What are ancho peppers?
The poblano, like the jalapeño, is a chili with a famous flip-side. Their dried versions are so popular, in fact, that they have their own names: the chipotle (jalapeño) and the ancho pepper (poblano). How famous is the ancho? It’s part of what many call “the holy trinity” of dried Mexican peppers – all musts for making authentic Mexican cuisine, especially mole sauces. The ancho is mild (1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units) and flavorful (earthy, sweet, and smoky). And, as it’s a dried chili, it lasts a long time in the cupboard (as long as it’s stored properly), making it an easy chili to keep around the kitchen.
Table of Contents
- What are ancho peppers?
- Ancho pepper fast facts
- How hot are ancho peppers?
- What does it look like?
- What do ancho peppers taste like?
- Cooking with ancho peppers
- Some of our favorite ancho recipes
- What’s a good ancho pepper substitute?
- How long is the shelf life for ancho peppers
- Where can you buy anchos?
- Must-read related posts
Ancho pepper fast facts
|Scoville heat units (SHU)||1,000 – 1,500|
|Median heat (SHU)||1,250|
|Jalapeño reference point||2 to 8 times milder|
|Size||Approximately 4 to 6 inches long, wide, dried|
|Flavor||Sweet, Smoky, Earthy|
How hot are ancho peppers?
As anchos are poblano peppers, they share the same range of mild heat: 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units. This makes them two to eight times milder than a jalapeño. Though, expect the ancho to tend towards the hotter end of that range. As chilies age on the vine, their level of capsaicin increases, which is the chemical behind the chili’s heat. Since anchos are dried when they reach their mature red color, they tend to pack more of a punch than a younger green poblano. And capsaicin is not water soluble, so drying a chili doesn’t remove its heat.
Let’s compare the ancho to other dried chilies you’ll commonly use in the kitchen. Compared to a chipotle pepper (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), since chipotles are dried, smoked jalapeños, it’s the same difference in heat as between an ancho and a fresh jalapeño. Chipotle will range two to eight times hotter. Compared to that cayenne pepper powder on your spice rack, the ancho is very mild. Cayennes range from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, so an ancho is roughly 20 to 50 times milder in heat.
Lastly, comparing the ancho to two other chilies you’ll often see it referenced with: the pasilla and the guajillo. Together, these three chilies equal a version of the Holy Trinity of dried Mexican chilies. Of the three, the ancho is the mildest, with the pasilla (1,000 to 2,500 SHU) slightly hotter. And the guajillo is the hottest of the three (2,500 to 5,000 SHU), on par with a jalapeño in spiciness.
Think of the anchos spiciness as more of a warmth with a fiery tickle, and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. This is a level of heat that’s easy for nearly anyone to tolerate.
Learn more about the similarities and differences of the ancho to other popular chilies and fiery seasonings via our showdowns:
What does it look like?
Think of a giant raisin. That’s what the ancho closely resembles and even tastes a bit like too. Its skin is wrinkled and dark reddish-brown in color. The chili itself is around four to six inches long, and, as mentioned, it’s wide. The poblano is one of the biggest chilies around, so the ancho follows suit. “Ancho” means “wide” in Spanish, so the name is very fitting.
There is some confusion with the ancho and two other dried chili varieties that make up another version of the Mexican Holy Trinity of chilies – the mulato and pasilla peppers. They are often confused for each other in supermarkets and specialty shops.
The pasilla is a dried chilaca pepper, though you’ll often see ancho peppers mislabeled as pasillas. It’s somewhat easy to tell the difference once you see the two next to each other. Pasilla peppers are long like ancho peppers, but ancho chilies have a much wider body.
It’s much more complex with the mulato pepper. The mulato is technically also a dried poblano, but it comes from a slightly different variety of poblano. They are very close cousins. The mulato also is allowed to ripen on the vine beyond the mature red to a near brown hue, giving them an even richer and sweeter taste.
What do ancho peppers taste like?
There is a lot of flavor depth to the ancho, and it’s one of the reasons that it’s so loved as an ingredient. The first flavor notes you taste are both a smokiness and sweetness, along with an earthy “peppery” flavor. But running underneath are hints of raisin and coffee, along with that simmering mild warmth.
