Red chiles are one of the most common ingredients in Mexican food. Chiles grow well in hot climates. They can be harvested throughout the summer in their green state, but some chiles are left on the plant until autumn when they change from green to their final color of yellow, orange, purple or red, depending on the variety. Some varieties get hotter as they turn from green to their final hue.
Red chiles come in thousands of varieties and are most often dried for easy storage. The dried chiles are sold by weight, or on ristra which is a wreath made out of dried chiles. Dried red chiles are leathery and usually need to be rehydrated before use.
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Anaheim, California Red Chiles, or Chile Seco del Norte (Mild)
Anaheim and California chiles start out as long, bright green chiles and they turn bright red when ripe. Dried, they are known as Anaheim and California chilies or chile Seco del Norte. These chiles are some of the mildest dried red chiles available, between 500 and 2,500 on the Scoville scale. They are wide at the top and either blunt or tapered at the bottom and are usually about 5 to 7 inches in length and 1 to 2 inches wide. When dried, the chiles turn a deep burgundy color and have a smooth matte finish. Although mild in terms of heat, the flavor is sharp and a bit acidic. This dried chile is often used in ground spice mixtures.
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Cascabel Dried Red Chiles (Medium)
Most chiles flatten out and become wrinkly when they are dried, but cascabel chiles retain their round shape even after drying out. They are known as the rattle chile (cascabel means "rattlesnake") because the loose seeds make a rattling noise when the cascabel chile is shaken. They are smaller chiles at about 2 inches or less in diameter. Cascabels are hot (anywhere from 1,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale) and provide an earthy, nutty flavor to the dish they are added to, often including the seeds like in a rustic condiment. They are often cooked in a tomato or tomatillo sauce and are perfect for the traditional Mexican dish birria, a meat stew, or taco filling.
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Guajillo Dried Red Chile (Medium to Hot)
The guajillo chile is made by drying the mirasol chile. It is one of the most popular dried chiles in Mexican cooking (next to the ancho). Once dried, the guajillo chile becomes deep red and develops a tough, smooth skin. Guajillos are medium-sized chiles ranging from 2 to 4 inches in length.
It has medium to hot heat (5,000 to 15,000 on the Scoville scale), although if you are not used to hot chiles at all, you might even consider them hot. They have a slight fruitiness to their flavor and are excellent in salsas, chile sauces, and are great in adobo sauce and chile Colorado.
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Chipotle Dried Red Chiles (Hot)
Chipotle (pronounced chip-OAT-lay) chiles start out as green jalapeños but they are left on the plant until they turn red. Then they are smoked and dried which results in a leathery brownish-colored dried chile.
Chipotles are hot (15,000 to 30,000 on the Scoville scale) and have a distinct, strong smoke flavor. You can find them in their dried form, or canned in an adobo sauce. Either of the versions is excellent additions to soups, stews, or anywhere where you want a rich, smoky flavor, such as a slow-cooked chipotle beef roast. The chipotle chile is also most commonly used in escabeche, a cold Spanish dish of marinated fried fish.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Chile de Arbol (Very Hot)
These small red chiles are long and thin, ranging from 2 to 3 inches in length. Chiles de árbol also maintain their bright red hue, even after they are dried. They are very hot, 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale, similar to cayenne pepper. You can find them whole, dried, or dried and powdered.
If you handle these chiles raw, take great care to not touch your face and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly as the chile oils are hard to remove. Chiles de árbol are most often toasted and ground and sprinkled on fruits, vegetables, and nuts; the powder is also included as part of a spicy condiment and mixed into fried beans.