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Jan 29, 2009 05:53 AM

A Quick Chile Question

Are dried ancho chiles the same thing as dried pasilla chiles?

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  1. No: anchos are wide, pasillas are narrow & pointy. Anchos are dried poblanos, if I'm not mistaken.

    1. While I agree with HC, it looks like there's no clear right or wrong answer here. Pasilla "refers to more than one variety of chile" according to Wikipedia.

      1. I think what's adding to my confusion is that I have a package of dried Orale brand Chile Pasilla, and a bag of dried Ancho chiles that I got from the Mexican market. The Ancho chiles were bagged "in bulk," with the only identification being a sign on the bin that held them in the store. The two look and smell very similar; the only difference I can see is that my Pasilla chiles are a little shorter than the anchos. They're both dark with a "raisiny" texture and woody stems. I guess though, the more important question is, can either be used in a chile powder, or is either one better suited for sauces or salsas?

        And I thought this would be a quick question with a quick answer.

        20 Replies
        1. re: CindyJ

          "And I thought this would be a quick question with a quick answer."

          Exactly! ;-)

          Pasilla = little raisin according to Wiki.

          I don't think you're confused, there just appear to be similar names/descriptions for different things: pasilla negro, pasilla do Oaxaca (smoked), and pasilla ancho/poblano.

          Pasilla chile as I know them when I see them in the store are often the pasilla negro. Ancho chile is certainly a dried poblano, and while I've not seen them referred to as pasilla before, they certainly appear to be able to carry that moniker.

          So to answer your final question, they can most certainly be used in a chile powder. Any dried chile can be used in a chili powder. Be aware that some chiles have dirt or sand on them and when you grind them all that sand is dispersed in with the powder so check that out before you grind them up.

            1. re: HaagenDazs

              "Any dried chile can be used in a chili powder."

              I think that's a stretch, or at least too general. Some chiles are too mild and some too hot to be used in chili powder. Some chiles (flavors) are better with red meats than others.

              1. re: Scargod

                I don't think it's a stretch at all. In my cabinet at home I have 3 ground chili powders: ancho, chipotle, and new mexico powders. Hell, if you count cayenne pepper and paprika in that list, I guess I have 6 (2 kinds of paprika). They are all ground chile (chili) powders. You can use any single powder or you can use a blend of any or all of them. The definition of a chile (chili) powder is simply ground chiles.

                What you buy in the store as "chili powder" (like the McCormick brand) is a pre-blended mix of stuff. It contains not only ground chiles but cumin, salt, garlic and some other stuff. The blend isn't really a good thing to have in my opinion because you're never quite sure of what you're putting in there. For instance, if you decide you want more chili powder (from the bottle) you're also going to be adding salt and garlic, neither of which may necessarily be desired.

                And to say that a chile powder is too hot to be put in a chili... well that's simply stating an opinion as fact.

                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  I win! I have whole, dried Guajillo, Pasilla Negro and Anchos. I have paprika smoked paprika, hot paprika, chipotle, cayenne, mild and hot hatch, pasilla, ancho and two different chimayos, all ground. I have fresh Anaheims and hatch-like chiles in the fridge. Only Passadumkeg has more!
                  I have long known everything you are stating about chili powder. That's the rub. You said any chile can go into making chili powder. (this is the only part I am disagreeing with)
                  Yes, probably every commercial chili powder is a blend of chiles, not just one chile, and then there's all the other stuff you mentioned. There are mild powders and hotter ones. Gebhardt's is a famous one among chili afficionados. I doubt there are any pure habanero chili powders, nor any that are just pimento or Anaheim based. There are hundreds of different chiles! Many won't make good chili powder! Thus I disagree with your statement.
                  Perhaps others will weigh in.

                  1. re: Scargod

                    You do win! That's quite a collection. ;-) I understand what you're saying, but really there are all kinds of people out there with all kinds of palates. Some people like & want, different things. To say that one is too hot or too mild for a dish really is personal preference.

                    As for those habaneros...




                    1. re: HaagenDazs

                      Love habaneros ... got to use carefully though. In the right sauces they are great.

                      Funny story ... I gave 4 or 5 to my neighbor. Told him they were deadly, wash hands, extremely hot, and that I used 2 very small ones in a very large pot of stew. Well he decided to make some sausage gumbo type dish I told him 1 small if any. Go lightly. He thought I was whimpy and used 4 ... Dinner party became take out after 4 or 5 bites and everyone was dying and on fire. I warned him. He didn't listen. He did seeds and all.

