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

Also known as “chile negro,” pasilla peppers are a type of dried chili pepper originating from Mexico. They are the dried form of the chilaca pepper. The name “pasilla” comes from the Spanish word “pasa” which means “little black raisin”, referring to their dark, wrinkled skin and somewhat raisin-like aroma when dried. These peppers are typically medium to long in size, ranging from six to eight inches, and are narrow.

Pasilla peppers are known for their mild to medium heat, typically ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville heat units. That mild spiciness is paired with a delicious earthy, sweet, and fruity flavor. Pasillas are a key ingredient in traditional Mexican cuisine, especially in sauces such as mole and adobo. In fact, they are part of the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican dried chilies for use in mole sauces. The peppers are often rehydrated by soaking in warm water before use, which brings out their complex flavors.

Rico Rico Dried Pasilla Peppers, 4 oz.
Pasillas, being mild, are more family-friendly than many chili peppers. Plus, their flavor is rich and complex—earthy, sweet, and fruity. They can add both heat and flavor to so many meals.

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Pasilla peppers, long and narrow in shape

Pasilla pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)1,000 – 2,500
Median heat (SHU)1,750
Jalapeño reference pointEqual heat to 8 times milder
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginMexico
UseCulinary
SizeApproximately 6 to 8 inches long, curved, dried
FlavorSweet, Fruity, Earthy

How hot are pasilla peppers?

Pasilla are mild dried chilies, ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville heat units on the Scoville scale. This is a very eatable level of spiciness—one of the reasons why this chili is so popular in the kitchen. They are generally considered mild, but the top of their range does reach a low-medium spiciness, so they can surprise you from time to time.

Pasillas are, of course, the same range as the chilaca pepper (the chili that is dried to create the pasilla.) But pasilla chilies are made from chilaca peppers that have hit their mature red hue. That ripeness is also the peak for the pepper’s capsaicin (the compound behind the heat), so pasillas often tilt to the upper end of that range.

Comparing it to our reference point, the jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), pasilla chilies can be equal heat to up to eight times milder, if the mildest pasilla was compared to the hottest jalapeño. Looking at it another way, the pasilla’s heat ceiling (2,500) is the same as the jalapeños heat floor. Most of the time, pasillas will taste much less spicy. Their median heat has them roughly three times milder than a jalapeño.

The pasilla is part of the Mexican Holy Trinity of dried chilies commonly used in Mexican mole sauces (commonly the ancho, pasilla, and guajillo chilies.) The pasilla is the middle-child (when it comes to heat) among these three. Anchos (dried poblanos) are the mildest of the bunch (1,000 to 1,500 SHU) while guajillos (dried mirasol chilies) sit right above pasilla (2,500 to 5,000 SHU.)

Finally, let’s compare the pasilla to other dried chilies you may commonly have on your spice rack. Compared to chipotle powder (dried, smoked jalapeño), it’s the same range as our jalapeño reference point (equal heat to eight times milder.) And compared to cayenne pepper powder (30,000 to 50,000 SHU), the pasilla falls well short (12 to 50 times milder.)

Pasilla (left) next to ancho (right) and guajillo (upper-right).

What does it look like and taste like?

The word pasilla literally means “little raisin” in Spanish, and while this chili is nowhere near little, it definitely has shades of raisin in its looks. The skin is a dark brownish-red (darker than an ancho or guajillo) and wrinkled, like a raisin’s skin. The darker hue is also why the pasilla is sometimes also named chile negro.

In terms of length, pasilla are typically six inches long or more (sometimes up to nine inches) and up to two inches wide. They aren’t nearly as wide-bodied as an ancho, yet these two chilies are often mislabeled as each other in grocery stores. If you’re trying to determine if you’re buying a pasilla or an ancho, consider the width and the color. They are the two biggest tells. Anchos can be up to four inches wide (compared to the pasilla’s two inch width) and pasillas tend to be much darker in hue.

