Are pasilla peppers hot?

Pasilla Vs. Poblano: PepperScale Showdown

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A case of mistaken identity, times two…

For two chili peppers that look truly nothing alike, there’s a lot of confusion that surrounds pasilla and poblano peppers. Supermarkets, in fact, often mislabel pasillas as poblanos (and vice versa), but how can that be the case when they look so different? Why is the long and wrinkly dried pasilla sometimes mils-labeled as the wide and fleshy fresh poblano? And beyond the visual mis-identity, are there any taste reasons why this could be? Do they share similar flavor and heat profiles? We examine this and more in another PepperScale Showdown.

  • Pasilla Pepper
  • Poblano Pepper

These chilies look so different. Why are they sometimes mislabeled?

It’s true. When you look at the true chili pepper types by actual names, then there’s really no good reason why a pasilla should ever be mislabeled. The pasilla is a narrow dried chili that starts life as a fresh chilaca pepper. The poblano is a fresh chili that’s nearly as wide as a bell pepper. So where’s the confusion?

It typically lies in what the poblano becomes when dried. Ancho peppers. As anchos, poblanos share a similar enough look to pasilla chilies for the confusion to take hold. Both are dark and wrinkly, but there are tells. Pasilla tend to be longer and slimmer with a deeper shade of brownish-black. Anchos tend to be much wider and stouter, while featuring tints of dark red among the browns of the dried chili’s skin.

So there’s confusion times two here. First the produce vendor – who is likely unaware that poblanos when dried go by another name – thinks of anchos as simply “dried poblanos”. Then the true mistaken identity occurs when the pasilla and ancho are easily mistook for each other due to looks. The aftermath is a dried chili labeled “poblano” that’s nowhere near correct.

When you see fresh poblanos labelled as pasilla peppers, it’s again misidentification with likely a similar root cause. The produce vendor is assuming the poblano is the fresh version of pasilla, not knowing they come from the less-widely-known chilaca chilies. The thin and curvy chilaca and the wide meaty poblano look nothing alike, but the dried chili confusion produces the mistaken identity.

So which is hotter? Poblano or pasilla (or ancho for that matter?)

Let’s get to the good stuff. In terms of heat…well these are all very mild chilies. Anyone in your family can handle the very mild sizzle delivered by this group of peppers.

Poblano peppers range from 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units, two to eight times milder than a jalapeño. Pasillas range from 1,000 to 2,500 SHU which gives them potential for near equal heat to the mildest possible jalapeño, but it, too, can be up to eight times milder. Ancho peppers, as dried poblanos, share the same Scoville heat range, but since they are dried when they reach full red maturity, anchos will tend towards the upper end of their heat scale. They tend to beat out their fresh poblano alternative for overall spiciness.

The taste: How do these chilies differ?

As a fresh pepper that’s typically eaten when green, the poblano has a very different flavor profile than either the pasilla or ancho. They have a rich, earthy flavor and, due to their thick walls similar to bell peppers, a very meaty texture. The ancho and pasilla are closer in flavor profiles since they are both dried. Pasilla – which means “little raisin” in Spanish – tastes unsurprisingly like raisins, earthy and sweet with a hint of smoky cocoa. Anchos tend to be slightly sweeter, but share a similar earthiness and smokiness, with a little touch of coffee bean to boot.

And their uses? When do you use a poblano? When a pasilla or ancho?

Poblanos are delicious as a bell pepper alternative. It can be used fresh in salads, salsa, and sandwiches. But it’s likely most well-known as a top-of-the-line chili for stuffed pepper recipes. Its thick walls keep their shape and don’t easily tear when stuffed. Pasilla and ancho often serve similar culinary purposes. In fact, both are part of the holy trinity of chili peppers which are used in traditional Mexican mole sauces. Both are also delicious, too, when rehydrated for soups, hot sauces, and hot pepper jellies.

So which is more common at grocers?

Poblanos and anchos are more common overall (both U.S. and globally), but pasillas are very common, too, especially in the West and Southwest of the United States. Both pasilla and ancho are widely available online. But review what you’re buying carefully. Oftentimes you’ll find packages labelled “ancho pasilla” which just adds to the confusion between these chilies.

Can you use any of these chilies as substitutes for each other?

Let’s put the poblano to the side. As a fresh pepper, it’s simply not a substitute for the earthy and smoky flavor typical in dried chilies. Pasillas and anchos can definitely be substituted for one another, and that’s just another reason why the confusion can be so thick. The flavor profile of the dried chilies is close enough that – for many – it’d be tough to tell the difference once used in a recipe. Given that – this minor ancho/pasilla confusion for most is likely a non-issue. But for those of us that revel in the unique flavors of the pepper scale, it’s a confusion that’s well worth defining.

Photo by: Leslie Seaton CC 2.0

Pasilla Peppers: All About Them

The pasilla pepper is the dried form of the chilaca pepper. The name translates to “little raisin”, and it is also known as pasilla bajio or chile negro. Learn more about them from ChiliPepperMadness.com.

Scoville Heat Units: 250 – 3,999 SHU
Capsicum Annuum

Pasilla or “little raisin” properly refers to the dried chilaca pepper. The chilaca, when fresh, is also known as pasilla bajio, or as the chile negro or “Mexican negro” because, while it starts off dark green, it ends up dark brown. It typically grows from 8 to 10 inches long.

How Hot are Pasilla Peppers?

Pasilla peppers have a bit of a heat range, though they are not overly hot. The peppers range from 250 to 3,999 Scoville Heat Units on the Scoville Scale. Compare this to the popular jalapeno pepper, which averages about 5,000 SHU, and you’ll find the pasilla pepper ranges from 20 to 1.25 times milder.

