all about guajillo chiles (chile guajillo)

The guajillo pepper is named after its town of origin – Guadalajara. This chile has a mild, fruity red pepper flavor.

guajillo chiles over a white kitchen cloth
Guajillo chiles are one of the most popular chiles in Mexican cuisine.

These beautiful chile peppers are some of the most unique offerings among all Mexican chiles – they’re a pretty ruby red color, and their aroma leaves nothing to be desired.

They aren’t particularly spicy in any way, but, instead, they’ve added to dishes thanks to their unique flavor profile in the world of chile peppers.

What are chiles guajillos?

These chiles start out life as mirasol chiles. The mirasol chiles are picked from the plant once ripe and then dried. After the drying process is complete, they are officially chiles guajillos.

It’s worth pointing out that not all mirasol chiles will become guajillos. Depending upon the specific sub-variety of the plant, mirasol chiles can be dried into chile puya or chile cascabel instead.

The mirasol chili plant has a unique appearance – the chile grows straight up! The name ‘mirasol’ means ‘looking at the sun about this, and this growing style has made them quite popular in the world of chiles.

The peppers are deep red and very smooth on their outer skin, as opposed to being wrinkly as some others are. They’re typically between three and five inches long and around an inch in width. 

one Chile guajillo on a concrete base

How spicy are these chiles?

While this is a pretty subjective question, the consensus is no – they aren’t hot. On the Scoville heat measurement scale, guajillo chiles score between 2500 and 5000, depending upon which pepper is used and a few other factors. This score places them between a poblano and a Jalapaño, so they’re generally considered mild to medium.

The scoville scale to see how spicy are guajillo peppers

The key characteristic of the chiles is their unique flavor, meaning that heat rarely comes up in discussions about the chile peppers themselves. This tells you something about the heat: it’s not so hot as to be significant relative to the pepper’s unique flavor.

What’s the History of Guajillo Chiles

Guajillo chiles have a reasonably simple history as most chile peppers do. The plant that the pepper grows on is native to Mexico and has been cultivated in that region of the world thanks to its great flavor. Before moving on, we want to mention the varieties of mirasol chiles so that you can be best informed.

Chile cascabel is quite similar to it, but they’re generally considered a little fruitier overall. They look quite like little bells and rattle when shaken, thanks to loose seeds within them.

The puya types are smaller and spicier than basic guajillo chiles. They rock in at between 5000 and 8000 Scoville Heat Units, which puts them on par with a Hungarian chile – medium to hot.

guajillo peppers on a concret kitchen top

The basic chile guajillo is the most extensive variety of the three different options and is the one that is typically cultivated and adored the most widely. It has a beautiful flavor profile, which people have adored for centuries.

They have a rich, earthy, and fruit flavor profile overall. They have a tomato-like flavor on the first bite, though they evolve a little to have notes of berries and green tea.

This might sound a little odd, but the depth and complexity of flavor add a lot to some of the most wonderful Mexican dishes out there – these chiles are truly remarkable.

Other Names

This can be a bit of a minefield since at least two of the three names of the different peppers have the same word in them. So, to clear things up, we’re going to talk about the differences very rapidly.

Chile guajillo is the main type of mirasol chile. The peppers themselves are the largest of all three, being up to five inches long. They have very rich flavors and are adored by a number of people worldwide.

The chile cascabel is a type of mirasol chile. It is shaped like a bell and rattles when shaken. It is a little fruitier than base guajillo chiles, though around the same spice level.

Finally, the chile guajillo puya (the one most likely to cause confusion) is quite similar to base guajillo chiles. They are generally a little smaller than guajillo chiles, and a lot spicier – about twice as hot, on average.

To be completely clear – these chiles are not from the same plant. They are different species of plant, all of which fruit differently and are then dried to produce these chiles. It can be confusing, but we’re sure you’ll figure it out!

How to Choose guajillos

When you’re looking for chiles, look for ones that are in one piece. They should be deep red and a little flexible, too. If they’re broken or have small holes, this indicates insect damage to the chiles.

Avoid broken or brittle chiles – this indicates a slightly older pepper. A good chile pepper will be shiny and slightly flexible – this is indicative of maximum flavor.

 This garlic mushroom pasta with chile guajillo recipe is one of my favorite ways to enjoy all the flavors of this chile.

How to Use

These chiles are used to flavor all sorts of different Mexican dishes, from tacos to pambazos. The flavor is so unique that several recipes online for guajillo sauce are designed to capture that taste and bottle it.

How to Rehydrate Guajillo Chiles

Rehydrating the chiles is simple. Begin by removing the stem, seeds, and veins and discarding those parts. Then, toast the chiles for up to a minute per side until they’re pleasantly fragrant, and bring a pan of water to a boil.

Boil the chiles for fifteen minutes, at which point they should be pleasantly soft and pliable – ideal for cooking with!

Best Guajillo Chile Substitutes

While there aren’t any chiles that perfectly match the notes of a good guajillo, some offer similar flavors for your meals. The best option is to combine two peppers – a sweeter one and a hotter one.

For example, combining New Mexico chiles (sweet, dried cherry flavors and a mild heat) with Chile de Arboles (heat and smoke) will lead to a bouquet of flavors that’s quite similar.

After learning about the beautiful world of guajillo chiles, we hope you’re inspired to cook with them! If so, get started soon, and find your way down to your local Mexican grocery store to find some great chiles.

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