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The Holy Trinity: The Best Dried Chiles For Cooking | Ole Rico

The Holy Trinity: The Best Dried Chiles For Cooking

Dried peppers are a key ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Many traditional meals wouldn’t be the same without them. What is Mole, Enchiladas Mexicanas or Pozole without the sauce base of ancho and guajillo chiles. Fresh peppers are great for adding color, crunch and heat to a dish but dried versions offer the most delicious and complex flavors, from smoky to spicy, to citrusy and earthy. Many of the dried peppers are mild, and they are used to add flavor and texture to a dish rather than adding spiciness to it. In Mexican cuisine, it’s traditional to use combinations of chiles to make abuelita’s famous salas and fingerlicking dishes. Traditional combinations include the Holy Trinity of Chiles: Ancho, Arbol and Guajillo. Here’s a guide to help you shop for them and make the most of them in your kitchen.

Arbol: Arbol chiles are a small yet potential chili pepper found in Mexico, which is also termed as bird’s beak chile or rat's tail. These peppers mature from green to red and retain their bright color when dried. They are approximately 2-3 inches in length. This small and thin Mexican pepper has a smoky grassy characteristic with an acidic heat, that is about six times hotter than a jalaeño pepper. They have a very bright and clean heat which can enhance the flavor of the foods. Even the bright red color makes this chile a great ingredient for garnishing and crafting. Arbol Chile Peppers are good for spicing your food. They can be used to add spice and heat in salsa, chili, and hot sauces. You only need to add a few pieces of the arbol chile pepper to add heat to your food.

Use of Arbol Peppers

The Arbol Chile peppers can also be sold dried, fresh, or powdered. The dried chilies are often used to make ristras, and chile wreaths due to their deep red color. Make sure to buy the peppers that have the stem attached, are fluffy and not flat, and the skin is a little thicker. The arbol is a versatile chile. It goes with everything, and it’s flavor changes depending on how it is handled -- toasting and frying it before soaking it, for example, intensifies its heat and nutty qualities. Most chefs believe that the arbol chile peppers are in the same group with the cayenne pepper and can easily replace the cayenne pepper when preparing meals. These chilies are very hot and should be handled with care. It’s always good to wash your hands after handling them. Arbol Chile Peppers are good for spicing your food. They can be used to add spice and heat in salsa, chili, and hot sauces. You only need to add a few pieces of the arbol chile pepper to add heat to your food.

SCOVILLE RATING: 15,000-65,000

Ancho Chile: The Ancho Chile is one of the most popular ingredients in Mexican cuisine. This reddish-brown chili pepper is approximately 4 inches long and 3 inches wide and grown in the State of Puebla Mexico. Ancho chiles are ripened poblano peppers that have been dried. The Poblanos are usually harvested while still fresh and green, dried and grounded into Chile Ancho. Its mild (1,000-2,000 Scoville heat units if you want to get technical) and smoky flavor is common among Mexican and Southwestern cooking. At first glance, the chile on its own can be described as a giant raisin, mostly from its wrinkly skin texture. The ancho is a slightly sweet mild dried Chile with a smell very similar to raisins. It has a lot of flesh which gives sauces and salsas a good body. Sauces prepared with anchos have a rich, deep red color which looks beautiful on a plate. Anchos add a lot of flavor to a dish but little-to-medium heat. If you are new to cooking with dried chiles, this ons is a good one to start with.

Like previously mentioned, ancho chile peppers are a variety of dried chili pepper popularly known as Poblanos. These chili peppers are available all year round and are harvested before ripening and dried. As they ripen, they turn red. Ancho Chile Peppers are used in cooking to add their typical mild heat in cuisine. When ripened, however, these chili peppers produce a sweeter taste instead.

Use of Ancho Peppers

Poblanos are dried into Ancho Chile Peppers and can, therefore, be stored and used for a longer period of time. Ancho Chiles can be used in two ways. One of the most common ways of using Ancho Chile Peppers is by soaking them in hot water, usually for about 30 minutes to restore them. Once rehydrated, the chiles can be deseeded and stuffed as an entree or pureed in a food processor for easy use. Alternatively, they can be ground and directly used in cooking. Using them pureed evenly distributes their flavor in the dish. When properly stored under airtight conditions or in a freezer, they can last up to a year long.


Guajillo: Guajillo Chiles are dried, shiny, leathery, deep red chiles used throughout Mexico as a base for rich salsas and sauces. Measuring approximately 3-½ to 4 inches in length and about ¾ inches wide, chile Guajillo gives a beautiful red color to many caldos and stews. They are bright, tangy, and spicy-sweet. They add a complex fruity flavor with bland to moderate amounts of heat. Guajillo chiles are the most commonly grown chiles in Mexico, and are sold whole, dried. Its green tea flavor with berry tones and sweet heart is perfect to make salsa for tamales or other salsas, pastes, butters, and rubs to flavor all kinds of meats and chickens; soups and stews. Guajillo chilies add a savory tomato and is a great base flavor for use in combination with cumin, oregano, chipotles and can be used to make a bolder chile paste for sauces or for the start of your dish.

Use of Guajillo Peppers

Guajillo chile peppers are mild to medium hot. As one of the main ingredients in many Mexican dishes, they are commonly used to create flavor in different types of meats, including chicken. Whole guajillo chiles are customarily dry toasted in a skillet before being pureed into a thin paste. Guajillo puree has a dynamically fruity flavor, redolent of cranberry and tomato, with a hint of smokiness. Before use, Guajillo chile peppers are seeded. The peppers are dried and made into a thin paste that is then mixed with salt to make a thick, red sauce full of flavor. They are then soaked then pulverized to make them into a thin paste. Guajillo is a popular chile pepper for meal marinades, mole sauce, pozole, chili con carne, tortilla soup, and homemade salsas. It combines well with other chiles and tomatoes without overpowering them with spice or smokiness. 

SCOVILLE RATING: 2,500-5,000

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