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Oct 18, 2009 06:39 PM

What's the real difference between ancho and pasillo chile peppers?

According to Wikipedia, the only real difference is shape. But according to Pacific Food Importers and World Spice, there are varietal differences. Wiki says anchos are part of the pasillo family, which breaks out Oachaca (sp?) as well. C'mon, you chili (and chile) afficianados. What do you think?

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  1. That is very funny since they are both from the poblano or more speciically, the capsicum annuum. I see both of these peppers for sale in most markets I shop at, and they are very distinctive. The ancho is dried, but almost rubbery in feel, where as the passila is more brittle and long dried chile.

    I use both peppers when making tamales. But never truly considered them the same variety. Good question, and hope we get answers. I did minor searches and came back full circle, as you did. I could ask a Mexican if we don't see an answer soon.

    Another thread here skirted the issue and left muddy waters...

    2 Replies
    1. re: DallasDude

      You're right, the other discussion you mention didn't resolve it, though it brought up that they're sometimes packaged as the same chile to further confuse (or maybe clarify?) things. Maybe these are just regionally different chiles -- the same chile grown in different climates or microclimates. The way that, say, a type of grape would yield different wine in California or France or Washington state?

      1. re: DallasDude

        No, they are in fact different. The ancho is the dried pablano, where the pasilla is a dried chilaca. The latter is longer and a bit spicier. The pablano/ancho often being stuffed and ate whole like a green bell pepper. The pasilla is often ground and used in recipes as a chili flakes or added to sauces.

      2. Why do you need to figure out the 'real' difference? To sort them out in the grocery, or understand a recipe? How does the recipe use the names?

        As to muddy waters - yes there is confusion over the use of the name 'pasilla' - some use it to refer to a dried, long narrow chile, others use it to refer to a broad shoulder fresh one (ie. poblano). We just have to live with that confusion.

        8 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          You are under the assumption one is using a recipe. I learned how to make tamales from my childrens non-English speaking nanny. and there is no recipe.

          I found more information. Tjhis is a wonderful web site that explains our chiles more exact. I am sure brighter chile-heads will chime in, but for now I offer this:

          Also known as the chile negro. Literally "little raisin," the pasilla is a dried
          chilaca chile. There is some confusion over the name of this chile in
          California and northern Mexico, the fresh poblano and its dried forms, the
          ancho and mulato, are referred to (mistakenly) as pasillas.

          The ancho is a dried poblano chile, and is the most commonly used dried chile
          in Mexico.

          1. re: DallasDude

            reference above:
            The Great Chile Book by Mark Miller
            copyright 1991, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA

            1. re: slewfoot

              BTW: Above is in response to the "why" question from Paulj. Thanks, others, for your input. Any chance, DallasDude, you could share you tamale non-recipe?

            2. re: paulj

              Partly curiosity and partly to see whether it's worth making room for both on my shelves. If the only real difference is shape, then I'd go with the anchos, because they're easier to reconstitute,seed and stuff for the chiles relleno as served deliciously by Rodolpho's Chile Pepper restaurant in Seattle.
              Meanwhile, I've learned that the Oaxacan Pasillas that I was also curious about is a smoked version, which is totally different.

              1. re: Bakermon

                I have found that the difference in taste between the two dried chiles is minor. I'd have to reconstitute both, and taste the puree side by side to pin the difference down. Obviously if you are going to use them whole - as in this reconstitute and stuff - the larger volume of the ancho matters.

                In my pantry there's room for both - and more.

                I just checked my large Tupper of dried chiles. I have one cello packet of anchos, two of pasillas, one of Peruvian amarillo, and 3 of Peruvian aji panca. That mix is more a result of chance than design, though I do lean toward using panca puree more than the others.

                1. re: Bakermon

                  I have never heard of a chile relleno made from an ancho. It sounds interesting, but also as difficult as heart surgery.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    They've got a sweetness you don't normally get with fresh pepper rellenos, kind of along the lines of the sweetness you get with sun-dried tomatoes, and a chewyness that lingers. If you're ever in Seattle, try them at The Chile Pepper on 45th Street in Wallingford. Funny enough, I went there the other night hoping the owner could answer my question, but he's on holiday in Mexico and the restaurant was closed.

              2. Here's an article about chilaca, in Michiocan, with more focus on the fully ripe ones.


                "Before its fully-ripe state the chilaca is inky blue-green, with color and flavor similar to the chile poblano. "

                "Mexico Cooks! bought a kilo of fresh mature (red) chiles chilaca. ... The flavor they add is deeply sweet and deadly hot. "

                I've only seen and bought the fresh green ones once - and that was some time ago.

                Another great source is 'Peppers' by Jean Andrews; here's the Google books view of her page on the chilaca. She regards the Oaxaca pasilla as something different, possible the ancestor of the New Mexico chile.

                3 Replies
                1. re: paulj

                  Great links. Thanks so much! Off the topic, where do you get the Peruvian aji panca?

