What are pasilla peppers?
Its Spanish name may mean “little raisin”, but the pasilla pepper (the dried version of the chilaca pepper) is far from tiny, both in size and popularity. It’s long — sometimes up to half a foot or more in length — with a very eatable low-medium heat (1,000 to 2,500 Scoville heat units.) And the flavor is especially complex: earthy and sweet with hints of cocoa and berry underneath. The pasilla is part of the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican dried chilies that are so important to mole sauces, along with spicing up all sorts of authentic Mexican cuisine.
Table of Contents
- What are pasilla peppers?
- Pasilla pepper fast facts
- How hot are pasilla peppers?
- What does it look like?
- What do pasilla peppers taste like?
- Cooking with pasilla peppers
- What’s the best pasilla substitute?
- Where can you buy pasilla pepper?
- Must-read related posts
Pasilla pepper fast facts
|Scoville heat units (SHU)
|1,000 – 2,500
|Median heat (SHU)
|Jalapeño reference point
|Equal heat to 8 times milder
|Approximately 6 to 8 inches long, curved, dried
|Sweet, 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 mild, but the top of their range does hit a low-medium spiciness, so they can surprise you from time to time, especially considering when pasillas are dried.
Pasillas are, of course, the same range as the fresh chilaca pepper (the chili that is dried to create the named 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.)
What does it look 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.
What do pasilla peppers taste like?
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:
- Pasilla works very well with 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.
- 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.
What’s the best pasilla substitute?
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 (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.
Where can you buy pasilla pepper?
You can find dried (or ground) pasilla in some well-stocked stores, but, again, take a close look at the chili underneath the label. A better option may be to purchase online. Dried chilies, as a whole, are widely available for purchase via the web, as well as powders, pastes, and more.
$7.50 ($1.88 / oz)
Dried pasillas are perfect for keeping around the kitchen for your next Mexican cooking adventure. They're perfect in salsas and sauces, particularly mole sauce.
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This is a chili that is growing in popularity as authentic Mexican cuisine becomes more prevalent around the world. If you love true Mexican mole sauces and dishes, the pasilla is a dried pepper that you’ll want to explore. With the ancho and the mulato, it’s a real key to authentic flavor.
Must-read related posts
- Are Dried Peppers Hotter Than Their Fresh Equivalents? What happens when drying? Do chilies become spicier? Or does the loss of water lessen the heat?
- How Long Do Dried Chilies Last? What’s the shelf life? Does it matter if you keep your dried chilies whole?
- The Hot Pepper List: The pasilla is only one of over 150 chilies we cover. See our dynamic list, filterable by heat, flavor, uses, origin, and more.