Guajillo chiles are an essential component in many Mexican dishes. However, they are not always the easiest to find. If you find yourself in need of but without Guajillo chiles, we have some great alternatives that may save the day, or at least the dish.
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What is Guajillo Chile?
Guajillo chile is a dried version of the Mirasol chile and is commonly used in Mexican cuisine. It’s a medium-sized pepper, measuring about four to six inches, with a deep red color and a sweet, smoky taste.
The Scoville heat unit (SHU) range is 2,500 to 5,000, making it comparable to a jalapeño pepper, though slightly milder and with a more complex flavor profile.
While it is most commonly purchased as a dried red pepper, you can also get it in powder and crushed form.
How are Guajillo Chile Peppers Commonly Used?
The unique taste and deep red color of guajillo chiles make it a popular choice for a wide range of Mexican dishes, including enchilada sauces, tamales, pozole, and others. It is also part of the “Holy Trinity of Mexican Peppers” used to make authentic mole sauces (with the other two being ancho and pasilla peppers).
Substitutes for Guajillo Chiles
1. Pasilla Chile Peppers
Pasilla chile peppers are dried chilaca peppers. They’re similar in appearance to guajillo chiles, with a long shape and dark, wrinkled skin. The name “pasilla” means little raisin in Spanish.
Like guajillo chiles, pasillas are another pepper in the “Holy Trinity of Mexican Peppers” used to make authentic mole.
While they are milder than guajillo chiles with a SHU range of 500 to 2,500, I think their taste is the closest to guajillo chiles of all the alternatives.
If you’re looking for the closest match to guajillo chiles, I would substitute pasilla on a 1:1 ratio and add a little bit of cayenne powder to bring the heat level up if needed. Just be careful with the cayenne as a little bit goes a long way.
2. Ancho Chile Peppers
Ancho chiles are dried, ripened poblano peppers and one of the most popular types of chiles in Mexico. Unlike Poblanos, which have a green color in their unripened state, anchos have a deep red color that occurs during ripening.
Anchos are also in the “Holy Trinity of Mexican Peppers” used to make authentic mole as are pasillas and guajillos.
Similar to guajillos, anchos are dried and are similar in size and taste. However, anchos have less heat with a SHU range of 1,000 to 2,000 SHU.
Given their similarities, I would substitute on a 1:1 ratio. Anchos could be a good way to reduce the heat if you want to keep the flavor but tame the dish down. If you’re looking to match the heat of guajillo peppers you can add a pinch of cayenne pepper with the anchos. However, add slowly and taste frequently to make sure you get the right taste and heat.
3. California Chiles (Dried New Mexico Chiles)
California Chiles are dried Anaheim peppers and make a great substitute for guajillo chiles, as they both have similar taste, size and texture.
With a SHU range of 500 to 1,000 units, California chiles are more mild.
If you want the same taste with a little more heat, you can also try Dried New Mexico Chiles. These come from the types of pepper plants but differences in soil tend to make the New Mexican variety slightly spicier with a SHU range of 800 to 1,400.
Regardless of whether you go with the California or New Mexican variety, their sweet and earthy flavor make a great substitute for guajillo chiles.
4. Cascabel Chiles
Cascabel chiles are small dried Mexican peppers that have a deep red color that resemble shriveled cherries. They tend to make a unique rattling sound when shaken, which is the loose seeds moving around in the dried pods.
With a SHU range of 1,000 to 3,000, cascabel peppers are slightly milder than guajillo chiles. While not as sweet, cascabels have an earthy, nutty flavor that will work as a good alternative when in a pinch.
I would substitute them on a 1:1 ratio.
5. Puya Chiles
As with guajillo chiles, puya chiles are also dried mirasol chile peppers. However, puya chiles are made with the red-hot variety, which makes them smaller and more spicy with a range of 5,000 to 8,000 SHU. Since they originate from the same type of pepper, puya chiles have a similar flavor and texture to guajillo chiles.
If you want to tone down the heat, mix with paprika and substitute the combined mixture on a 1:1 ratio. The ratio of puya to paprika depends on the dish and your own heat tolerance but equal parts of each would work well.
6. Chipotle Chiles
Chipotle chiles are jalapeño peppers that have been dried and smoked. The peppers are left on the vine to ripen, which increases the heat. After they’re dried, chipotle peppers resemble guajillo chiles in texture, shape, appearance, and most importantly taste.
They have a smoky, earthy flavor and a SHU range of 2,500 to 8,000. While definitely more spicy than guajillo, chipotle chiles are a good alternative to substitute with most dishes on a 1:1 ratio. If you are concerned about the heat you can either use less or you can mix with a less spicy alternative.
7. Paprika Powder
Paprika powder is a spice made from dried red peppers. If you have a recipe that requires ground guajillo chiles, you may use powder in its place. However, this won’t work as well in recipes that call for diced or chopped chiles.
Paprika powder has a SHU range of 250 to 1,000 SHU making it significantly milder than guajillo chiles. This makes paprika a good way to reduce the heat in your dish.
If you want to keep the heat and add some texture, try mixing with a spicier pepper such as the chipotle or puya. If you want to add more heat but are not concerned about texture, try a dash of cayenne.
8. Cayenne Pepper Powder
Cayenne powder is a hot chili powder made from ground red cayenne peppers that can be used in a pinch. I would recommend the other alternatives discussed over ground cayenne due to the difference in heat. The benefit to cayenne powder as an alternative is that it is a very common spice in most kitchens and can work if needed.
Cayenne pepper has a SHU rating of 40,000 to 60,000 units. It’s a high-heat powder that can easily add a kick of spice to any recipe. Use about a quarter-teaspoon of cayenne pepper for each teaspoon of guajillo chiles.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Guajillo Chile Taste Like?
Guajillo chile has a slightly fruity flavor with smoky, earthy undertones. It’s also mild to medium on the Scoville heat scale, so the spiciness isn’t incredibly intense.
Where Do Guajillo Chiles Come From?
Guajillo chiles are native to Mexico and are mostly produced in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. The chiles are dried from mirasol peppers.
What are the “Mexican Holy Trinity” of Peppers?
The “Mexican Holy Trinity” of peppers consists of the ancho, guajillo, and pasillo peppers that are most commonly used in mole sauces.
Final Thoughts on Substitutes for Guajillo Chiles
While guajillo chiles are an important part to many recipes, all is not lost if you find yourself without this ingredient as there are plenty of alternatives that can be used either to just get you to the finish line or to intentionally change the heat or flavor profile of a dish. We hope you find this list helpful!
For more helpful substitutions check out the below articles:
Top 10 Substitutes for Anaheim Peppers
Top 10 Substitutes for Jalapeño Peppers