                  1. re: Bakermon

                    Sounds like you are in the Seattle area. Almost any Latino/Mexican shop that carries Peruvian items carries them. My favorite in Plaza Latina in Shoreline (Aurora 99, just south of 175th). The latino shop in Pike Place probably does as well.

                    It comes in several forms - dried, and as a puree in jars.

                    1. re: paulj

                      Okay, so it seems Wikipedia (and for that matter, many of the suppliers who package these two chiles as one and the same) is wrong. The Ancho, which comes from fresh Poblanos, is one chile. The true Pasilla, which comes from fresh Chilacas, is another. The Oaxacan may be a derivative of the true Pasilla, but is treated differently in drying anyway, so we can leave that to one side.

                      Armed with the above information, I found this link on the Produce Hunter:
             (sorry, doesn't seem to want to paste as a hyperlink) that says

                      "Chilaca Chile (True Pasilla
                      )Fresh chile names can be very confusing in Southern California. Our goal is to sort this out. The name PASILLA means "little raisin," a reference to the raisiny appearance and aroma of the this very distinctive chile that the West Coast calls CHILACA. This misnomer was started in northwestern Mexico and Californians perpetuate it. To further complicate the issue, a Oaxacan chile with the same color but an entirely different appearance and flavor is called pasilla. That Oaxacan pasilla is very likely the progenitor of the long green/red New Mexican Chile which is said to have had the pasilla as an ancestor. In the Oaxaca area, the true pasilla is known as pasilla de Mexico, while the local cultivar is the pasilla de Oaxaca or just pasilla. Confused? Welcome to our nightmare. The Chilaca that we show here is a mild chile, four to seven inches long, 3/4 to 1 inch in width and dark blackish green ripening to dark brown. The fresh chilaca is used primarily in the central and northwestern regions in Mexico in sauces and as a vegetable after charring and peeling. When dried, they are called Negro chiles and have a rich, mellow flavor desirable in cooked sauces, or toasted and crumbled, or ground into a table sauce."

                      There is a photo on the site.

                      Thanks for all you input, and I'll be checking out the Plaza Latina as well!

                2. I realize that this is an old thread, but I felt it worth commenting on. Yes, both ancho (dried poblano) and pasilla (dried chilaca) are from the species capsicum annuum, but they are different varieties, not just shapes. Consider for example the domestic dog. Whether dachshund, poodle, or saint bernard, all are from the species canis lupus familiaris, but I trust we have no problem seeing the differences. Bell peppers and cayenne are also both capsicum annuum, but again, they are quite obviously different varieties. Ancho is a little more reddish in color, pasilla more brown/black. They are similar in terms of heat (both mild), but ancho is perhaps slightly sweeter. Ancho chiles are certainly more common and widely used in this country, but pasilla is used for authentic mole sauce. Truthfully, most people would never know the difference, which is why marketers get away with the mislabelling of ancho chiles as pasilla.

                  19 Replies
                  1. re: neoredpill

                    Respectfully, I don't agree that anchos are an inferior substitute for pasillas. There is a calling for both.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Nice of you to argue with me on something I didn't say. Nowhere did I say one was inferior to the other, as I don't feel that is the case.

                      1. re: neoredpill

                        "marketers get away with the mislabeling of ancho chiles as pasilla" you said. I condemn the marketers. Don't be sensitive. You brought it up.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Yes, I said it, but that does not indicate inferiority. It's just that if you are picky about your chilis, you don't want to buy ancho thinking it is pasilla or visa versa. It's just like the mislabelling of sweet potatoes as yams, or of fennel as anise. I'm not saying one is better, just that things should be properly labelled.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            "marketers get away with the mislabeling of ancho chiles as pasilla" you said. I condemn the marketers." Veggo, blame whoever assigned the SKU identity to these peppers. You know and I know that a pasilla and a poblano are two very different peppers, but if you see some nice poblanos in any store in the US the shelf tag will have a SKU of 4543, and that will scan as "pasilla." Makes me cranky as all get-out, but can't at this point be helped. I know, because Mrs. O hates bell peppers and loves the hotter ones, so poblanos is what I use when the recipe says bells.

                            1. re: Will Owen

                              Will, I think you and neoredpill and I are on the same song sheet here. I'm quick to defend the virtues of poblanos, and I will until the vacas come home.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                No one insulted Poblanos. They are just not the same chili and should not be referred to as such.

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  I actually think that you and I are in agreement on the basic points: that ancho and pasilla are not the same, and that each has its uses. You inferred something that was not my intent, and as a result you are defending poblanos when they are not under attack.

                                  1. re: neoredpill

                                    All is right, chefj and neoredpill, food fight is over. Pre-emtive poblanos are back in their silos.

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      Leaders of the world: See how easy that is? LOL

                        2. re: neoredpill

                          At least in stores in Washington, fresh poblanos are often labeled as 'pasilla', which as noted above, is a NW Mexico/California regionalism. If anchos are labeled 'pasilla' it's because of this poblano naming variation, not because some marketer is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

                          Earlier I listed my stock of dried chiles which included both anchos (the wide ones) and pasillas (the narrow ones). My current stock includes one package of anchos, and one of negros (which I think = pasilla).

