Mulato Pepper: The Ancho’s Swarthier Cousin

| Last Updated: August 17, 2019 |

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A pillar of Mexican mole…

Scoville heat units (SHU): 2,500 – 3,000
Jalapeño reference point: Equal heat to three times milder
Origin: Mexico
Products and seeds: Mulato pepper on Amazon

If you pair an ancho and a mulato pepper next to each other, it may be tough to tell the difference. Beyond the mulato chili’s darker color it, shares a similar look. And for good reason. The mulato pepper is closely related to the ancho, coming from a poblano pepper variety with a slightly different gene pool. This differentiation, along with a little longer time on the vine, brings a significant heat bump to the table.

The mulato is one of the Mexican holy trinity of dried chilies that are the essentials for mole sauces and enchilada sauces, along with being a staple for authentic Mexican cuisine.

So the ancho and mulato are closely related?

They are. They both are dried forms of poblano peppers, from two closely related varieties. The mulato pepper’s poblano has a fuller taste and a darker complexion compared to the poblano pepper, and it’s also hard to find in fresh form. These poblanos are typically dried prior to selling due to the popularity of the mulato.

To create mulato chilies, these poblano peppers are picked well into their aging cycle – when they are reaching a dark-brown color. That’s a longer cycle than ancho peppers which are picked when they age to a red hue.

How hot are mulato chilies?

Hotter than you’d likely expect with it coming from a poblano pepper. They can be double or even triple the heat of ancho chilies. This is due to the poblano variation, along with the time on vine. The longer a chili pepper is allowed to mature, the hotter they become. This is due to capsaicin, where peppers get their heat. The capsaicin increases as a chili ages.

This heat bump makes a mulato a near equal spiciness to the jalapeño pepper, putting it at the lower end of medium for chilies on the pepper scale.

What do mulato peppers taste like and look like?

They look very much like anchos: four to six inches in length and very wide compared to other chilies. The dried chili skin is wrinkled like a raisin. The color is where the difference lies, the mulato is darker, with brownish-black undertones.

There is a taste difference between the two too. Mulato chilies have a smokier and sweeter flavor with strong hints of licorice and chocolate.

How can you use dried mulato peppers?

As part of the Mexican holy trinity of dried peppers (with the ancho and the pasilla), the mulato chili is a staple for mole sauces, along with other authentic Mexican sauces, salsas and marinades. It’s simple to rehydrate these dried chilies, just let them soak in water for about 30 minutes. Or grate them into a fine dust for a sweeter alternative to traditional chili powder. Roughly crushed, mulato peppers have an excellent flavor to pair with rich desserts like ice cream and chocolate cake, as well as fresh fruit with rich tastes like raspberries and blood oranges.

Where can you buy mulato chilies?

In the United States, they aren’t as widely available as the ancho pepper, but they are readily available online. If you live in an urban area with a large Mexican population, you can find them in specialty stores, but buying via the web is by far your best bet.

If you really want to experience authentic Mexican, then the mulato pepper is one of the go-to chilies out there. Like the pasilla and ancho, it’s a must for making real Mexican mole, and you may be surprised at how useful this chili is beyond that. The sweet chocolatey undertones and low-medium heat make this a fun chili to play with, especially as a spicy dessert twist.

Photo by Glane23 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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