Chilies are a holy grail in so many ethnic cuisines. There’s practically no Mexican food without some good chili.
According to the great explorer Bernardino de Sahagun, hot green chiles, smoked chiles, water chiles, tree chiles, flea chiles, and sharp-pointed red chiles make up the sacred cuisine of the Aztecs. This has been unchanged in that territory for centuries.
Among all these key ingredients, Guajillo is one of the most ancient ones. Its long path to worldwide popularity started with preserving them over the fire by smoking.
Today, we still use this traditional method. These peppers are rarely consumed raw, mostly dried.
Quite confusing, but fresh guajillo is called mirasol, and guajillo peppers refer to the dried version.
Although it started with the Aztecs, this chile pepper has been farmed in many different parts of the world: North Africa, Morocco, China, Peru, and Tunisia. ( * )
But its most peculiar usage definitely comes from the Aztecs; they paired it with cinnamon and cocoa to make a warm, fiery gulp.
If you’re not a native Mexican foodie, it’s easy to get lost in the chile assortment. So many names, colors, and heat levels. Especially with Guajillo, which is often not sold outside Mexico.
In that case, you must find viable guajillo substitutes for every recipe. How do you even start with this one?
Easy. Read our guide to the best guajillo pepper substitutes.
About Guajillo Chili Pepper
Consumed for hundreds of years, guajillo peppers are fancied by new chili consumers. This is due to several reasons.
First, it is comfortably mild compared to most chile peppers. Still, the taste is staggeringly complex.
You won’t just get some heat in your food, but a network of very delicate nutty, tea-like, and floral notes. When prepared correctly, you can taste some berry undertones as well. ( * )
They are almost always toasted, but moderately. However, you need to soak them longer as they tend to be leathery and tough.
Important Tip To Remember: Always remove the seeds, otherwise, they can turn the food bitter. Despite there being two different types of guajillo peppers, they don’t differ much in taste or spiciness.
Its lack of availability in many countries is baffling since it’s the second most popular chili in Mexican cuisine, and this type of gastronomy is one of the most popular globally.
They don’t just have capsaicin, providing heat, but a bunch of vitamin C and antioxidants.
So, how do we use it in the kitchen?
How is Guajillo used?
We turn to Guajillo when the recipe needs some background heat but nothing overpowering.
Its culinary range is amazing: tamales, mole sauces, salsa, paste, marinades, spice rubs, paired with fruits, served with fish or chicken, in enchiladas, and many more. ( * )
There are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Always cook them at least for 15 minutes.
- Remove the seeds to avoid bitterness.
- When burned a little, guajillo releases a fruity flavor.
- The peppers should be smooth and shiny, never wrinkled and dusty.
In rare cases, they are used raw, such as in enchiladas and Portales Style in San Miguel de Allende for a lighter flavor.
Most often, they are paired with other types of chile to create a more complex flavor profile, especially with mole sauce.
To give you an idea of its spiciness, Tabasco sauce has the same place on the heat scale as guajillo peppers. You can expect the same spiciness.
Learn more: What is the Hottest Pepper in the World?
Where to buy guajillo chiles
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s see how you can substitute for guajillo peppers like a pro.
The 9 Fiery Guajillo Pepper Substitutes
What you’ll need is simple: the complexity of flavors but not too hot in substance. Lucky you!
There are plenty of opportunities on the horizon to replace guajillo peppers.
1. Guajillo Flakes
Let’s start with the most obvious one: guajillo peppers are sold as seasoning flakes too. You have a much better chance of finding them at the supermarket than raw, whole peppers.
Yet, they are much bolder and sometimes have the seeds ground into the mix, making them slightly bitter.
Start slow, and gradually add some more if you need to.
The next substitute might confuse you. We’ve mentioned that raw guajillo is mirasol, but this mirasol is not the same!
2. Aji Mirasol Peppers
So let’s clear this up. Raw guajillo is a type of mirasol pepper. But dried mirasol is made from fresh Aji Amarillo.
It tastes like a combination of habanero and some red bell peppers. You can easily find them as mirasol paste, in a jar at most grocery stores, especially big ones.
They are a must for Peruvian food. The heat levels are roughly the same, just like the size and shape.