                          I don't think these name irregularities matter. If you know enough to worry about taste differences, you know enough to recognize them by appearance. You will also know which ones can substitute for each other. And if you don't know the differences, go ahead an buy them (right or wrong) and learn. You can't just learn the differences by reading books.

                          Once you have mastered the basic ones like ancho, passilla and guajillo, you can move to hard to find mulatos and chilhuacles, and distinguishing between morita and meco chipotles.

                          1. re: paulj

                            Hey you guys. Enough enough. I learned after posting this that the confusion is waay deep, going as far as Chinese chilies that show up on the market with either label. In late 2010, my wife and I went to Puebla Mexico to do cooking classes with the chef at Mesones Sacristia, and we learned that even there, there is confusion about the labeling of chiles. In the markets you can find a chile dried one way that is labeled differently than the same chile dried another way.
                            I've also had an ongoing discussion with the people at Pacific Food Importers here in Seattle that say their suppliers often mislabel chiles.
                            As Paulj basically says, try the chiles you see, and make your own judgement call. Every batch is different!

                            1. re: Bakermon

                              D Kennedy in her coffeetable Oaxaca book, talks about different chiles in each of the different regions of that state. Most peppers are varieties of one species Capsicum annuum . Apparently it develops local variations very easily, and those readily hybridize. In traditional parts of Mexico (e.g. Oaxaca, Chiapas), local chiles could vary from village to village, along with names and linguistic dialects.

                              And drying just adds to the diversity of forms and names.

                            2. re: paulj

                              I just got home from the store, and interestingly, they had the reverse situation from what people have been talking about here: Two chili powders, side by side, with the same label, one reddish in color (presumably ancho) and the other dark brown (pasilla). Instead of the ancho being labelled as pasilla, however, both were labelled as ancho. For the record, this flies in the face of your "NW Mexico/California regionalism" statement, as I am in the L.A. area The chili powders were packaged in Santa Fe, NM. As for the fresh peppers, I don't think that I have seen poblanos here labelled as anything other than poblanos.

                              1. re: neoredpill

                                If it was a brighter red powder from Mexico, I'd suspect it was guajillo.

                                I have a package of El Guapo brand (LA) 'Chile pasilla molido', which is dark brown. It's as likely to be ancho as genuine pasilla. Once ground you can't use shape or wrinkliness to identify the pepper, leaving color and taste as the clues.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  It's from New Mexico, not Mexico. I've emailed the company to get confirmation on the contents. I'll post it if they respond.

                            3. re: neoredpill

                              I couldn't agree with you more, you hit it spot on, from experience as you said the anchos are more reddish in color, and pasilla are more brown black. And yes the ancho seems to have a sweeter flavor. Now I'm not 100% sure but maybe the difference in color depends on what stage of ripeness the Poblano pepper was dried in?

                              1. re: neoredpill

                                Thank you for taking time to explain in detail the different chiles! I am planting chiles and I have several different varieties and I want to be sure what it was I was growing.I live in Southern California where there is a lot of Mexican foods so I've tasted a lot of wonderful foods that have these Chiles in the recipes and I love cooking authenic as possible. Thanks again!

                                1. re: cooknwoman

                                  Were your plants (or seeds) labeled? If so, any reason to doubt that? With home grown peppers, names like ancho and pasilla don't matter, since they (mostly) apply to dried ones.

                                  'authentic as possible' - The more you push the 'authenticity', the more you will have to get into regional Mexican cooking, and possibly buying the peppers from markets in that region.

                                  You also need to understand the source, and 'authenticity' of your recipes. A good cookbook of Mexican cooking will have a section about chiles, both fresh and dried. It will also have photos or line drawings.

                                  Since you living S California, you should have ready access to groceries with a good selection of chiles. If you learn to recognize chiles by sight (size, color, skin) you won't be thrown by variations in the names.

                              2. From an Indian (actually multi-ethinic) grocery, I've bought some fresh chiles that look like chilacas (dark green, long narrow, some curve). But they are almost too mild; none of the highly variable heat that I find in poblanos. They aren't labeled. I wonder if they aren't some sort of mild Hungarian variety.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: paulj

                                  Interesting discussion. I was told that Anchos are simply dired poblanos, but it seems there is abit more confusion. I have never used fresh poblanos, but get my Anchos from a small mexican store in our little town. They have no lables at all. Just 1 gal plastic bags filled with whole chiles tied with a knot. I can sometimes pick out the anhos, but occasionally have to ask for help as some of the other chiles look similar and the ligthing is not too good, or is it my eyes. :o) I have no idea where they get theirs, but they are the best and cheap too. I usually dry them for a bit in the oven and make powder. They have a wonderful sweet chile smell as they heat up. I've never really noted much in the way of spicy heat. They are 3 to 4 inches in length and very wrinkled. Deffinitely my favorite chile.