Ancho chile is a type of dried chile pepper commonly used in Mexican and Southwestern U.S. cuisine. It is a dry pepper, and its name is due to its width, as "ancho" in Spanish means "wide." It can be purchased whole and ground, usually in bags sold by weight or dozen, or in shakers when powdered. Sweet and mild, this chile is easily found all year round. Ancho is commonly added to sauces, soups, and marinades to enhance their flavor; it's used pureed, chopped, or powdered.
- Origin: Mexico
- Flavor: Sweet and chocolatey
- Spice level: Mild
- Name: Ancho means "wide" in Spanish
- Substitutes: Red pepper, chile flakes
What Is an Ancho Chile Pepper?
The ancho chile pepper is the dried version of the poblano pepper (from Puebla, Mexico) or specifically, it's the dried version of the almost-ripe state of the poblano pepper. In other words, the chile we know as a poblano pepper is a fresh chile that is harvested before ripening, which is why it's green. But when allowed to ripen, a poblano turns red and develops additional sweetness, which in turn balances out its already mild heat. Thus, an ancho chile is red while a poblano is green.
Varieties of Ancho Chile Pepper
There is only one type of ancho pepper, but it's important to know that the ripe poblano pepper produces two varieties of dry chile: the ancho chile and the mulato chile. The difference is that the mulato is the fully ripe dried poblano pepper, brown in color before dried, and the ancho is the almost-ripe dried poblano pepper, red in color before dried. Used in Mexican cuisine as much as ancho chile, the mulato has a chocolatey flavor and is sold whole or in its ground form. Alongside the pasilla chile and Guajillo chile, these two chiles are widely used and part of many traditional Mexican recipes.
Ancho Chile Pepper Uses
Ancho chile can be used dried or rehydrated, whole or ground. It's usually incorporated before cooking sauces, blended with other spices or vegetables to make a base for a stew or soup, or sprinkled on top of meat, poultry, or seafood as part of a rub or marinade before cooking.
How to Cook With an Ancho Chile Pepper
The whole chile is sturdy and heart-shaped. Its name is true to its physical appearance as it's larger than most other chiles (4 to 5 inches long and 2 inches wide). An ancho is rich and bold in flavor, with deep, fruity notes, and is mild spice-wise. The ground version is of a deep-brown and red color and it has a milder flavor than the whole chile. Ancho chile pepper is very versatile and adds a beautiful smokey note to recipes. The chile can be reconstituted by soaking it in warm water, or simply ground up or crushed; depending on the needs of the recipe, it is used whole or crushed, dried or reconstituted. There is no need to get rid of the seeds, as this won't affect the spice-level of the chile.
The way the heat is transmitted will depend on how finely crumbled/ground it is, and whether it is reconstituted first or not. A crumbled up chile gives a more localized spiciness whenever you happen to get a piece (or several) in a particular bite, whereas a reconstituted chile that is puréed will disperse its heat more evenly throughout a dish.
What Does It Taste Like?
Sweet and chocolatey, with a flavor also slightly reminiscent of raisins, the ancho chile pepper has heat that is mild to medium-hot when whole, and lesser when ground.
Ancho chile registers between 1,000 and 2,000 Scoville heat units, which means it's quite mild. For comparison, a bell pepper has from 0–100 units, and a Habanero has 100,000 units.
Ancho Chile Pepper Recipes
Pureed ancho chiles with full-fat sour cream make a great dip for chips and veggies. Use them crushed or in the ground form to make marinades, meat rubs, tomato sauces, enchilada sauces, and chilis. Sprinkle on top of baked potatoes, stir into mashed potatoes, or crushed them on top of vegetables before roasting. Ancho chile can be also used to enhance the flavor of chocolate in cookies or cakes.
Where to Buy Ancho Chile Pepper
Ancho chile peppers are easily found in most supermarkets but are also available in larger amounts from online retailers and specialized spice and tea shops. Find them in the Hispanic or Latin aisle, usually close to the corn husks, dry beans, and other Latin and Mexican condiments.
Store the chile in an airtight container away from direct sunlight for up to two or three months. Keeping the air out helps the chile retain its leathery and chewy texture; if left to completely dry, it will break apart easily and won't soak in the water when reconstituted. If there are larger amounts of chiles and not enough time to consume them in under two months, the best approach is to freeze them and later rehydrate them well once it's time to cook.