You probably know the next one by its popular name: New Mexico Chili.
3. Anaheim Peppers
They go by a lot of names: New Mexico chiles, Anaheim peppers, Hatch chili peppers, and California chili peppers. The mild heat and a hint of sweetness are a match, and so is the versatility.
You can easily find them in supermarkets. We love them for roasting, stuffing, and canning.
Eat them with a cheese plate, or fry them for Rellenos. They are very popular for a good reason.
Although slightly milder, they fit the criteria of not being too overpowering, hence making them a great guajillo substitute.
But when it comes to flavor, the next one is definitely a better match.
4. Pasilla Negro Peppers
Pasilla Negro Peppers are the closest to guajillo in taste. They can substitute each other in mole sauce, salsa, and, technically, any recipe.
They only reach Guajillo’s hotness in rare cases; they tend to be much lighter and sweeter. It’s missing some earthiness and tea undertones but still has that distinct berry-like taste.
You can incorporate them into soups, stews, and any sauce in place of guajillo. It’s quite popular in Mexican cuisine, but you might not find it in all supermarkets.
Unlike the next Guajillo substitute, which is EVERYWHERE:
5. Chipotle Peppers
If you’ve never heard of Chipotle you might have lived under a rock. They are smoked jalapeno peppers with a very distinct taste profile.
The heat levels are a good fit, and they give you some extra depth of flavor too. Although chipotles are medium heat, some of them can be quite hot.
It brings the same earthiness and smokiness and is best used in marinades, pods, sauces, soups, stews, and salsas.
The next Guajillo substitute can give a real kick to your food! We just love it.
6. Chile de Árbol
Culinary geeks are typically all over Chile de Arbol. For its floral notes, intense heat, and a unique blend of tastes.
They are much spicier than guajillo, so be careful! Especially when you buy them in whole flakes.
You can also count on them with a hint of smokiness.
The next guajillo substitute, ancho, is user-friendly, popular, and easy to find anywhere.
7. Ancho peppers
Ancho is a fruity, big, juicy pepper, good for providing complex flavors. Technically, they are dried poblano peppers.
They are best when fresh and are frequently carried by grocery stores. So much so, that most chili powders are actually made from ancho peppers.
The heat level is pretty mild; the taste is toasty, sweet, and earthy, with half the spiciness compared to guajillo.
We love them with meaty dishes; the more savory, the better. But you can mix them in any other recipe instead of guajillo too.
After this cool-kid type of pepper, the next one is a not-so-obvious choice.
Learn more: The Best Ancho Chili Substitutes
8. Cascabel Peppers
Have you ever heard of Cascabel? There’s a good chance you haven’t.
It looks like some kind of apple, also called rattle chile. It can be your absolute best guajillo substitute with its tea-earthy undertones, a nutty flavor, and a hint of woodiness.
Their heat levels are perfectly alike. Feel free to add cascabel to any dish that comes to mind.
And finally, our last guajillo substitute has nothing to do with Mexican cuisine. Still, they are a good match.
9. Korean Gochugaru
Our most surprising suggestion is using Korean gochugaru to replace the guajillo peppers. It’s just plain crushed red pepper flakes, best paired with some Arbol chile to complete the taste profile.
As opposed to other peppers on our list, you can use the seeds too without making the meal bitter. Yet, the heat levels have a much wider range, from mild to hot.
There’s a touch of sweetness to it and some fiery edge. Although it comes from Korean cooking, you can easily use it for Mexican dishes too.
As you see, there’s no need to worry about some lack of guajillo. As usual, we’ve given you plenty of options, ranging from the perfect match to an alterable change of taste.
Still, we can give you some final tips and useful facts on the way out.
Learn more: The Best Korean Gochugaru Substitutes
The Bottom Line
Even culinary experts can get lost in the sea of peppers and chiles and their interchanging names. Still, some general guides can help you navigate.
Smoking or charring peppers always enhances flavors. Go this route when you’re making sauces, salsas, and marinades.
When you want to blend them into dishes, oven-bake the peppers first. You’ll get a fine, caramelized tone, and they will taste much stronger without extra heat.
One thing you can never skip is checking the spiciness first. Never add chili peppers to your dish blindly.
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