Cooking with ancho peppers
Both the heat and the rich flavors make the ancho extremely versatile in the kitchen. As a dried chili, you have multiple choices in their use. You can rehydrate them by soaking the anchos in water for half an hour, and, from there, add the anchos to all sorts of Mexican recipes. This chili is a staple in mole sauces and enchilada sauces. It’s also a terrific pepper for mild hot sauces, hot pepper jellies, and chili pastes. An ancho chili paste is a delicious base for many BBQ wet rubs. Check a few out among our favorite ancho recipes below.
Another option is to crush those dried anchos into chili flakes or a finer powder. In this form, it makes an excellent substitution for generic chili powder. And grinding ancho into flake form makes for one amazing mild crushed red pepper alternative. It adds a delicious earthy smokiness compared to the more neutral “peppery” flavor of standard CRP.
More cooking tips:
- Remember, even mild chilies have heat. Handle with care. It’s easy to under-estimate mild chilies, especially dried ones. Many people think that drying removes heat, but that’s not the case since capsaicin isn’t water soluble. It’s best to use kitchen gloves when handling any chili, not matter the heat. Even the mildest can provide uncomfortable chili burn. We also recommend reading our post on treating chili burn before handling any chili. Hint – keep milk handy.
- The flavor depth of anchos is part of its charm, but it can also dominate a dish. Keep that in mind when considering flavor pairings. Any smoky flavor can really become a predominant feature, whether intentional or not.
- Dried peppers often taste hotter than their fresh equivalent. It’s good to remember this. Yes, these dried chilies still tend to have the same range as their fresh counterparts, but since dried chilies (including anchos) are dried when they are mature, they have the maximum potential capsaicin in the fruit. And that capsaicin has been concentrated into less space with the drying. All this is to say: Careful with a heavy hand when using it as a spice.
Some of our favorite ancho recipes
- Ancho Coffee Rub: This is a dry rub and the pairing of the chili and coffee is just perfect for red meats.
- Smoky Mole Bitters: This is one of our favorite ways to add a little warmth and smoky flavor to a cocktail.
- Sopa Seca De Fideo Con Ancho: This is a Spanish pasta recipe, noodles in ancho sauce. And it really showcases the anchos flavor extremely well.
- Ancho Chili Paste: This is an easy to make paste, pairing the chili with garlic and cumin. It’s delicious as a wet rub.
- Ancho Pumpkin Soup: Another terrific pairing, the smokiness from the pepper layers in so well with the sweet pumpkin earthiness.
What’s a good ancho pepper substitute?
Ground, your best bet is using generic paprika. It is mild and tends to have a sweeter flavor profile. Dried whole chilies: Your best best is guajillo peppers. It’s more heat (double at minimum an ancho), but it’s still relatively family-friendly. Plus, it has real flavor depth as well. To learn more, read our post on top ancho substitutes.
How long is the shelf life for ancho peppers
Stored properly (sealed in an airtight container out of direct light), anchos can last up to three years or more. But there are a lot of things to consider to maximize that time. Read our post on how long dried peppers last to learn all the details.
Where can you buy anchos?
Once tough to find, anchos are now available in many supermarkets – both in dried chili form and as ancho powder. You can also purchase them in bulk online, as well as multiple powders, ancho pastes, and jams.
Our ancho powder (dried poblano), available from our Spicery on Etsy, is terrific to keep around for those moments in Mexican cuisine where ancho's earthy, sweet flavor is just perfect.
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You have many options for whole dried chilies. Rehydrate them, rough grind them into flakes, or grind them into a fine powder. Buying them whole opens up a lot of culinary flexibility.
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The ancho pepper is a must-know for authentic Mexican food, so if you enjoy experimenting with cuisines, getting to know the ancho is a must. This is a chili that’s both family-friendly and very flavorful. And since it lasts so long, it’s an excellent chili to always keep in stock in the kitchen.
Must-read related posts
- How To Store Dried Peppers For The Freshest Flavor: Keep those chilies fresh! These are the storage methods you should know.
- The Hot Pepper List: The ancho is one of over 150 chilies we profile. Our dynamic list allows you to filter by heat, flavor, origin, and more.
- Seven Mexican Peppers You Should Know: To really master Mexican cuisine, you’ll want to get to know these chilies very well.