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The chile guajillo (or guajillo pepper) is one of the most well-known and utilized chiles in Mexican cuisine. Find out everything you need to know in this detailed guide, including how to prepare it for recipes.
Table of Contents
📖 What are chiles guajillos?
Chiles guajillos (gwah-hee-ohs) are the dried form of mirasol chiles and one of the most common peppers in Mexico behind anchos. The mirasol chile group is actually made up of a few different varieties, including cascabel and puya.
Mirasol, which means “looking at the sun,” is in reference to how these chiles grow (pointing up to the sky). Chiles guajillos are native to Mexico, mostly in the central and northern regions.
Guajillo peppers have a deep red hue and a smooth appearance. They are typically around 1 inch wide and 3-5 inches long.
Contrary to what you might think, the chile guajillo variety is mainly added to recipes for its unique flavor profile rather than its spice level.
The three mirasol chiles (chile puya, chile guajillo, and chile cascabel) are similar, but there are some key differences.
Chile cascabel: this variety is probably the closest in flavor and spice to guajillo chiles, but slightly fruitier. They look like little bells and you can hear the seeds rattle if you shake them.
Chile guajillo puya: these peppers are smaller and spicier than the larger chiles guajillo — coming in at 5,000-8,000 Scoville Heat Units.
Chile guajillo: this is the largest variety of all three and provides the richest flavors.
🍴 Flavor profile
Guajillo peppers have a rich, slightly earthy, and fruity flavor profile. They carry notes of tomatoes, berries, and green tea that elevate each and every Mexican dish you add them to.
You can rehydrate them whole, fry them, or grind them into a powder for use in all sorts of recipes.
They are relatively mild compared to other Mexican chiles. For this reason, they make a great counterpart to spicier varieties like chile de árbol.
🔥 Spice level
Coming in at 2500-5000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), chiles guajillos are considered mild to medium.
While not as hot as a jalapeño, they are spicier than a poblano.
🍎 Health facts
Guajillo peppers are an incredible source of vitamin C, but they also contain a special compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin is what makes some peppers spicy, but it also contains anti-inflammatory, metabolism-boosting, and pain-relieving properties.
On top of that, guajillo chiles are an exceptional source of vitamin A, which is important for eye health.
How to Rehydrate Guajillo Chiles
- Kitchen shears
- Cast-iron skillet or comal
- 1 package guajillo 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 guajillos 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 guajillo salsa to pambazos 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.
🍽 Guajillo chile dishes
Being such a versatile chile, guajillos are included in all sorts of recipes ranging from moles to tortas. Some of our favorite dishes include:
- Tacos al pastor
- Guajillo sauce
- Chilaquiles rojos
- Enchiladas potosinas
- Enchiladas rojas
- Quesabirria tacos
- Pozole rojo
Your dried chiles should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark area (cupboards are always a good choice). To keep the flavors fresh and the bugs out, make sure they are stored in an airtight container or bag.
If you have to store them out in the open, make sure your container is opaque as the light will quickly degrade your chiles.
💰 Buying guide
If you’re interested in Mexican cuisine, you’re definitely going to want to keep your pantry stocked with guajillo chiles.
What to look for
When shopping for guajillo peppers, look for those that are still intact, pliable, and shiny. They should also have a deep red hue.
Try to avoid broken and brittle ones as this can indicate a diminished flavor. Also, packages with a lot of dust and holes in the chiles can mean insect damage.
Where to buy
The best place to find guajillo peppers is at a Mexican grocer if you live near one. If you don’t, you can purchase guajillo chiles on Amazon or other online stores.
Although not quite the same, there are a few chiles that share similar characteristics with guajillo chiles. Top choices for substitutions include:
- New Mexico. With notes of sweet dried cherries and a mild heat, New Mexico chiles would make a good guajillo pepper replacement if you pair them with a spicier pepper like chile de árbol.
- California. While more mild than guajillos, California chiles (dried Anaheims) are within the same flavor family and make a great substitution.
- Cascabel and pasilla (mixed). The cascabel chile is earthy, nutty, and a little smoky while the pasilla chile carries sweet, dried fruit notes. The flavor won’t be the exact same, but this combination will make a suitable replacement to any recipe calling for guajillo peppers.
If you aren’t able to find those substitutes, ancho chiles work. They are also probably the easiest variety to find outside of Mexico.
🌶 More Mexican chiles
If you’re interested in learning about more popular chiles used in Mexican cooking, check out our other detailed guides:
No, guajillo chiles are not smoked. If you’re looking for a chile with a smoky flavor, morita chiles will be a better choice.
If you can find and grow mirasol chiles, then yes! Depending on the climate you live in, you can either sun-dry the chiles or use a dehydrator.
If your guajillo chiles taste bitter, you may have toasted them too long. If they are burnt, the flavor will be quite bitter. Unfortunately, there is no way to fix this other than starting the recipe over.
Also, some people find the rehydrating liquid to be bitter. If a recipe calls for the rehydrating liquid and you don’t like the taste, replace it with vegetable broth or water.