Pasilla Peppers vs. Ancho Peppers

The pasilla pepper should not be confused with the ancho pepper. The ancho is the dried version of the poblano pepper that growers and grocers frequently mislabel as the pasilla in the United States. The darker anchos ARE also sometimes known as chile negro – thus generating much confusion – but they are not the same as the pasilla peppers.

Learn more about ancho peppers here.

Pasilla Pepper Flavor

Featuring a rich smoky taste and earthy flavor, the pasilla often turns up in dried whole form or as a powder in Mexican salsas as well as in mole sauces and adobo sauces. The pasilla can even create an interesting twist in the flavor and appearance of the standard red chili enchilada sauce. It is also a favorite in combination with fruits or accompanying duck, seafood, lamb, mushrooms, garlic, fennel, honey or oregano.

Learn More About These Other Mexican Peppers

  • Ancho Peppers
  • Chile de Arbol Peppers
  • Chipotle Peppers
  • Cascabel Peppers
  • Guajillo Peppers
  • Morita Peppers
  • Mulato Peppers
  • Pasilla Peppers
  • Puya Peppers

Where Can I Buy Pasilla Peppers?

Pasilla peppers can often be found at local grocery stores near the fresh produce section or in the Mexican section, if they have one. You can also find them at local Mexican grocers.

Or, buy pasilla peppers at Amazon (affiliate link, my friends).

Got any questions? Contact me anytime. — Mike H.

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Ancho or Pasilla? Navigating Chile Pepper Chaos

Most peppers are a variety of a single species (Capsicum annuum), but like dogs, chile peppers exhibit amazing variety within the species. That’s great for Chowhounds, who enjoy experiencing the subtle differences in flavor and heat among the many varieties. Peppers develop local variation very easily, says paulj, and they then hybridize to form even more variety. But that variability can lead to confusion. “In traditional parts of Mexico (e.g. Oaxaca, Chiapas), local chiles could vary from village to village, along with names and linguistic dialects,” says paulj.

Dried chiles for use in Mexican cuisine can be particularly hard to tell apart, especially for people just learning the cuisine. There are two dried chiles that look particularly alike: the ancho (the dried version of the poblano pepper) and the pasilla (the dried version of the chilaca pepper). To add to the confusion, both dried peppers are frequently mislabeled, with the names used interchangeably by producers, says JuniorBalloon.

The best way to tell the difference, regardless of the label, is that the ancho pepper has a subtle reddish tinge to it, and the pasilla is more brown to black, says neoredpill. They are both mild, but the ancho has a sweeter flavor distinct from that of the pasilla. “Ancho chiles are certainly more common and widely used in this country, but pasilla is used for authentic mole sauce,” says neoredpill. “Truthfully, most people would never know the difference, which is why marketers get away with the mislabeling of ancho chiles as pasilla.”

qbnboy90 agrees with the color and flavor characterization. The color difference is barely noticeable unless you’re looking for it, he says, but the black/red difference becomes especially pronounced when the chiles are cooked in a sauce. For those new to Mexican cooking, try making two dishes: “one with just ancho, and another with just pasilla using the same recipe as a base and compare, you’ll see the difference,” qbnboy90 recommends.

Discuss: What’s the real difference between ancho and pasilla chile peppers?

Chili Pasilla (whole)

The pasilla chili is a dried chilaca chili with a herby aroma and licorice-like notes. Traditionally used in making the famous ‘mole’ sauce.

Pasilla (pah-SEE-yah) refers to the dried form of the long and narrow chilaca pepper.

Warning: In the United States producers often incorrectly use pasilla to describe the poblano, a different, wider variety of pepper whose dried form is called an ancho Both ancho (dried poblano) and pasilla (dried chilaca) are from the species capsicum annuum, but they are different varieties, not just shapes. Ancho is a little more reddish in color, pasilla more brown/black. They are similar in terms of heat (both mild), but ancho is perhaps slightly sweeter. Ancho chiles are certainly more common and widely used in the United States, but pasilla is used for authentic mole sauce. Most people would never know the difference, which is why marketers get away with the mislabelling of ancho chiles as pasilla.

There are literally hundreds of different chilies, all of which descend from the original ones discovered by the Spanish when they found the Americas.

Prior to this chilies were unknown to the rest of the world.

The warming bite and delicious capsicum taste of chili was warmly embraced by nearly every nation on earth, thus we find some form of capsicum or chili in nearly every cuisine.

Dried chilies have a very different flavor to fresh ones, as upon drying a caramelization of the sugars takes place which creates a delicious, robust taste not found in fresh chilies, in the same way a sun-dried tomato has a more complex flavor profile than a fresh one.

Heat level – 4/10.

Other Common Names: Aji

Botanical Names: (Capsicum annum)

Health Benefits: All Chili peppers contain capsaicin. The amount of capsaicin is relative to the heat of the Chili pepper. The more pronounced the heat, the more capsaicin. Pasilla chilies have low heat. Capsaicin is considered highly anti-inflammatory and may benefit those suffering from inflammatory disorders, such as arthritis osteoarthritis, psoriasis, shingles and diabetic neuropathy. Capsaicin is also commonly considered a beneficial adjunct to a healthy lifestyle in cardiovascular function, increasing circulation, as well as an appetite suppressant and metabolism booster. Peppers also contain free-radical fighting properties, which may help to maintain a youthful complexion, and prevent cellular damage that can lead to disease. Chilies are also an excellent source of antioxidants Vitamins: A and C, as well as Vitamin K.

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