                      I like just adding the whole pepper without cutting. Adds heat, but mild flavor

                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                        I buy toasted garlic granules and some chile powders from the Spice House. I like them.

                        I want to make clear: Yes, there are any number of "chile powders" (pure ground chiles), as you have shown there are for habaneros. However, "chili powders" (CHILI, not CHILE), in your initial statement is what I am quarreling about. They don't use just any chiles....

                        1. re: Scargod

                          According to Wiki the spellings are/can be: chilli, chilli, chili, chile. So if semantics is what we're after then we're just confusing ourselves.

                          1. re: HaagenDazs

                            I've tried to use 'chili' to refer to the popular American stew (in all its forms). Chili powder spice blend that is often used in it (unspecified ground chiles, cumin, oregano, salt). I use 'chile' to refer to one or more type of the chile peppers. That's how DeWitt uses them (in The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia).

                            1. re: HaagenDazs

                              I wasn't trying to play a game of semantics. You made the distinction in your two spellings in the sentence "Any dried chile can be used in a chili powder." And you referred to the various types of chiles, as "chiles".
                              "Chili powder" has but one definition at Merriam Webster (and wikipedia): a condiment made up of spices and chile powders. You were correct in how you defined it, later. Then you started mixing up the spellings/usage.

                              I found this:
                              Appears they even go to court over the spellings. I feel it is more common to refer to a whole pepper as a chile. A ground up chile would be chile powder. As I said, the definition of "chili powder" is clear.

                      2. re: HaagenDazs

                        Including powdered, dried, pastes, jarred, canned, and fresh, I counted 17. I'm not going to unload the freezer, but the're in there, too. Maybe 25 total. And all I can think of are the ones I lack.

                  2. re: CindyJ

                    Pasillas tend to have a bit more heat than poblanos, but both vary. I suggest re-hydrating pieces of each in teacups of hot water and do a taste test.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Yeah, but that's assuming that what Cindy has are actually 2 different things. I think they might be the same chile.

                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                        I just found this: "There are hundreds of varieties of chiles; some even have similar names, which adds to the confusion. For example, chile ancho is dried poblano. The same chile in California is called pasilla."

                        So maybe it's a matter of semantics -- determined by where the chile is grown or packaged...?

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          "So maybe it's a matter of semantics -- determined by where the chile is grown or packaged...?"

                          Right... or where it's sold. If they look identical aside from a slight difference in size, my guess is that they are the same thing.

                          1. re: CindyJ

                            I focus on shape, not the label. Due to this California influence, 'pasilla' is often used for either the fresh Poblano or its dried version. Otherwise 'pasilla' refers to the long skinny dried version of the chillaca (which is rarely seen fresh). It's just one of those naming variations you have to live with.

                            So if your recipe calls for ancho - use any large, roughly triangular dried ones, whether labeled ancho or pasilla. If it calls for pasilla, see if there are other clues as to which it means (e..g using ancho or poblano else where, pictures, description).

                            But the two are close enough in taste and character that substituting one for the other shouldn't cause problems. You are likely to get more pulp from an ancho than a (true) pasilla, but even anchos vary in size. Quantities and proportions of these items are seldom critical.

                            I just made a oxtail blackbean chili using one ancho and one (true) pasilla (rehydrated and pureed with the immersion blender). If you can find both, buy them and experiment for yourself. Get some smooth skin guajillo as well.

                            1. re: paulj

                              I have some dried chiles, I think they're chipotles but not even sure, I was going to throw a few into the chili and just let them simmer in (got plenty of other heat going on). Is this a bad idea? They're sort of old anyway, thought I should use them rather than throwing out.

                              1. re: coll

                                Cut a sliver off, or rehydrate some and taste the result first. If they are small and wide, about an 1" long, they could well be chipotles. They should also have a smoky smell. I don't think it is a good idea to add unknown/untested chiles to a stew.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Thanks I'll do that. My chili always consists of whatever's around and it hasn't come out bad yet!

                    2. My grocery store doesn't even bother labelling hot peppers. Some are obvious (like scotch bonnets) but others are just plain confusing. I don't mean to hijack here...but can anyone recommend a book/site that has a field guide (pix included) to hot peppers?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: maplesugar

                        You might start searching for the correct name of chiles, not peppers if you're looking for books/posters/ID cards. Also, we're talking about dried chiles, (chilli pepper, chilli, chili, chile) not fresh.

