Guajillo Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are guajillo peppers?

If you like your chilies on the slightly sweeter side, then the guajillo pepper (the dried form of the mirasol chili) is one that should make your shortlist. With hints of tangy cranberry and the crispness of tea, its flavors make the guajillo one of the most popular dried chilies in Mexico, second only to the famous ancho pepper. And like the ancho, the guajillo is one of the holy trinity of chilies that are commonly used in authentic Mexican mole sauces. It has a surprising culinary range and a medium heat (2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units) that nearly all can enjoy.

Guajillo Pepper

Table of Contents

Guajillo pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)2,500 – 5,000
Median heat (SHU)3,750
Jalapeño reference pointEqual heat to 3 times milder
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginMexico
UseCulinary
SizeApproximately 4 to 6 inches long, wide, dried
FlavorTangy, Crisp, Smoky

How hot are the guajillo peppers?

Guajillo peppers are medium-heat chilies, ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). Compared to our reference point, the jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), the guajillo is often equal in heat, but the jalapeño can range quite a bit hotter. There’s most certainly kick here, but it sits on the milder side of medium heat. So this is a chili that’s tolerable in spiciness for many.

Let’s compare it to a few dried chili kitchen staples to give more perspective. Chipotle peppers are simply dried jalapeños (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), so the guajillo shares a near equal spiciness. Compared to the spice rack staple cayenne powder (30,000 to 50,000 SHU), the guajillo is 6 to 25 times milder than the (often) spiciest spice in your cupboard.

Guajillos are part of a version of the Holy Trinity of Mexican chilies: the ancho, pasilla, and the guajillo. These chilies are staples for mole sauces, and the guajillo is the spiciest of the three. Ancho pepper (dried poblano) ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 SHU and pasilla chilies range from 1,000 to 2,500 SHU.

Another way to look at the spiciness for context. Guajillos share the same heat range as the famous Tabasco Original Red Sauce (2,500 to 5,000 SHU). If you’ve had original Tabasco Sauce, then you know exactly what to expect from a guajillo’s heat.

What does it look like?

The guajillo has a raisin-like wrinkled texture. It’s long (four to six inches), but thin (roughly 1 inch wide), with a slight curve. They have a reddish-brown to dark brown coloring. This is due not only to the drying process, but also the age at which the chilies are picked. Fresh mirasol peppers are allowed to age on the vine from their youthful green stage into their mature red coloring. When red, they are picked for drying into guajillos.

What do guajillo peppers taste like?

There’s a lot of flavor depth to the guajillo. First, they are sweet – much sweeter than you’d likely imagine. And with it comes a tanginess (think cranberry) with a hint of tea-like crispness. There’s also an underlying smokiness to its flavor. This is a pretty complex chili, and it’s easy to see why people love it so much.

Cooking with guajillo

In terms of popularity in their native Mexico, guajillo only take a second seat to the ancho pepper in terms of usage. They are, as mentioned, part of the Holy Trinity on Mexican chilies used as ingredients for authentic Mexican mole sauces. It’s also extremely popular in harissa chili paste, which may be surprising since harissa hails from North Africa. While native to Mexico, this chili is grown around the world, including the United States, China, and Peru.

Beyond mole sauce and harissa chili paste, there’s a entire world of culinary exploration possible with this chili. Its unique flavor makes it a fun one to experiment with, especially with sweet sauces and fruits. It can be rehydrated in water to use in soups, stews, sauces, and marinades. Or pulverize the dried chili into a powder to sprinkle on rich desserts for an extra kick.

More cooking tips:

  • Guajillo pairs very well with chocolate. Frankly, many chilies work with the rich flavor of chocolate, but guajillo are notably tasty. That sweet cranberry-like tang and tea-like crispness enhances the depth in chocolate oh so well. Try this dried chili in cakes, cookies, ice cream, or any other chocolate dessert you may come across.
  • Use kitchen gloves when handling. It’s easy to forget the heat still lingering in a dried chili. And all of the heat is still there – it’s not lost in the drying process at all. Guajillos pack a similar punch to jalapeños, so the same level of chili burn is still possible if you handle the chilies incorrectly. When slicing or grinding guajillo, it’s best to wear kitchen gloves. Also, read up on how to treat chili burn in case you do experience it.
  • Store your guajillo properly to maintain their incredible flavor. If you store dried chilies incorrectly, they’ll lose some of their flavor potency and decrease their shelf life. That’d be a shame for a chili with this amount of depth. Store them (whole or crushed) in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. Read our post on how best to store dried chilies for more information.

–> Try A Recipe: Guajillo Salsa

What are good guajillo substitutes?

The ancho is likely your best alternative, though there is both a flavor and heat difference. Anchos are much milder, and their flavor, while still sweet, smoky, and earthy, doesn’t have that tang you get from guajillo. For more alternative, read our post on best guajillo substitutes.

Where can you buy guajillo chilies?

While you can find these dried chilies in some local brick and mortar stores, they aren’t as widely available as the ancho. Try buying them online instead; many vendors sell them. You’ll also find guajillo pepper paste, powders, and rubs both in specialty stores and around the web.

  1. Guajillo Powder
  2. Guajillo Powder

    Our guajillo powder is 100% chilies -- no additives at all. It has a deliciously, sweet, smoky, and tangy flavor that's perfect for adding heat (and flavor) to many dishes. It's also terrific as a dry rub, on its own or as a base.

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  3. Dried Guajillo Chilies
  4. Dried Guajillo Chilies
    $6.47

    Being dried, guajillo peppers will last plenty long in your kitchen. If you love authentic Mexican flavors in your foods, keeping a bag at hand is an excellent idea.

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    05/14/2022 12:06 am GMT
  5. Guajillo Chili Paste
  6. Guajillo Chili Paste
    $24.95

    Use this paste as an additive to sauces and soups, as a wet rub, or as a base for salsa and dips. It has all the flavors you expect from guajillo: sweet, tangy, earthy, and smoky.

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    We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

    05/14/2022 04:18 pm GMT

If you’re looking for the flavor of true Mexican mole, guajillo is a must. It’s also a great ancho substitute, supplying a  little more kick and a sweeter taste. And if you’re the creative culinary type, playing with the guajillo’s unique flavors in the kitchen can lead to all sorts of interesting tastes. This is one chili that’ll definitely earn its keep in a kitchen.


UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on April 14, 2022 to include new content.
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Ethan

Also:
In Detroit an excellent store to find a wide variety of Mexican dried peppers is the Honey Bee Market-La Colmena. This is a large, clean, suburban style super market. And, there are many other smaller neighborhood grocers that carry a nice selection of peppers.
The way I use guajillo’s is for making authentic Texas style chili. Now I’m all for a tomato, bean chili. But, this Texan (beef/pepper only) variety is spectacular.
The recipe I like: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/true-texas-chili-355049

Ethan

Thank you for the excellent reporting on the various hot pepper varieties and their many uses. I’ve been a fan of this site for years.
I would add one minor edit to this article; in the where to buy section: If you live in a city with a significant Hispanic population there is probably a store, or several, that sell dried Guajillo peppers and several other varieties; along with other authentic ingredients.
The same could be added to other pepper articles that are key to whichever ethnicities cuisine.