Pasilla vs. Guajillo — How Do They Compare?

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Pasilla chilies — also known as the pasilla negro or chile negro — and guajillos are two popular dried Mexican peppers. They both are part of the famous Mexican holy trinity of dried chilies (along with the ancho) that are so popular with mole sauces and other Mexican foods. But how different are they from each other? Do they taste the same or have the same level of heat? Let’s compare the two to see how similar and different they are.

Quick comparison: pasilla vs. guajillo

Scoville heat units (SHU)2,500 – 5,0001,000 – 2,500
Median heat (SHU)3,7501,750
Jalapeño reference pointEqual heat to three times milderEqual heat to 8 times milder
Capsicum speciesAnnuumAnnuum
Approximately 4 to 6 inches long, dried
Approximately 6 to 9 inches long, 1 inch wide, curved, dried
FlavorTangy, Crisp, SmokySweet, Fruity, Earthy

Which is hotter, the pasilla or the guajillo?

These two chilies both provide eatable levels of heat, but one is certainly hotter than the other.

Guajillo peppers offer a low-medium heat level, 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units. That’s similar to the floor of jalapeño peppers (2,500 to 8,000 SHU). Pasilla peppers, on the other hand, sit typically in the mild range of the Scoville scale — 1,000 to 2,500 SHU. At its mildest, it’s similar to a poblano pepper, and at its hottest, it can reach the heat of a mild guajillo or jalapeño.

But more often than not, the pasilla will be well below the heat you’d experience from a guajillo.

Comparing these two chilies by how often they are searched for globally online, one has more interest than the other. The guajillo sits at roughly 51,000 global searches per month, while the pasilla has approximately 18,800 global searches per month.

That’s not to say the pasilla isn’t a popular chili. The level of interest is still relatively high compared to many other chili peppers. It just so happens that the guajillo has been rising in popularity quickly for years.

How does each pepper taste?

Guajillos and pasillas each have a reputation for fruity flavors, partly because they are made with peppers that have been allowed to ripen to their mature red color before being harvested and dried. The ripening process allows sugars to form that remain after the peppers have been dried.

The flavor of guajillos is sometimes likened to that of dried cranberries with a bit of earthiness. There’s a tea-like tangy crispness to them, too, and an underlying current of smokiness to the taste.

Because they are mild, the pasilla’s sweetness is even more noticeable than what you get from guajillo, and many people liken them to another dried pepper: the ancho. Pasillas are also said to have a hint of chocolate in their flavor profile.

How do they differ in shape and colors?

Guajillo chilies are the shorter of the two peppers. Guajillos grow to between 4 and 6 inches long and are an inch in diameter compared to the pasilla, which grows 6 to 9 inches long. Like the guajillo, the pasilla pepper is only an inch in diameter.

In terms of color, the pasilla tends to take on a blacker hue than the guajillo, which is more deep brownish-red.

Where does each pepper originate?

Both guajillos and pasillas have different names before being dried. Guajillos are dried mirasol peppers and pasillas are dried chilaca peppers. Both mirasol and chilaca chilis originated in the Mexican state of Puebla, the ancestors of both most likely cultivated by the Aztecs.

These days, their production has moved to other parts of Mexico, with the production of guajillos being in the states of Chihuahua and Zacatecas, among others. Pasillas are produced in the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco and Michoacán.

Which is easier to find fresh?

Whole guajillos are relatively easy to find compared to other dried, whole chiles. You should be able to find guajillos in many US grocery stores with an average-sized Mexican foods section. If a US grocery store has whole Mexican dried chilies, it will probably be guajillos.

Pasillas are harder to find but should be available in most US Latin markets and grocery stores that serve Latin American immigrant communities.

Outside of the US, guajillos should still be easier to find than pasillas, but neither will be particularly easy to find. Look for specialty food stores or stores with a large and diverse spice section.

Which is used most often in commercial products?

Because it’s somewhat better known than the pasilla, guajillos appear in a slightly more varied set of products. You may see the guajillo in salsas and even in chocolate. They will usually be powdered and occasionally used as the basis for a paste or an adobo.

Pasillas don’t get used in as many commercial products. Some sauces feature them — sometimes in combination with other peppers — but they are mostly just sold whole or powdered.

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