Dried chiles are used throughout the world because drying is the best way to preserve peppers for year-round use. From mild peppers to very hot chiles, there's a dried chile pepper that everyone can enjoy. Showcasing the best-known dried chiles from mild to spicy, most of these are featured in Mexican cooking and common in the Southwestern United States and Tex-Mex dishes. One little fireball is a favorite in Thai food.
When selecting dried chiles, the general rule is that larger peppers are milder and the smallest chiles are the spiciest. Recipes often call for them to be rehydrated or roasted, and many can be ground into flakes or powders for quick seasonings. No matter which chile you cook with, always wash your hands and kitchen tools and surfaces after working with these spicy peppers.
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Dried Anaheim peppers left to ripen until red, then dried become burgundy-colored California red chiles. Chile seco del norte is the name most often used for Anaheim's picked while still green that dry down to a brighter red color. The three names are used interchangeably. The pepper is 1 to 2 inches wide at the stem and tapers along its 5- to 7-inch length.
These chiles are very mild. They range between 500 and 2,500 Scoville heat units (SHU). The hottest is like a mild jalapeño, and the pepper has a sharp flavor with a hint of acidity. It's a perfect pepper for delicate palates and versatile enough for nearly any dish. When ground, it's a fantastic addition to a spice blend.
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Cascabel Chile Pepper (Nutty Smoke)
Squat and round, the cascabel chile pepper grows no more than 2 inches in diameter. It's a dark brown-red color when dried and hollow inside. The seeds rattle when shaken, which explains its names; cascabel means "little bell" or "rattle," and it's known as the rattlesnake chile.
The taste of the cascabel is earthy and nutty with a nice smokiness. Falling between 1,500 and 2,500 SHU, it's a mild pepper and there's no need to remove the seeds. You'll find it in traditional Mexican dishes like birria, and its best pairings are tomatoes and tomatillos. Ground cascabel peppers are a nice addition to meat stews and taco seasonings.
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The ancho is a dried poblano pepper. While poblanos are harvested when green, the ancho is picked once it's a mature red hue. It dries down to an almost black, dark red. Meaning "wide," the ancho lives up to its name, often growing 3 inches wide and 4 to 5 inches long.
This large chile is among the most-used dried peppers in Mexican cooking and has a mild spice (1,000 to 2,000 SHU). It's loved for its sweet and smoky flavor that's reminiscent of paprika. Perfect for mole or adobo sauce, the ancho can tame the spiciest peppers when mixed into a chile paste.
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Pasilla Chile Pepper (It's a Spicy Raisin)
Almost black in color, the pasilla is a dried chilaca pepper. It's often mislabeled or confused for an ancho, though this chile is considerably thinner and 8 to 10 inches long.
The name is derived from the Spanish for "raisin," and the taste is reminiscent of dried fruits like raisins and prunes. It has a medium heat ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 SHU. Pasilla peppers are often paired with anchos and guajillos for chile sauces or spicier chiles like jalapeños for fresh salsa.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Mulato Chile Pepper (Smoky With a Kick)
Fresh chile peppers often take a different name once dried. The poblano is an interesting case because it can become either an ancho or mulato. The two dried chiles are nearly identical and look like giant prunes. The mulato comes from a particular poblano variety and is allowed to ripen longer on the plant until it's a dark brown.
A darker purple, the mulato is also spicier than the ancho (2,500 and 3,000 SHU). It maintains the delicate smoky flavor with hints of chocolate and is used in similar ways. It's a favorite chile for mole sauce and a great ancho substitute when you want to give recipes a subtle kick.
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The state of New Mexico has a special kind of chile pepper. It was developed in the late 1800s to standardize the chile pepper's size and heat. Today there are so many "New Mexican" chile pepper cultivars that the spice range extends from a mild 1,000 SHU to a spicy 8,000 SHU, or hotter. The most famous are Hatch chiles.
New Mexican chiles are most often eaten while green. The vine-ripened red chiles are popularly seen hanging in bunches called ristras to dry before they're ground into chile powder.
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Guajillo Chile Pepper (Starting to Get Spicy)
Along with the ancho, the guajillo is essential in Mexican food. It is a dried mirasol chile measuring up to 5 inches long. The deep-red skin is glossy and tough, making long hot water rehydration essential.
The guajillo is where dried chile peppers start to get spicy. It's a medium to hot pepper, ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 SHU, or similar to a semi-mild jalapeño. Its complex smoky flavor balances the heat perfectly. The guajillo is an ideal addition to blended pastes and sauces like that used for chile Colorado. It's also a fantastic chile to infuse some heat into stockpot water.
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Puya Chile Pepper (Cranking Up the Heat)
The puya (or pulla) is like a spicy guajillo but not as common or easily found. This chile looks like a guajillo, with a similar glossy, crimson skin, though it's thinner and just a few inches long.
This little chile packs a punch. At 5,000 to 8,000 SHU, it's twice as hot as the guajillo. Enjoyed for its fruitiness, the pepper is excellent in purées, stew water, and sauces for meat dishes. When rehydrated, it's also a favorite pizza topping.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Chipotle Chile Pepper (Smoky Jalapeños)
The chipotle pepper is one of the most familiar chiles in Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes. It is a red jalapeño that is wood-smoked for days until dry, and there are two varieties. The most common in the U.S. is the morita, which is smoked until deep red or purple and retains soft skin. Chile meco is smoked longer until the skin is almost gray and crispy.
Like green jalapeños, a chipotle can be relatively mild or very spicy, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 SHU. The smoky flavor is chipotle's biggest appeal. It's a favorite for spicy barbecue sauces, slow-cooked beef, and often found canned in adobo sauce. It is the traditional chile choice that rounds out the complex flavor of the cold Spanish fish dish, escabeche.
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Chile de Àrbol (Small But Fiery)
The slim, long shape of the small chile de àrbol should clue you into its heat. This fiery chile is similar to cayenne and is available fresh or dried, keeping its bright red color in both forms.
When you want to kick up any dish's spice, a single àrbol will do the trick. Its heat registers between 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, placing it between jalapeño and cayenne peppers. Often pan-roasted before use, it's commonly featured in condiments such as hot sauce, chile oil, and crushed chile flakes.
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Pequin (It's Gonna Burn)
The pequín chile is also called chile pequeño (little chile) or bird pepper (birds eat them and aren't affected by capsaicin). It's a tiny pepper that grows no longer than 1 inch and dries down to an orange-brown color.
This chile packs a lot of heat into its small package. At 40,000 to 60,000 SHU, it is 12 times hotter than the jalapeño and more like a cayenne. It's at the milder end of the superhot chile peppers, making it useful in food dishes. Once you get past the spice, the pepper has a smoky, fruity taste. While they are not very common, the pequín is used in salsas, spicy soups, and oils and is a key ingredient in Cholula Hot Sauce.
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One of the best-known dried chiles worldwide is the bird's eye chile (or Thai chile, a name that covers many varieties). These chiles are skinny and 1 to 2 inches long, green or red when fresh, and red and stemless dried.
This is the chile most often responsible for those hot and spicy Southeast Asian foods. It can be anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 SHU, and the redder the chile, the hotter it is. The intense spice is sneaky, so it's best to add them sparingly. Its delicious fruit-pepper taste makes it a favorite in Thai stir-fries and similar dishes.