Chile ancho (or ancho pepper) is the most well-known and widely used spicy pepper in Mexican cooking. Find out everything you need to know in this detailed guide, including how to prepare it to use in a variety of recipes.
Table of Contents
📖 What are chiles anchos?
Chiles anchos are the dried form of poblano peppers and are part of the Capsicum annuum species. They are quite large, flat, and leathery. In fact, "ancho" translates to "wide" in English (seems very fitting).
Poblano peppers are aptly named after the state in which they originated — Puebla. When the peppers are left to ripen and dry out in the sun, that's when they become anchos!
These dried chiles can then be rehydrated whole, fried, or ground into ancho chile powder to be used in all sorts of recipes.
🍴 Flavor profile
While poblano peppers carry a green, garden-fresh flavor, ancho peppers are much more complex. Think sweet, smoky, chocolatey, earthy, fruity, and slightly spicy.
You can find chiles anchos in a plethora of recipes, but the most famous is mole poblano. Originating from Puebla as well, mole poblano is recognized as Mexico's national dish.
🔥 Spice level
Ancho chiles are considered to be quite a mild chile variety, coming in at 1,000-2,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
For reference, they are much milder than jalapeños (2,500-8,000 SHU) but spicier than a bell pepper (0 SHU).
Note: the spice level of ancho chiles can vary considerably, even when they're from the same plant. Just be aware!
🍎 Health facts
Chiles anchos are an excellent source of vitamin A and C. Both of these vitamins are important for the immune system and fighting off free radicals, which can lead to heart disease, cancer, dementia, etc.
Plus, ancho chiles are a source of fiber, which is vital in maintaining a healthy digestive system.
How to Rehydrate Ancho Chiles
- Kitchen shears
- Cast-iron skillet or somal
- 1 package ancho chiles ($0.96)
- Water for soaking
- Using kitchen shears, cut off the stems of the chiles and cut them open. Remove the seeds and veins and discard.
- Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium, then dry toast them for ~30-60 seconds per side, or until fragrant.
- Bring a saucepan of water to boil, then turn the heat off, add the anchos in, cover the pot, and let the chiles rehydrate for 10-15 minutes, or until they feel soft and pliable.
- Your chiles are now ready to be used in a wide variety of recipes from mole poblano to chamoy and more!
- The weight used for this recipe is an example only. The amount needed will depend on the size of the recipe.
- You can reserve the soaking water to use in recipes, but some people find it bitter so always taste it first.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
🌶️ Ancho chile dishes
As one of the most famous chiles in the world, anchos take part in a lot of recipes ranging from sauces to soups. Some of our favorite plant-based versions of these dishes are:
- Vegan chorizo
- Enmoladas with mole poblano
- Enchiladas rojas
- Quesabirria tacos
- Pozole rojo
- Tacos de canasta
Make sure to keep your ancho chiles (or powder) in airtight glass containers to keep insects away and moisture controlled. Store them in a cool, dark, and dry environment (like a cupboard or pantry) to lengthen their shelf life.
For the best flavor, use your ancho peppers within 6 months. But, they will keep for up to a year if you forget about them. You can also freeze your anchos for extended use.
💰 Buying guide
Along with a few other staple chiles, you're really going to want ancho chiles kicking around if you like cooking Mexican food!
What to look for
Ancho chiles should be firm and leathery, but still pliable. It's best to avoid brittle, cracked, or blemished peppers.
The color should be dark red, almost mahogany. And the stems will appear beige and quite tough (almost wood-like).
Ancho chile powder should have a fragrant smell and a deep red color.
Where to buy
Ancho peppers are probably the easiest variety to find outside of Mexico, so you'll likely be able to find them in large grocery stores near the spice aisles (in whole or powder form).
If you live near a Mexican grocer, you'll definitely be able to find anchos there.
It's worth mentioning that pasilla chiles and ancho chiles are often sold as one another in places outside of Mexico. Just remember to look for the wide, triangular shape of anchos vs. the long, slender shape of pasillas.
If you are still unsure of where to find them, you can always order ancho chiles online.
With a surprisingly difficult flavor and spice level to replicate, there are only a couple of good chile ancho substitutions to choose from:
- Pasilla chiles. Although more earthy, pasilla chiles carry the most similar flavor profile to anchos. They can be spicier, so watch out for that.
- Mulato chiles. If you can't find pasilla chiles, mulatos are a close runner up. While they are also made from poblano peppers, they can be significantly hotter than ancho peppers because they are left to ripen longer. However, they do provide sweet, smoky, and chocolatey notes.
🌶 More Mexican chiles
If you're interested in learning about more popular chiles used in Mexican cooking, check out our other detailed guides:
If your food comes out bitter after using ancho chiles, it's likely because they were burned during toasting or the seeds were left in. In some cases, seeds can be very bitter when left in the chiles.
Yes, you can make your own ancho chiles. If you have access to poblano peppers or seeds, you can grow your own and dry them under the sun. If the weather is an issue, try using a dehydrator or your oven.
Although they have a complex, smoky flavor, ancho chiles are not smoked in the literal sense.