocolate like bitterness to it.


The Guajillo

A bit more grown up and assertive than the ancho, the two are often paired together. The Guajillo pepper is a bit smoky, spicier than an ancho and a bit less complex in taste.


The chipotle

The chipotle is a red ripe jalapeno, smoke dried over mesquite, and either sold dried or pickled in an adobe sauce and canned. The chipotle is a fairly spicy chili, and also quite smoky, and when used in dishes gives a pungent punch of sweet spicy smoke. Used in just about anything, especially salsas, and smoky tomato based sauces.


Pasilla chili

Pretty spicy, the passilla chili gives an incredible complex and lingering taste to table sauces and salsa. A bit acidic, and not at all sweet in taste.

All chilis are best toasted in a hot comal before purées and re searing in hot oil. Although dried, fresher dried chilis are better than very old, and all of these peppers can be found in better Latino groceries and through mail order or internet order.

Once you learn how to prepare and appreciate the complex diversity of Mexican chilis, you'll be hooked for life!

De arbol

De arbol chili

A very hot reddish dried chili. The taste of a purée of dried arbol peppers is pretty much a straightforward dried chili taste, and will be very spicy. Spicy table sauces are made with this chili, as are salsas.

If ordering dried chili, try to support local farmers if at all possible!


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    • Jilltravel profile image

      Jilltravel 6 years ago from Indiana

      Hi John, I love this hub! I lived in Mexico for a year (several years ago), and came back craving spicy food for every meal! I love pico de gallo, salsa verde, and chile de arbol salsa. I'm a new hubber and have posted two recipe reviews. My passion is cooking healthy recipes, and of course eating the final product! I look forward to learning different cooking techniques from you! :)

    • profile image

      r b wood 7 years ago

      please it is CHILLE when you refer to pure powder or a pepper, and CHELLI when it is a blend of spices with CHILLE being the main ingredient.

    • MsFran profile image

      MsFran 8 years ago from Here and There, Everywhere

      Thank you - I never know which chili to use.

    • profile image

      ingrid rapp 10 years ago

      Excellent presentation I love Mexican food and specially if I prepare the dishes myself.

      Only one suggestion, can you obtain more pictures and information on a lot of other chili varieties? A friend of mine brought me a bunch on her last trip to Mexico but is hard for me to differentiate them and how to use in sauces or main dishes. Thanks a lot.

    • John D Lee profile image

      John D Lee 10 years ago

      They are my favorite too!

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I am a chipotle addict myself..try it in an intese chocolate dessert sometime. YUM