In Mexico, there are many popular and widely used chiles. You have likely heard of ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers. But have you heard of pasilla?
Pasilla chile peppers are the dried form of the chilaca pepper. This Capsicum annuum variety is long and slender, ripening to a deep green, almost brown color. They are then dried to become what is known as pasilla, or chile negro.
In this article, I’ll go over the basics of pasilla chiles, including the flavor, aroma, and many uses in the kitchen. I’ll also share how you can grown your own peppers to make homemade pasilla peppers. Let’s get started!
What Are Pasilla Peppers?
To reiterate, pasilla peppers are the dried form of chilaca peppers, a chile variety that grows to 8-10″ long. It ripens from a deep green color to a brown color. The peppers are most commonly available in their dried form.
The name ‘pasilla’ comes from the Spanish word ‘pasas,’ which means raisins. Pasilla peppers have a similar flavor and aroma to that of raisins. Both are dehydrated (raisins are dehydrated grapes), and both have a sweet, tangy flavor that are comparable.
Pasilla chiles are a key ingredient in many Mexican cuisine, from mole sauces, to salsas, and as a seasoning. The dried chiles add a delicious depth of flavor that compliments a variety of dishes.
Pasilla chiles are often mistakenly confused with poblano/ancho peppers, but these two varieties are different. However, they do share a similar flavor when dried, and a similar heat level, averaging around 1,000 SHUs.
Pasilla Pepper Flavor and Heat
As the name implies, pasillas are sweet and a bit tangy. However, unlike raisins, pasillas also have some smokiness to them, and a touch of spicy heat.
On their own, they aren’t very appetizing, but as a complimentary spice, they are incredible. The sweet, tangy bite to the chiles comes through beautifully when paired with fresh tomatoes and onions, or when added to soups, stews, and sauces.
I find the heat level of pasillas to be just right when you only want to add a mild tingle, and not overwhelm the palate. Pasilla peppers come in just around 1,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale which is certainly not very spicy.
Pasilla Pepper Uses
In Mexican cuisine, pasilla peppers are a staple ingredient. They are essential in moles, salsas, and table sauces. If you’ve ever had authentic salsa negra and wondered what made it so delicious, it was probably thanks in part to pasilla peppers.
These peppers are usually bought dried and whole, but can also be found powdered. If you live in or near Mexico, chances are you can also find fresh pods. However, dried chiles take on a new flavor profile that is preferred to the fresh fruits.
Mole sauce is a rich, flavorful dark sauce used for pollo en mole (chicken in mole), and is often added to various other meats. It can also be added to tacos, enchiladas, or mixed with rice and beans. Other common uses include soups and stews, or as part of a dry spice blend.
One of my all time favorite salsas we have ever created here at Pepper Geek includes powdered pasilla chiles. It was the secret ingredient that unlocked a truly great salsa!
Pasilla Pepper Substitutes
If your recipe calls for pasilla peppers, you may have a hard time finding them on the fly. I’d recommend calling any local specialty grocery stores to see if they have any, as there isn’t any one perfect alternative.
Here are a couple ideas on how to replace pasilla peppers:
- Ancho chile. Ancho pepper is the dehydrated form of poblano peppers. The pods are a different shape, but they share a similar, raisin-like flavor, and also a similar, low heat level.
- Raisins. Given that the name of pasillas comes from the Spanish word for raisins, they may just work as a substitute. This may also be the perfect replacement if you don’t want your dish to be spicy.
- Poblanos or bell peppers. While the fresh pods won’t add the same flavor, they will work in a pinch.
Grow Your Own Pasilla Chiles
While you technically can’t grow pasilla chiles, as they are the dried version, you can grow Chilaca peppers. The process is as easy as growing any other C. annuum pepper variety, such as jalapenos or banana peppers.
Depending on where you live, it may be easiest to find pasilla/chilaca pepper seeds rather than young plants. You’ll have to start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date and move the plants outside to mature and form the peppers.
I hope this article has inspired you to either grow your own pasillas, or at least try some dried pasilla peppers at home. I am a big fan of the pasilla pepper, with its unique flavor and mild heat, and I think you will be too!