Guajillo Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Pairings, And More

Guajillo peppers are the dried form of the mirasol chili and commonly used in Mexican cuisine. They are known for their bright, tangy flavor (with hints of cranberry and tea) and very eatable medium heat, with a Scoville rating between 2,500 and 5,000 units. Guajillo peppers are characterized by their glossy, smooth, and dark reddish-brown skin and their long shape (typically four to six inches long.)

Their moderate heat and versatile flavor make them a popular choice in many dishes. These peppers are often used in salsas, sauces, soups, and stews, adding a rich, complex flavor. And, like the ancho chili, the guajillo is one of the Mexican Holy Trinity of dried chilies that are commonly used in authentic mole sauces. Guajillo peppers are usually dried and ground into a powder for use in cooking, but they can also be rehydrated and pureed.

Guajillo Pepper
Dried guajillo peppers

Guajillo pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)2,500 – 5,000
Median heat (SHU)3,750
Jalapeño reference pointEqual heat to 3 times milder
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
SizeApproximately 4 to 6 inches long, wide, dried
FlavorTangy, Crisp, Smoky

How hot are guajillo peppers?

Guajillos are medium-heat chilies, ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). Compared to our reference point, the jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), the guajillo is often equal in heat, but the jalapeño can range quite a bit hotter. There’s most certainly a kick here, but it sits on the milder side of medium heat. So this is a chili that’s tolerably spicy for many people.

Let’s compare it to a few other popular dried chilies to give more perspective. Chipotle peppers are simply dried jalapeños (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), so the guajillo shares a near equal spiciness. Compared to the spice rack staple cayenne powder (30,000 to 50,000 SHU), the guajillo is six to twenty-five times milder than the (often) spiciest spice in your cupboard.

Guajillos are part of a version of the Holy Trinity of Mexican chilies: the ancho, pasilla, and the guajillo. These chilies are staples for mole sauces, and the guajillo is the spiciest of the three. Ancho pepper (dried poblano) ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 SHU and pasilla chilies range from 1,000 to 2,500 SHU.

–> Learn More: Guajillo Vs. Ancho—How Do They Compare?

Another way to look at the spiciness for context. Guajillos share the same heat range as the famous Tabasco Original Red Sauce (2,500 to 5,000 SHU). If you’ve had original Tabasco Sauce, then you know exactly what to expect from a guajillo’s heat.

What does it look like and taste like?

The guajillo has a raisin-like wrinkled texture. It’s long (four to six inches), but thin (roughly one inch wide), with a slight curve. They have a reddish-brown to dark brown coloring. This is due not only to the drying process, but also the age at which the chilies are picked. Fresh mirasol peppers are allowed to age on the vine from their youthful green stage into their mature red coloring. When red, they are picked for drying into guajillos.

There’s a lot of flavor depth to the guajillo. First, they are sweet—much sweeter than you’d likely imagine. And with it comes a tanginess (think cranberry) with a hint of tea-like crispness. There’s also an underlying smokiness to its flavor and some even get a hint of pine. It’s a rich, complex flavor, so it’s easy to see why people love the guajillo as much as they do.

Guajillos close-up, note the beautiful red undertones

Cooking with guajillo

In terms of popularity in its native Mexico, guajillo only takes a second seat to the ancho pepper in terms of usage. They are, as mentioned, part of the Holy Trinity on Mexican chilies used as ingredients for authentic Mexican mole sauces. It’s also extremely popular in harissa chili paste, which may be surprising since harissa hails from North Africa. While native to Mexico, this chili is grown around the world, including the United States, China, and Peru.

Beyond mole sauce and harissa chili paste, there’s a entire world of culinary exploration possible with the guajillo. Its unique flavor makes it a fun one to experiment with, especially with sweet sauces and fruits. It can be rehydrated in water to use in soups, stews, sauces, and marinades. Or pulverize the dried chili into a powder to sprinkle on rich desserts for an extra kick.

