Ancho Vs. Chipotle: PepperScale Showdown

Ancho and chipotle peppers are two classic Mexican dried chilies that are becoming more and more popular around the world. They have some similarities, but there are quite a few nuanced differences that will impact your cooking when choosing one over the other. Let’s break it all down in another PepperScale Showdown.

Ancho vs. chipotle: How do they differ?

The ancho is simply a dried poblano pepper. The poblano peppers have been allowed to ripen before drying giving them a dark, rustic red hue. Ancho chilies are considered one of the main peppers used in Mexican moles.

Chipotles are smoked and dried jalapeño pepper. The jalapeños are allowed to ripen before being simultaneously dried and smoked.

The difference in processing results in two different flavor profiles. As you might expect, chipotles are smokier than ancho peppers; however, anchos are often toasted before being ground and this can give them a mildly smoky note as well. Anchos are also slightly sweeter in flavor, and chipotles tend to be a little more earthy.

The heat levels are also different. Ancho peppers are mild, with a heat profile ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units. Chipotle powder is a bit hotter, ranging from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU.

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

You can use the ancho in place of chipotle if you want a milder heat. It is also great if you want less of the smoke flavor (though there is still some there). If you do want the smokiness and heat, you can try adding those flavors with other ingredients like liquid smoke and cayenne pepper. Anchos will provide fruitiness and deep red color that you would get from chipotle pepper

Chipotle can work as an ancho substitute but it is not quite as effective. The problem is that chipotle’s smokiness and heat may not be great qualities in some dishes that require the less smoky ancho. You can add other flavorings to ancho to make it more like chipotle but you can’t remove flavors from chipotle to make more like ancho. If you do want your dish hotter and smokier, then chipotle is a great substitute. 

When should you use ancho and when should you use chipotle?

The ancho is responsible for much of the flavor you get from the most common Mexican moles and is ideal for that purpose, but you will also see it used in many other Mexican recipes. Use it in your taco meat or to make enchilada sauce.

When it comes to dishes from outside of Latin America, you will find that the ancho is useful as well. You can use it to make chili or to make your version of chili powder. Ancho is also the pepper in most commercial chili powder blends. It is great in dry rubs and for grilled or smoked meat as well. 

Use chipotle to provide a higher level of heat as well as smokiness. Use it in a dry rub for meat that you intend to grill to get an added smoky dimension or sprinkle it over vegetables. The smokiness makes chipotle a great addition to a homemade barbecue sauce and it is great in enchilada sauce as well. 

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 21, 2024 to include new content.
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