                        1. Ancho chile peppers: The dried version of Poblano, or "people" peppers. Ancho means Wide Chile Pepper. Their flavor is somewhat mild, sweet, earthy and somewhat raisin/prune-like, with medium heat. The outer skin has a richer, sweet, raisin-like flavor, which is most commonly associated with the flavor of chili; the inner veins of the pepper are quite hot. When you buy the whole pod, you have the advantage of being able to separate these two distinct flavors. You can grind the whole dried pod in a blender (with or without the hot seeds, depending on heat preferences). You can also "bring them back to life" by pouring boiling-hot water over them and steeping for about 20 minutes. An Ancho can be used as a substitute for Guajillo or Pasilla Negro Chiles and vice-versa. These chiles have the same heat range and flavor profile.
                          Anchos, combined with the Pasilla and Guajillo, form the “Holy Trinity” of chiles used to prepare traditional mole sauces. Anchos are also available in granulated and powdered form (100 pure). This chile ranges from 3 to 5 on a heat scale of 1 to 10. Scoville heat units are 1,000 to 3,000.
                          An Ancho (the dried form of a Poblano Pepper) and often is mislabeled as a Pasilla or Mulato Pepper.

                          Pasilla Negro (if smoked) or just "Pasilla" chiles: one of the most popular chiles. Elongated, flat chile, measuring 6 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide. The Pasilla's wrinkled body curves into an arc. The color of this pepper is dark purple-black; similar to the color of a dark eggplant or a dark raisin.
                          This thin fleshed chile has a rich, complex, deep, smoky, berry or raisin flavor with herbaceous tones not unlike tobacco. The word Pasilla comes from the word PASA which means “little black raisin”. Pasilla Negro, combined with the Ancho and Guajillo chiles, form the holy trinity of chiles used to prepare the traditional mole sauces. They're great for sauces of all sorts.
                          This is a medium-hot chile; on the heat scale this chile is a 3 to 5 on a scale of 1-10. Scoville heat units 1,000-2,000.

                          Guajillo: It is in the family of the mirasol chiles whose flavors are direct and intense. Its fruits are large, mild in flavor and moderately hot. The dried fruits are seeded, soaked, pulverized to a thin paste, then cooked with salt and several other ingredients to produce a thick, red, flavorful sauce traditionally used make the salsa for tamales, sauces, soups and stews. This chile requires a longer soaking period than most due to its leathery skin. The guajillo benefits from toasting on a comal or other hot pan prior to use.
                          Along with anchos, they're the (second) most commonly used chiles in Mexico. What the anchos are to 'deep' and 'rich', guajillos are to 'spicy' and 'dynamic' with notes of berry spiciness and tanginess (like cranberry), a slight smokiness and the warm flavor of a ripe, juicy, sweet tomato. Substitutes: cascabels (rounder and shorter), New Mexico chiles or California chiles (milder). The guajillo chile is also related to the pulla chile and the costeno chiles. The guajillo costeno chile is a specialized kind of guajillo chile, considering the fact that it is an old heirloom pepper from the cayenne family, in an orange-red color and has a sweeter heat and flavor. These kinds of chiles are used in various meals, regardless of the cuisine, region and cooking style, as they are among the most popular types of chiles. A Guajillo can be used as a substitute for Ancho or Pasilla Negro Chiles and vice-versa. The guajillo is considered a medium-hot hot chile or a 2 to 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the hottest). Scoville heat units 2,500 to 5,000.

                          De Arbol (Capsicum Annuum): the chile is narrow, curved and bright red in color. A De Arbol is thin fleshed, with tannic, smoky, grassy flavor and serious heat in the range of 7.5 on the heat scale of 1-10. De Arbol Powder is made from the whole De Arbol Pepper seeds and stem. De Arbol is comparable to a Cayenne Pepper. Scoville heat units 15,000 - 30,000.

                          As noted, an Ancho can be used as a substitute for Guajillo or Pasilla Negro Chiles and vice-versa. These chiles have the same heat range and flavor profile.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Scargod

                            Many markets in Mexico sell chile pastes by the kilo. The have the viscosity of frozen custard. They offer three benefits: (1) you can taste a sample, and (2) you don't have to roast/peel, etc. fresh chiles when they play a subordinate role, and (3) you don't have to labor through the rehydrating /straining process. Very efficient. I wish the pastes were more available stateside.