A must for authentic Mexican cuisine…
Pasilla pepper fast facts:
- Scoville heat units (SHU): 1,000 – 2,500 SHU
- Median heat: 1,750 SHU
- Origin: Mexico
- Capsicum species: Annuum
- Jalapeño reference scale: Equal heat to 8 times milder
- Use: Culinary
- Size: Approximately 6 to 8 inches long, curved, dried
- Flavor: Sweet, Fruity, Earthy
Its Spanish name may mean “little raisin”, but the pasilla pepper is far from tiny, both in size and popularity. It’s long – sometimes up to half a foot or more in length. The pasilla is part of the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican dried chilies that are so important to mole sauces, along with spicing up all sorts of authentic Mexican cuisine.
But know: what you see marked as “pasilla” at your local grocer may not actually be the real thing.
What is the pasilla pepper?
The pasilla (also known as chile negro) is actually the dried form of the chilaca pepper. The chilaca is a popular Mexican chili that can range over six inches in length (sometimes up to nine inches) and up to two inches wide. Its a thick-walled chili that matures from a green color to a dark brown hue.
When the chilaca reaches that dark brown color, it’s picked and dried to create the pasilla chili. As the pasilla, the chilaca gains even more popularity. It’s one of the main three dried chilies that bring the flavor of mole sauce to life (the “Holy Trinity” of ancho, pasilla, and guajillo peppers).
How hot are pasilla peppers?
They are very mild in comparison to much of the pepper scale. It and the chilaca range from 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville heat units, though since the pasilla is picked late in maturity, it tends towards the hotter part of that range. As chilies mature, their capsaicin amounts increase which leads to spicier peppers.
Compared to the jalapeño, the heat can be equal to a mild jalapeño, but the pasilla can range down to eight times milder.
What does it look like and taste like?
The word pasilla literally means “little raisin” in Spanish, and while this chili is nowhere near little, it definitely has shades of raisin in its looks. The skin is a dark brownish-red (darker than an ancho) and wrinkled, like a raisin’s skin.
The taste is raisin-like as well, sweet with hints of cocoa and even a little berry. It’s slightly hotter and earthier than the ancho pepper, but not quite as sweet.
Are the pasilla chilies at my grocer the real thing?
They aren’t always real pasilla peppers. In fact, it’s common for grocers to label ancho peppers as pasilla. They do look similar, but there are definite taste and heat differences. How can you tell the difference? Look at the width of the chili. Ancho chilies are broader while pasilla peppers are leaner. Pasilla chilies also tend to be darker since they are brown when dried, compared to the red color of the poblanos used to make ancho peppers.
How can these chilies be used?
As mentioned, these chilies are part of the triumvirate of chilies that make authentic Mexican mole and enchilada sauces. Like ancho peppers, they can be rehydrated for used in sauces, stews, soups, salsas, hot sauces, pastes, and marinades. Plus, they are easily powdered for use as a spice for rubs. As a dried chili, it keeps for a long time – a year plus as long as the peppers are in an airtight container.
Where can you buy pasilla pepper?
You can find it in stores, but, again, take a close look at the chili underneath the label. A better option may be to purchase online. The dried chilies are widely available for purchase, as well as pasilla powders, pastes, salsas, and rubs.
This is a chili that is growing in popularity as authentic Mexican cuisine becomes more prevalent around the world. If you love true Mexican mole sauces and dishes, the pasilla is a dried pepper that you’ll want to explore. With the ancho and the mulato, it’s a real key to authentic flavor.