More cooking tips:

  • Use kitchen gloves when handling. It’s easy to forget the heat still lingering in a dried chili. And all of the heat is still there – it’s not lost in the drying process at all. Guajillos pack a similar punch to jalapeños, so the same level of chili burn is still possible if you handle the chilies incorrectly. When slicing or grinding guajillo, it’s best to wear kitchen gloves. Also, read up on how to treat chili burn in case you do experience it.
  • Store your guajillo properly to maintain their incredible flavor. If you store dried chilies incorrectly, they’ll lose some of their flavor potency and decrease their shelf life. That’d be a shame for a chili with this amount of flavor depth. Store them (whole or crushed) in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. Read our post on how best to store dried chilies for more information.
  • The ancho is likely your best substitute for the guajillo. Though there is both a flavor and heat difference. Anchos are much milder, and their flavor, while still sweet, smoky, and earthy, doesn’t have that tang you get from guajillo. For more alternative, read our post on best guajillo substitutes.

Common guajillo pepper ingredient pairings

  • Chocolate: Many chilies work with the rich flavor of chocolate, but guajillos are notably tasty. Try the pairing in cakes, cookies, ice cream, or any other chocolate dessert.
  • Tomatoes: The acidity of tomatoes balances the mild heat of guajillo peppers, making them a common pairing in salsas and sauces.
  • Pork: Guajillo peppers have a sweet, berry-like flavor that complements the rich, fatty flavors of pork. It’s a common pairing in stews and tacos.
  • Garlic: The robust flavor of garlic pairs well with the sweet heat of guajillo peppers, often used together in marinades and rubs.
  • Onions: Onions add a sweet and savory depth that complements the fruity undertones of guajillo peppers, used together in many Mexican dishes.
  • Cumin: The earthy, warm flavor of cumin complements the mild heat and sweet undertones of guajillo peppers. It’s normally found as a spice blend pairing for dry rubs and chili powder seasonings.
  • Oregano: The aromatic and earthy flavor of oregano pairs well with the fruity heat of guajillo peppers, used together in Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Chicken: The mild flavor of chicken is a good canvas for the sweet and slightly smoky flavor of guajillo peppers, often used in enchiladas and stews.
  • Lime: The tartness of lime cuts through the mild heat of guajillo peppers, making them a common pairing for salsas, marinades, and beverages.
  • Cilantro: The fresh, citrusy flavor of cilantro balances the sweet heat of guajillo peppers. Salsas and sauces are common recipes where the pairing shines.
  • Beef: The robust flavor of beef stands up to the mild heat and sweet undertones of guajillo peppers. It’s a common pairing in stews and chili.
  • Mango: The sweet, tropical flavor of mango complements the fruity heat of guajillo peppers, often found together in salsas and chutneys.
  • Coriander: The citrus-like flavor of coriander pairs well with the sweet and mild heat of guajillo peppers, commonly used together in spice blends and marinades.

Recipes that work with guajillo peppers

Not all of these recipes have guajillo in their ingredients lists, but they all work with the chili with a simple substitution. Specifically, the Holy Trinity of dried Mexican chilies (ancho, pasilla, guajillo) are very interchangeable. So any recipe that features one, can be a good choice for another.

  • Sopa Seca De Fideo con Ancho: This noodles recipe uses ancho chilies, but guajillo is a common substitute.
  • Easy Mole Sauce: This is not a traditional recipe. Instead, it focuses on simplicity and speed to get the rich comparable flavors of authentic mole. Ancho is used, but guajillo works too.
  • Smoky Mole Bitters: A bold way to add some warmth to your cocktails. Any of the Holy Trinity of chilies can work.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on June 3, 2024 to include new content.
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In Detroit an excellent store to find a wide variety of Mexican dried peppers is the Honey Bee Market-La Colmena. This is a large, clean, suburban style super market. And, there are many other smaller neighborhood grocers that carry a nice selection of peppers.
The way I use guajillo’s is for making authentic Texas style chili. Now I’m all for a tomato, bean chili. But, this Texan (beef/pepper only) variety is spectacular.
The recipe I like:


Thank you for the excellent reporting on the various hot pepper varieties and their many uses. I’ve been a fan of this site for years.
I would add one minor edit to this article; in the where to buy section: If you live in a city with a significant Hispanic population there is probably a store, or several, that sell dried Guajillo peppers and several other varieties; along with other authentic ingredients.
The same could be added to other pepper articles that are key to whichever ethnicities cuisine.