Ancho Vs. Pasilla — How Do They Compare?

Anchos and pasillas are two kinds of dried chili peppers that are also staple ingredients to keep around if you plan on cooking Mexican food regularly. Both chilies are musts for authentic Mexican mole and are part of what many consider to be the holy trinity of Mexican mole chilies. Though, how similar are these two dried peppers in appearance and flavor? How do their heat levels differ? Let’s compare these two chilies to learn these answers and more.

Quick comparison: ancho vs. pasilla

Scoville heat units (SHU)1,000 – 1,5001,000 – 2,500
Median heat (SHU)1,2501,750
Jalapeño reference point
2 to 8 times milder
Equal heat to 8 times milder
Capsicum speciesAnnuumAnnuum
SizeApproximately 4 to 6 inches long, 2 to 3 inches wide, driedApproximately 6 to 9 inches long, 1 inch wide, curved, dried
FlavorSweet, Smoky, EarthySweet, Fruity, Earthy

Which is hotter, the ancho or the pasilla?

Generally, ancho and pasilla peppers offer a similar mild spiciness. Neither is used primarily to add heat — but pasillas can be slightly hotter, potentially ranging into the low-medium heat range.

Anchos are dried poblano peppers with the same heat range as poblanos, from 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). And pasillas are dried chilaca peppers and share the same heat range as the chilaca, 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville heat units.

It’s only a slight uptick for the pasilla. It could be considered low-medium spiciness at its top end, but its median heat (1,750 SHU) still places it below the bar we use (2,000 SHU).

Which is more popular?

Let’s look at how often these two chilies are searched online. Which is searched more often globally per month? The ancho pepper is more popular, and it’s not very close.

“Ancho” and other terms related to the chili are searched roughly 63,000 times monthly, while “pasilla” (and phrases related to the chili) are searched approximately 18,800 times.

That’s not to say the pasilla is unpopular. Eleven thousand searches per month are more than many other chilies. It just so happens that the ancho has taken on an incredible level of popularity. It’s one of the highest searched-for chilies on the web. Though, it doesn’t come close to some of the most popular chilies on the planet, like the jalapeño and Carolina Reaper.

How does each pepper taste?

Ancho and pasilla peppers are well-known for the non-spicy aspects of their flavor profiles, which shine through more clearly because they don’t have much heat. Both chilies have an underlying sweetness, but the complementary flavors differ slightly.

Anchos are sweet, with smoky and earthy undertones. There are hints of cocoa and tea here, too, in the flavor profile. Pasillas are a touch sweeter than anchos, with hints of cocoa and berry running through them and a sweet-earthy raisin-like finish to the flavor.

Just by those flavors, you can see why these two dried chilies are popular with earthy, sweet Mexican mole sauces. They also both work incredibly well with Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.

How do they differ in shape and colors?

Anchos are the more squat pepper of the two. Anchos are usually between 4 to 6 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide. Pasillas are longer and narrower, measuring 6 to 9 inches long but only about an inch in diameter. Both peppers ripen to a very dark brown-red that can appear to be almost black.

Despite not looking all that much alike, anchos and pasillas are sometimes mistaken for each other. Anchos are sometimes mislabeled in stores as pasillas. Just remember Ancho in Spanish means “wide.” If the dried chili you see is only an inch across, it’s likely not an ancho.

Where does each pepper originate?

As mentioned, both peppers have different names before they are dried. Anchos are made from fresh poblanos, and pasillas from fresh chilaca chilies. The poblano and chilaca peppers originated in the Central Mexican state of Puebla, which is also the location of Mexico’s first settlements.

Poblanos and chilacas are two of Mexican cuisine’s most important chilies. They, with the guajillo pepper, make up what’s known as the Mexican holy trinity of dried chilies, most often used in Mexican moles.

Today, anchos and pasillas are produced mainly in Central Mexico, particularly in Guanajuato and Jalisco; Chihuahua and Zacatecas also rank high in ancho production. The ancho is used in many classic Mexican dishes including in the red sauce for enchiladas and in red posole; pasillas are a vital ingredient in Oaxacan moles.

Which is easier to find fresh?

Anchos are the easier of the two chiles to find outside of Mexico. In the US, you can find dried whole anchos in most Mexican groceries and many mainstream grocery stores.

Pasillas are not that easy to find outside of Mexico. If you are in the US, you may have to go to a store that specializes in Mexican foods to find pasillas.

Which is used most often in commercial products?

When it comes to their appearances in commercial products, ancho peppers win this one easily. Not only are whole anchos and ground ancho powder widely available, but they also get used in many commercially sold sauces and seasoning pastes. Anchos are often the prominent pepper — usually the only chili — in the classic American -style chili powder seasoning.

While it is possible to find a hot sauce or two containing pasilla peppers, most commercial products that feature them are ground and whole pasillas for home cooking.

Must-read related posts

  • The Hot Pepper List: These dried chilies are only two of over 150 peppers that we profile. See our dynamic list where you can search chilies by name, heat, flavor, origin, and more.
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: We rank over 100 different hot sauces by flavor, heat balance, usability, and collectibility. Plus, search the hot sauces by chili pepper used.
  • Are Dried Chilies Hotter Than Fresh? Each of these dried chilies, of course, has fresh equivalents. So which is hotter? Do dried chilies lose heat?

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on June 6, 2022 to include new content.
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