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What is a Guajillo Chile?

The Guajillo Chile is a vibrant, smooth-skinned pepper that's a staple in Mexican cuisine. Known for its tangy-sweet heat and complex notes of tea and cranberry, it's essential in sauces and stews. Its moderate spice level makes it versatile for many palates. How might the Guajillo transform your next culinary creation? Join us to uncover its flavorful possibilities.
Nick Doniger
Nick Doniger

The Guajillo chile is a type of pepper popularly grown and used in Mexico, the United States, and some other countries. These peppers are close in heat to jalapenos, though with a sweeter and fruitier flavor, making them popular in molé sauces. They may also be used in salsas and stews, and for making a paste called harissa. Guajillo chiles are long and pointed, with a reddish color at maturity. These peppers are often available dried or in powdered form.

Chiles, the classification of peppers to which Guajillos belong, are frequently used in American, South American, and Asian cooking. Spice levels vary from an almost unnoticeable level of heat, such as those found in cubanelle peppers, to what many consider an excruciating level of heat, such as that of the bhut jolokia, or "ghost chile." Others are considered mild. The Guajillo chile has a fairly low heat level. Chiles offer some health benefits, such as the ability to increase metabolism and an abundance of vitamin A and other nutrients. Consuming too many chiles and other spicy foods, however, may be difficult on the digestive system.

Harissa is a spicy pepper paste.
Harissa is a spicy pepper paste.

A typical Guajillo chile has an elongated shape, often with a slight curve, and comes to a point. Individual peppers are usually between 4 and 6 inches long (10 to 15 cm), with a reddish or brownish color when fully ripened. Green, unmatured Guajillos may also be harvested and used in cooking. When cooked, the mature peppers tend to give foods a yellowish color.

Tamales often contain Guajillo chile.
Tamales often contain Guajillo chile.

The Guajillo chile is closely related to the Anaheim chili, though boasting a somewhat sweeter and hotter flavor. Guajillos rate between 2,500 and 5,000 units on the Scoville Scale, which is approximately the same heat level as a jalapeno. The Scoville Scale measures the spiciness of peppers, as measured by examining how many units of sugar water to pepper mass would be required to eliminate heat. Those who cook with Guajillo chiles enjoy the slightly fruity, berrylike sweetness and medium spice of the peppers, along with tannic and piney hints.

A savory mole sauce may contain guajillo chile, chocolate, and cinnamon.
A savory mole sauce may contain guajillo chile, chocolate, and cinnamon.

Because of this pepper's sweetness to spice ratio, Guajillo chiles are often used in the Mexican sauce known as molé. This type of sauce often contains bitter chocolate, raisins, and several other ingredients. Ancho, Pasillo and Guajillo chiles are popularly categorized as the "holy trinity peppers," and are considered among the best for making authentic molé sauce.

Guajillo chiles are often used to add heat and spice to salsas.
Guajillo chiles are often used to add heat and spice to salsas.

The Guajillo chile weaves its way into other cooking applications as well. It is often used in tamales, salsas, soups, stews, and other chili dishes. A popular non-Mexican application for Guajillos is in a type of paste called harissa, which is used in Moroccan and Tunisian cuisines.

Guajillo chiles are sold whole either fresh or dried, and sometimes as a powder or paste. Such pastes, however, may contain high levels of preservatives and artificial colors. Dried Guajillos often require a longer soaking time than many other dried chiles. Fresh Guajillo chiles are recommended roasted or pan-toasted prior to use.

Mostly grown in dry, hot climates, the Guajillo chile is found in great abundance in northern Mexico. It is particularly widely produced in the states of Durango, Aguascalientes, and San Luis Potosi. This pepper also found in Peru, the U.S. states of New Mexico and California, and China.

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    • Harissa is a spicy pepper paste.
      By: Food-pictures
      Harissa is a spicy pepper paste.
    • Tamales often contain Guajillo chile.
      By: dreambigphotos
      Tamales often contain Guajillo chile.
    • A savory mole sauce may contain guajillo chile, chocolate, and cinnamon.
      By: razmarinka
      A savory mole sauce may contain guajillo chile, chocolate, and cinnamon.
    • Guajillo chiles are often used to add heat and spice to salsas.
      By: JJAVA
      Guajillo chiles are often used to add heat and spice to salsas.