Guajillo chiles, Capsicum annuum, is the dried version of the Mirasol chile. Pronounced “wha hee oh”, which translates to "little gourd" for the rattling sound the seeds make when shaking the dried pods. Guajillo Chiles are the second most popular chile in Mexico surpassed only by the Ancho chile. While Guajillo chiles may not be a staple in your pantry they are absolutely worth seeking out, these leathery, dark reddish brown chiles are ideal for dishes where one doesn’t want to overpower other flavors.
Guajillos are most frequently sold as a whole chile and it’s a bit more difficult to find in the ground form. Guajillo chiles are usually combined with Ancho and Pasilla chiles to make Mexican moles.
Guajillo chiles look very similar to the harder to find Puya chiles which tend to be a bit smaller and pack more heat (5,000 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units). Puya chiles are used by chefs of authentic Mexican cuisine who are searching for a little bit more unexpected kick.
If you like your chiles on the slightly sweeter side, then you will find the Guajillo Chile an excellent pepper to experiment with in your kitchen. It has surprising range and a heat most everyone can enjoy.
There are approximately 5 Guajillo Chiles per oz.
History of Guajillo Chiles
The name Mirasol means "looking at the sun" in Spanish, which describes the way these peppers grow on the plant. Mirasol chiles are native to the central and northern Mexico states of Aguascalientes, Durango and San Luis Potosi.
By the time that Columbus arrived in the Americas the Azetcs were cultivating jalapeno, chilaca (known as pasilla when dried), poblano (when dried called ancho), serrano, de arbol and mirasol chiles. Bernardino de Sahagun, a Franciscan friar, missionary priest and pioneering ethnographer arrived in New Spain (modern day Mexico) in 1529. He quickly learned the Nahualt language and spent the next 50 years studying the Aztecs and their culture. He wrote of the typical Aztec market as having "hot green chiles, smoked chiles, water chiles, tree chiles, flea chiles and sharp-pointed red chiles. To further illustrate the importance that the Aztecs placed on chiles they classified them into 6 categories based not only on level of pungency (low to high) but also on type of pungency (broad to sharp).”
The ancient Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilizations held chiles in such high regard that they withheld them from their diets during religious fasting periods.
Guajillo Chile Cultivation
Mirasol chiles grow best in arid climates and the best tasting of these chiles are grown in the drier climate of north central Mexico. The chile plant produces good yields of 4-6” long by ¾-1” wide hot peppers that grow upright (pointing towards the sun) and mature from green to red.
Guajillo chiles are also cultivated in China, Peru and the US (New Mexico, Colorado and California). Chili Heads do not consider Guajillo chiles grown in Peru and China to be authentic as the "Guajillo" chiles grown in these two countries tend to be hotter.
Depending on the time of year and product availability our Guajillo Chiles may come from Mexico or Peru.
Appearance, Heat and Flavor Profile of Guajillo Chiles
This chile has an elongated shape that tapers to a point and is sometimes slightly curved. The color is a deep burgundy with brick red to copper tones. This chile can vary more than most other chiles in looks and because of this can be hard to identify to the untrained eye. Sometimes they’re smaller, other times larger, their skin may be a bit smooth or wrinkled. Really can be quite inconsistent.
The best quality Guajillos will have a shiny, smooth skin that is still pliable (indicating freshness). Older Guajillo chiles will look dusty and will crack when bent. Older chiles can still be used but their flavor has faded and your dish won’t be as rich.
Guajillo chiles are considered a mild heat chile and come in at 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
The flavor profile of Guajillo chiles is slightly fruity with a sweet heat, tannic with a hints of pine, tart berries and light smoky undertones.
Cooking with Guajillo Chiles
Small amounts of Guajillo chiles are used in Mexican cooking to add flavor, mild heat and color. They’re frequently used in pastes or rubs to flavor all kinds of meats, especially chicken. In addition to Mexican moles use this chile in enchiladas, salsas, sauces, soups, stews and tamales. Guajillo chiles are also used to make Harissa, a hot chile paste mixture used in North African cooking. They’re also very common in Peruvian cooking.
Guajillo’s unique flavor makes it a fun one to experiment with, especially with sweet sauces and fruits. When ground into a powder it can be sprinkled on rich desserts for an extra kick. Guajillo chiles pair very well with chocolate.
A puree of Guajillo chiles can be made by splitting and seeded the dried fruit, soaking the skins for about 15-20 minutes, smashing into a thin paste, then cooking with garlic, Mexican oregano, pepper, cumin, chicken stock and olive oil to produce a thick, red, flavorful sauce.
Because of its thick skin the Guajillo chiles require a longer soaking time to rehydrate than most other dried chiles. Per ounce, Guajillos provide much less pulp than Anchos.
In Mexico dried Guajillo chiles are often toasted in a dry, hot pan to release their sweet flavor and heat, before other ingredients are added. To toast them, heat a pan to medium hot. Place the chiles the pan and toast them for about 20 to 30 seconds per side until they start to become fragrant. Do not let them burn or they will develop an acrid taste. Once toasted, they’re ready to be used in any recipe that calls for them.
One of our favorite recipes using dried Guajillo chiles is Pozole Rojo.
Guajillo Chile Substitutions and Conversions
What is the best substitutes for Guajillo Chiles? The easiest substitute to find is the Ancho Chile, the one with the closest flavor profile and heat is the Pasilla Negro and the best to add some excitement to a dish is the Cascabel.
1 Guajillo Chile is equal to 1 teaspoon of Guajillo Chile powder.