The taste is raisin-like as well. Pasillas are sweet, with hints of cocoa and even a little berry in the flavor profile. It’s slightly hotter and earthier than the ancho pepper, but the ancho does tend to be the sweeter of the two (while still providing plenty of earthiness in its flavor.)

Cooking with pasilla peppers

As mentioned, these chilies are part of the triumvirate of chilies that make authentic Mexican mole and enchilada sauces. Like ancho peppers, they can be rehydrated for used in sauces, stews, soups, salsas, hot sauces, pastes, and marinades. Plus, they are easily powdered for use as a spice for rubs. As a dried chili, it keeps for a long time—a year plus, as long as the peppers are stored properly.

–> Learn More: How To Store Dried Peppers For The Best Flavor

More cooking tips:

  • Dried chili flavors will lose their potency if stored open-air on counters. They may add a nice aesthetic to the kitchen, but over time, those chilies will lose their flavor complexity. If you want the most robust flavor experience, be sure to keep them stored in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.
  • Remember, a mild chili is still a hot pepper. Meaning: You can still get chili burn from mishandling even something as mild as a pasilla. Wear kitchen gloves while cutting into or grinding pasilla. Also, read up on how to treat chili burn in case you do experience the discomfort.
  • Ancho chilies are commonly thought of as the best alternatives to pasilla. They are slightly milder, so they are still very eatable for most people. The flavor is not an exact match (as mentioned, anchos tend to be sweeter among other nuances), but they are close enough to work similarly in many dishes. For more alternative, read our post on good pasilla substitutes.

Common pasilla ingredient pairings

  • Red Meats: The heartier flavor of red meats (lamb and beef, in particular) holds up well to the bold complexity of pasilla peppers. Take care with white meats as, depending on the recipe, the pasilla can overpower the dish.
  • Chocolate: Like guajillo and ancho, too, this chili has a lot of rich flavors which pair incredibly well with cocoa and chocolate desserts. This is a very fun area to explore. You can go as simple as using pasilla to amp up hot chocolate, cakes, or ice cream.
  • Garlic: Pasilla peppers have a mild heat and a rich, fruity flavor that pairs well with the pungent, savory taste of garlic. The heat of the pasilla can help cut through the strong flavor of the garlic, while the garlic adds depth to the pasilla’s sweetness.
  • Cumin: The smokiness of cumin complements the mild heat and fruity undertones of the pasilla pepper. Cumin’s earthy flavor enhances the pasilla’s complexity without overpowering its unique taste.
  • Oregano: The sweet and slightly bitter flavor of oregano pairs well with the mild heat and fruitiness of pasilla. The pairing brings out a balanced, savory taste, making it a popular combination in Mexican cuisine.
  • Cilantro: The fresh, citrusy flavor of cilantro can help to balance the mild heat of pasilla peppers. This pairing is common in salsas and sauces, where the cilantro’s brightness contrasts with the pasilla’s smoky sweetness.
  • Lime: The acidity of lime juice can help to temper the heat of pasilla peppers, while also enhancing their fruity flavor. This pairing is often used in marinades and dressings, where the lime’s tartness adds a refreshing contrast to the pasilla’s warmth.
  • Onion: The sweetness of cooked onions complements the mild heat and fruity undertones of pasilla peppers. The pairing creates a balanced, savory flavor profile that’s ideal for stews and sauces.
  • Tomatoes: The sweet and tangy flavor of tomatoes pairs well with the mild heat of pasilla peppers. The acidity of the tomatoes helps to balance the heat of the pasilla, while the pasilla’s fruity notes enhance the sweetness of the tomatoes. Fire-roasted tomatoes add some smokiness, too, that works quite well, particularly in fire-roasted salsas.

Delicious recipes featuring pasilla

Any recipes that use ancho or guajillo could work with pasilla as well. Here are a few tasty recipes where we’ve used this chili:

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 13, 2024 to include new content.
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Pepper Jez

I just got some of these last night. They certainly do smell & taste like raisins! Going to make for an interesting hot sauce, maybe a ‘rum raisin’ type. Growing some next year.