If you love traditional Mexican cuisine, you’ll want to stock up on chile Pasilla. This guide explains everything you need to know about cooking and growing this beloved Mexican pepper. Let’s start by describing the flavors of this dried chile so that you know how to use it (and make a quick Pasilla pepper sauce), plus get tasty substitutions for when you need them.
CHILE PASILLA FACTS:
|Common Names:||chile Negro, Mexican Negro, Pasilla Bajio, Pasilla chile, Pasilla pepper|
|Chile Pasilla Pronunciation:||chee·leh pah·see·yah|
|Scoville Heat Units (SHU):||1,000 to 2,500|
|Days To Harvest:||70 to 80 days|
|Size:||Plants:up to 3 feet tall. Peppers: 6 to 9-inch pods and up to 2 inches wide|
|Flavor:||slightly fruity, smoky, earthy|
|Culinary Uses:||Mexican cuisine, mole sauce, birria soups and stews|
What Is Chile Pasilla?
Chile Pasilla is the dried form of the Chilaca pepper, which grows green and turns dark brown when mature. Once dried, the now Pasilla chile takes on a black shade and has a wrinkly texture.
Like Poblano peppers, the Pasilla (chile Negro) is believed to be native to Mexico in the Puebla region. This is also one of the locations where mole sauces are created — in fact, the Pasilla pepper is one of the chiles found in a traditional mole sauce.
As for the smell, the Pasilla chile has a fruity aroma resembling a raisin. That, coupled with the dark, wrinkly texture, is why chile Pasilla is known as the “little raisin” pepper in English.
In addition to chile Pasilla, there’s Pasilla de Oaxaca — the smoked version of this pepper. Pasilla de Oaxaca has its differences: higher heat level, complex smoky flavor, and commonly used in Oaxacan moles and dishes. It’s also harder to find.
What Does Pasilla Chile Taste Like?
Pasilla chiles are naturally earthy with notes of raisins and berries. If you’ve tasted an Ancho pepper, you’ll notice similarities except that chile Pasilla is not as sweet and somewhat spicier.
The Pasilla pepper flavor pairs well with foods like fruits, chocolate, honey, red meat, seafood, and mushrooms.
Pasilla Pepper Heat
A Pasilla chile registers between 1,000 and 2,500 on the Scoville scale — the measurement of spiciness in peppers noted as Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The Pasilla pepper rating means it’s a little warm, but not hot.
In comparison, the Jalapeno Scoville falls between 2,500 and 8,000 SHU, which makes dried Pasilla chile similar in heat to the mildest Jalapeno.
Pasilla pepper vs other chiles:
- The Guajillo pepper is mild, yet slightly hotter than the Pasilla chile at 2,500 and 5,000 SHU.
- Chile Poblano has less heat than chile Pasilla at 1,000 to 1,500 SHU. The Poblano can also be eight times milder than a Jalapeno.
- Chile Ancho (the dried red version of the Poblano) and the Pasilla pepper have the potential to be the same heat. With the Ancho pepper ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 SHU, the Pasilla can be slightly spicier.
- Likewise, a Mulato pepper (a dried brown Poblano) at 1,000 to 1,500 SHU is also milder than Pasilla with a more smoky taste and chocolate undertones.
As you might suspect, Ancho chiles and Mulato peppers make great Pasilla pepper substitutes. (More on that below.)
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How To Use Pasilla Peppers
Dried Pasilla chiles are essential in making mole Poblano and mouthwatering dishes like birria (pictured) found in Mexican cuisine. These peppers are also delicious in enchilada sauce, soups, and salsas because they add intense flavor.
Chile Pasilla recipes typically require that you rehydrate the peppers before pureeing and adding to foods. You can even use the water you soaked the pepper in to add even more of a fruity and sweet punch.
Dried Pasilla makes excellent flakes or chili powder where you don’t need a a spicy heat, but want to add smoky, sweet flavors to your dishes and condiments.
- Cooking Oil of Choice
- 5-6 Dried Pasilla Peppers
- 1/2 Onion
- 2 Cloves Garlic (skins on)
- Heat an oiled cast-iron pan, comal, or skillet to medium-high heat.
- Rotate your Pasilla peppers for 20 to 30 seconds at a time until the chiles start to puff up and become aromatic. Try not to burn your peppers so they don't create a bitter sauce.
- Place your peppers on a plate to cool down.
- Add your onion and garlic cloves (skin on) so they can char to your liking. Peel the garlic cloves when cool.
- Use a knife or scissors to cut open the chiles and remove the seeds and stems. (It's okay if you don't get all the seeds out.)
- Add everything to a high-speed blender and pour in a 1/2 cup of water. Blend and add more water in 1/4 cup increments until the sauce is the thickness and consistency you like.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, then blend again.
- This recipe creates a flavor-forward sauce so that you taste the fruity, earthy, and smoky notes first before the heat hits the back of your throat.
- This sauce (to me) is mild. If you're new to peppers, you might consider this a medium-heat sauce.
- You can also use rehydrated Pasilla peppers in this recipe. I like using dehydrated peppers because it saves time, but doesn't sacrifice flavor!
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Nutrition Information:Serving Size: 2 ounces
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 42
How To Rehydrate Pasilla Chiles
You can rehydrate Pasilla chiles by steeping them in hot water. These steps prepare dried peppers before they are added to dishes.
- Use a knife or kitchen shears to hollow out the dried chile pods. (It’s fine if you leave in a few seeds.)
