What’s a Good Pasilla Pepper Substitute? | The Definitive Guide

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You want to impress your guests with your planned Mexican meal. 

As you gather the ingredients, you realize the pasilla pepper is missing from your spice collection!

Sifting through your spices, you wonder what a good substitute for pasilla pepper could be. Will it be similar in taste? Will the chili heat be enough or too hot?

Don’t worry; Mexican cuisine uses an array of delicious spices to give their meals the authentic taste we love.

Let’s explore the best pasilla pepper alternatives to ensure your dinner party succeeds.

What is Pasilla Pepper?

Pasilla pepper, also known as pasilla negro chile, is a dried version of chilaca pepper.  Like several peppers, it belongs to the Capsaicin annum species. 

When dry, it resembles a raisin due to its dark reddish-brown and wrinkled skin. Hence, pasilla literally means “little raisin.”

This pepper is part of the “holy trinity” of spices essential in traditional Mexican mole.  Other spices that join the trinity are ancho and guajillo.

As for the heat factor, pasilla pepper ranges between 500 – 2500 Scoville Scale units and has a smokey meets earthy taste with fruity berry notes.  

In particular, it pairs well with red meat, seafood, pork, honey, and fruit. Also, it balances the bitter cocoa taste in dark chocolate with its berry undertones.

Add a generous sprinkling to the orange-based marinade if you are a duck fan. The berry notes enhance the citrus flavor, and the subtle chili kick completes the dish.

For vegetarians and vegans, it adds a spicey fruitiness to stuffed mushrooms and roast sweet potato soup.  

Pasilla pepper is less common in your local grocery spice aisle. However, it can be easily purchased online.  

7 Best Pasilla Pepper Subsitutes. Discover the Perfect Alternative for your Dish

Quick Reference Scoville Scale Units

  • Pasilla Pepper 500 – 2500
  • Ancho 1000 – 2000
  • Guajillo Peppers 2500 – 5000
  • Pasilla de Oaxaca 15 000 – 20 000
  • Casabel Chili 1000 – 2500
  • Pimento Pepper 500 – 1000
  • Poblano Peppers 500 – 2500
  • Jalapeno Peppers 2500 – 8000

Best Dried Pasilla Pepper Substitutes

Ancho Chili 

We begin with the first “holy trinity” member. Ancho chili has a pleasant smokiness with a subtle fruity “raisin-like” undertone. Also, there is a slight resemblance to paprika.

The Scoville heat scale is slightly lower, ranging between 1000 – 2000 units. It is relatively easy to find in grocery stores and Mexican specialty stores. 

Ancho is delicious in white and red meat marinades, soups, sauces, stews, and vegetables.

We recommended a 1:2 ratio to accommodate the lower heat factor.

Guajillo Peppers 

Guajillo pepper is the second “holy trinity” member and the spiciest of the three. The Scoville scale ranges vastly between 2500 – 5000 heat units. In some cases, it can go up to 8000 units.

It has a slightly sweet and tangy flavor with undertones of berry and pine. Certainly, the berry notes align well with pasilla pepper. 

Yet, it offers a less smokey flavor and sweetness. That said, some have detected hints of smokiness and tea.

This spice pairs well with red meat, chicken, pork, and fish. It enhances vegetables, sauces, soups, and stews. Also, it makes an excellent condiment for a chili fix on the run. 

Lastly, guajillo is the way to go if you need a pasilla pepper substitute for a decadent dark chocolate dessert. It’s delicious!

We suggest a 1:1 ratio if you are ok with a little extra heat. If not, start with half the amount and add if necessary.

Learn more: Guajillo Chile Substitute

Cascabel Chili 

Cascabel chilis are small, round, and dark burgundy with a smokey, earthy, and nutty flavor. 

There may be a lack of “fruitiness .”Yet, the nuttiness brings a unique and pleasant taste. 

The heat factor meets pasilla, ranging between 1000 – 2500 Scoville scale units. Therefore, we suggest a 1:1 ratio.

We love roasted tomato salsa, and cascabel chili enhances the sweet and refreshing flavor. 

Serve this salsa alongside your favorite guacamole and tortilla chips as a snack or starter.  

Hot Tip:

When roasting your tomatoes, let them slightly “catch” (just before they burn). Doing so enriches the smokey and nutty flavor.

Pasilla de Oaxaca

Pasilla de Oaxaca is closely related to the pasilla pepper with a much higher heat punch. 

On the Scoville scale, it ranges between a whopping 15 000 – 20 000 heat units. 

This spice is a dark burgundy meets black, with a rich smokey flavor and fruity notes. 

Pasilla de Oaxaca pairs well with meat and vegetables, especially in stir-fry and fresh Mexican salsa or salad.

In addition, it enhances the flavor of sauces, soups, and stews.  It offers a similar flavor to pasilla pepper, with a sharp bite. Yet, not overwhelming.  

We suggest you start with a quarter of the amount and taste your meal while cooking.

Best Fresh Pasilla Pepper Substitutes

Pimento Pepper 

If you want a low-heat pasilla pepper substitute, pimento pepper is a fantastic choice.  

The Scoville scale rating ranges between 500 – 1000 units. For this reason, pimento peppers offer a more “peppery” heat. 

Pimento pepper, also known as “cherry peppers,” are similar to red bell peppers but slightly smaller. It has a sweet flavor with enticing clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon aromas.  

Typically, fresh pimento is pickled to use as condiments on cheese platters and sandwiches, and mixed into cream cheese dips, to name a few.

That said, you can use the dried version in your meal. We recommend adding 4-6 finely diced fresh pimento peppers to every teaspoon of pasilla. 

Certainly, your meal will have exceptional color and flavor, but the chili heat will be absent.

Hot Tip:  finely dice guajillo or ancho pepper with fresh garlic and parsley. Cover with extra-virgin olive oil and serve it as a condiment to add heat to your dish.  

Poblano Peppers 

When dried, poblano peppers are called ancho.  However, the flavor is less complex than ancho, with an earthy, garden-fresh taste. Similar to the green bell pepper with a touch more kick.

You can finely dice it and add it to a cooked meal. Certainly, the flavor is there with the heat factor aligned with pasilla, ranging between 500 – 2500 Scoville units.  

We recommend you add half a diced fresh poblano pepper to your meal. If the heat is insufficient, chop the other half to garnish your dish.

Hot Tip:

Poblano peppers make a delicious meal when stuffed with a spicy rice, vegetable, or meat mix.  

Learn more: Poblano pepper substitute?

Jalapeno Peppers 

We are all familiar with Jalapeno peppers, and they make an excellent pasilla pepper substitute.  Also, they are readily available in several grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

While the heat factor ranges from 2500 – 8000 Scoville units, you can adjust this by removing the pith and seeds for lower heat.

Jalapeno peppers have a mildly smokey and earthy flavor. Although it does lack fruity notes, it aligns with the smokey flavor of pasilla with a catchy chili bite.

If you like a more decisive chili kick, we recommend you add one finely sliced jalapeno with the pith and seeds intact to your meal. 

For the heat-sensitive palate, remove the pith and seeds before dicing.

As with poblano pepper, if you feel the heat is lacking, dice another jalapeno to use as a garnish.


Final Spicy Thoughts

We understand it can be challenging to replicate a meal you love preparing and serving when an essential ingredient is missing.

The beauty of Mexican cuisine is the array of exciting and aromatic spices. There is always room to play and create a delicious and spicy taste sensation.  

So, what is a good substitute for pasilla pepper for your meal? Let your guests give feedback on your chosen option, and let us know!

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