A Mexican cuisine staple, the guajillo pepper is gaining in culinary popularity worldwide. More and more recipes are calling for this sweet and smoky pepper, as they part of the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican chilies used in mole sauce. But they can still be tricky to source in many areas. So what are your options if that’s the case? What’s a good guajillo pepper substitute if the real deal is not an option? We have three dried chili options for you, all suitable as an alternative but one is easier to find than the others.
Easiest to find: Ancho pepper
Ancho peppers are another member of the Mexican “Holy Trinity” of chilies, and they are typically much easier to find in stores. Most specialty Mexican grocers and even some super markets carry this dried form of the poblano pepper.
They share a comparable sweetness and earthiness, but they are a step down in overall heat, 1,000 to 1,5000 Scoville heat units compared to the guajillo’s 2,500 to 5,000. They do tend to be sweeter and meatier – and the flavor overall isn’t as complex as the guajillo – but given their availability, they are easily the first place you should turn.
The closest in flavor: Pasilla pepper
Pasilla peppers (a.k.a. chile negro) are also a member of the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican chilies. They have a comparable heat to ancho peppers, but can reach the level of guajillos at their hottest (1,000 to 2,500 SHU).
And it’s not just the spiciness that’s a better fit; the flavors, too, are better suited as a guajillo alternative. Pasillas are slightly sweet with hints of berry and cocoa. It’s not an exact match for the more tea-like earthiness of the guajillo, but it’s very close.
A unique alternative: Cascabel pepper
Cascabel peppers may not look like the obvious alternative: It’s also known as “the rattle chili” due to its loose seeds that rattle in its cavernous apple-like body, But this chili’s earthy and nutty flavor can do in a pinch as a guajillo substitute. They aren’t as sweet, but the woodsy layers of tastes compare well to the tea-like undertones in the guajillo. Plus, they just look good to have on hand in the kitchen.