- Optional Flavor Enhancer: Use a large pan on medium-high heat to dry roast the Pasilla peppers on each side for 30 to 60 seconds. (Don’t let them burn so they don’t get bitter.) The pods will swell a little, and you’ll notice the enhanced fragrance.
- Place the Pasilla peppers inside an oven-proof container and pour boiling water over the top until the chiles are covered.
- Cover the container of dried peppers and let them sit for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size.
- Drain the water off of the now-rehydrated chiles. You can now season the Pasilla pepper and the water you drained off of it.
Tip: You might want to wear gloves so you don’t stain your fingers. Also, this is a lower-heat chile, but it’s possible to feel a burn if you touch your eyes or face.
Where To Buy Pasilla Chiles
If you have the opportunity to select Pasilla peppers in person, choose chiles that are soft and pliable for the best flavor. Avoid dried chiles that are dry, dusty, or brittle because they can actually taste bitter.
Skip Pasilla chiles that are overly soft, too. It means they’ve come into contact with moisture and are worth avoiding.
Storing Pasilla Peppers
For the longest-lasting flavor, store Pasilla chiles in an airtight container to control the moisture level. Keep the tightly sealed container or bag in a cool, dark environment like a cupboard.
The shelf life of a Pasilla pepper depends on its form.
- Whole dried Pasilla chile – 3 to 4 years
- Ground powder – 2 to 3 years
- Crushed flakes – 2 to 3 years
Dried chiles and peppers don’t go bad per se. But a Pasilla chile will lose flavor, color, and heat level over time.
You can test a pepper’s potency by crushing it in your hand and smelling it. If the scent is light, the taste will be weaker.
Pasilla Chile Substitutes
If you can’t get Pasilla peppers, there are plenty of substitutions to choose from.
One of the most popular Pasilla substitutes is the Ancho chili pepper (dried Poblano pepper). An Ancho chile tends to be sweeter, lower on the heat scale like the Pasilla pepper, and, best of all, easier to find.
Similarly, a Mulato pepper — also a mature dried Poblano chile — is another worthy Pasilla replacement. This variety is also a mild pepper with a more in-depth flavor and rich brown color.
A Guajillo pepper is a great stand-in for Pasilla peppers because they are sweet with a mild heat (2,500 to 5,000 SHU). You can even use the same ratio, which makes sticking to the recipe far easier.
And, if all else fails, use a chili powder like Cayenne pepper. Cayenne is spicier than Pasilla, but just as flavorful. You’ll need to experiment with the amount of powder needed to replace your Pasilla chiles in a recipe.
Pasilla Pepper Nutrition Facts
Among the many health benefits, the Pasilla chile contains Vitamin B6, which improves memory and cognitive function and helps control homocysteine levels for better heart health [source].
Dried Pasilla peppers also have plenty of Vitamin A, which assists with vision and helps prevent age-related macular degeneration [source].
More Pasilla Vitamins & Minerals Include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D (D2 + D3)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B-12
(Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019, April 1). Fooddata Central Search Results. FoodData Central. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168579/nutrients)
Most peppers also have anti-inflammatory qualities due to the capsaicin (what makes peppers spicy), which helps treat arthritis. Pasilla chiles can also decrease stiffness, increase muscle strength, and repair connective tissue.
And if you’re looking for an energy boost, the Vitamin B2 in chile Pasilla helps metabolize food to maintain proper brain, hormone, and digestive health.
Growing Pasilla Peppers
The Chilaca pepper plant — the fresh version of the Pasilla chile — takes around six months from planting seeds to picking mature peppers. You’ll generally get about 20 peppers per plant.
And like other chiles, successfully growing Pasilla peppers in a home garden depends on starting them at the right time of the year.
Below, are the main Chilaca pepper growth stages. (You can also check out my ultimate guide to growing peppers from seed to harvest for a more in-depth tutorial.)
Plant Time: Start Chilaca pepper seeds indoors eight to 10 weeks before the last frost. Chilaca seeds typically germinate within two to three weeks.
» Read More – When to Plant Peppers + Seed Planting Calculator
Sowing Seeds: Plant 2 to 3 seeds per cell in a seed-starting tray — no more than ¼ depth — filled with a seed-starting mix. Cover your tray with a lid that has holes, and put it on top of a plant heat mat to maintain an optimal 80 to 90°F (27 to 32°C). Water your tray from the bottom to make sure the mix never dries out but isn’t overly wet.
Indoor Chilaca Seedlings: Hang a plant grow light over your seedlings so they get 14-16 hours of light a day. After the first set of true leaves grow, apply a 1/4 strength fertilizer for pepper plants while living indoors (about two months).
Transplanting Outdoors: Transfer your Chilaca pepper plants to bigger pots while indoors so they continue to grow well. You can plan to move your chile plants outside after nighttime temperatures are consistently 55°F (13°C) or more and the last expected frost has passed. Before the move, begin hardening pepper plants to get them used to being outside.
Harvesting Peppers: Be sure to keep your Chilaca pepper plants in full sun (8 hours) so they flower and fruit. It takes between 70 to 80 days to get peppers after they’ve been outside. Pick Chilaca chiles as soon as they’re ready when they’ve matured to a dark brown color.
companion plant tip
Chilaca pepper plants are susceptible to harmful insects like aphids. Planting onions nearby helps ward off the pests.
» Read More: 25 Best Companion Plants for Peppers + What to Avoid
Chile Pasilla FAQs
Enjoy creating delicious dishes with chile Pasilla. And now you know how to grow your own Pasilla peppers so you always have an abundant supply!
Be sure to check out our Mexican chile pepper guides below.
More Mexican Peppers: