A key ingredient in tangy tamales, and spicy salsas, it is no wonder the guajillo chili is a favorite in Mexican cuisine.
Known for its uniquely sweet and smoky flavor, this beloved dried chili will spice up any dish. Although it is gaining notoriety in the United States, you may have trouble finding it in stores.
We’ll teach you everything you need to know about the guajillo and flavorful replacements you can use.
Things About Guajillo Peppers You Should Know
How Spicy are Guajillo Peppers
The guajillo pepper is ranked as a mild to medium heat pepper, similar to the commonly used jalapeño or poblano peppers.
Guajillo peppers range from 2,500 to 5,000 SHU, adding a moderate kick of heat to dishes without being overpowering for most diners.
The Scoville scale is used to measure the spiciness or heat of chili peppers in Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
What Does A Guajillo Chili Taste Like?
FLAVOR – The unique and complex guajillo chili packs an earthy punch. The chili tastes both sweet and smoky with subtle notes of crisp green tea and tart cranberry.
These pungent flavors are a great addition to soups, salsas, marianades, and sauces.
HEAT – Although these chilies only reach about 5 inches in length, they can pack a fiery punch.
They are considered to be of mild or medium heat and can reach up to 5,000 SHU, comparable to a poblano pepper or jalapeño pepper.
Guajillo peppers add a moderate kick of heat to dishes without being overpowering for most diners.
Where Can I Buy Guajillo Chili?
Guajillo chilies are available for purchase in most Mexican and American grocery stores.
Since they are sold dehydrated, they can also be purchased from various online retailers like Amazon or Walmart.
When you are shopping, look for deep, dark color and thick, wrinkly skin.
Below you will see how the guajillo chili compares to other popular peppers.
What Can You Substitute for Guajillo Chili?
While guajillo chiles are very common in Mexico, you may run into trouble finding them in American grocery stores. Don’t let this stop you from creating your culinary masterpiece.
We’ve got you covered with a list of guajillo chili substitutes that will work just as well in your dishes.
1. Ancho Chiles – A Convenient Option
Easy to find in most grocery stores, ancho chiles make a convenient substitute for guajillo chiles. They are similar in earthiness and sweetness but are typically less spicy.
You will need to double the amount of ancho chiles in a recipe to reach the same level of heat that the guajillo chili can bring.
2. Pasilla Peppers – A Close Flavor Match
Pasilla peppers or “little raisins” in Spanish are often described as the closest flavor match to the guajillo chili. Their range in heat is from 1,000 to 2,500 SHU.
Just like their namesake suggests, pasillas are petite, sweet, and taste like dried fruit.
3. Cascabel Chilies – A Cozy Choice
Cascabel peppers are mildly hot and can add cozy warmth to your salsa and sauces. These unique chilies are known for their nutty and woodsy flavors.
They can be substituted in equal ratio to guajillo peppers and are a good choice for those who do not want too much spice.
4. Dried New Mexico Chilies – Fruity Flavors
Often described as tasting of tart cherries, New Mexico chilies make an excellent substitute for the fruity guajillo chili. Both chilies make great additions to soups and sauces.
The New Mexico chili may be lacking in heat (800 to 1,400 SHU), but it does not fall short on acidity and sweetness.
5. Jalapeño Peppers – An American Staple
If you are looking to add more heat than the guajillo chili can bring, look no further than the jalapeño pepper.
With a SHU ranging from 2,500 to 8,000, the jalapeño pepper will add spice, brightness, and crispness to your dish.
But keep in mind, you will not get the same smoky flavor that the dried guajillo chili adds.
Further reading: 13 Green & Red Jalapeño Pepper Substitutes
6. Puya Chilies – Small but Mighty
Puya chilies can be thought of as the smaller and spicier version of the guajillo chili. They have similar flavor profiles that evoke fruity tones.
But don’t let their small size fool you; these little peppers are about twice as hot as the guajillo and should be used with caution.
7. Anaheim Pepper – A Mild Alternative
The mild spice and flavor of the Anaheim pepper make it a versatile addition to your dish. They are similar in taste to a green bell pepper when raw but will become peppery and sweeter once toasted.
These peppers do not bring much heat (500 to 1,000 SHU), so keep that in mind when replacing them for guajillos.
8. Mulato Peppers – Dark and Mysterious
Overly ripened poblano peppers are dried and turned into the mysterious Mulato chiles.
The extra time on the vine makes these peppers spicier and creates a deep flavor profile of smoke, chocolate, and licorice.
A member of the “holy trinity” of Mexican chilies, Mulato peppers are a fiery (2,500 to 3,000 SHU) substitute for the guajillo pepper.
9. Chipotle Peppers – Easy and Accessible
Arguably the most popular dried chile here in the US, chipotle chile peppers bring a tangy, smoky flavor to your dishes.
Their flavor is reminiscent of barbeque sauce and is a close match to the guajillo pepper.
Chipotles are the dried version of the jalapeno pepper, so they can be mild or very hot, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 SHU.
Further reading: 8 Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce Substitutes
10. Chile de Arbol – Red Hot
The fire-engine red hue of the dried chile de Arbol should give you a clue to its flavor. With a SHU rating of up to 50,000, these fiery peppers will turn up the heat on your dish.
But once they are toasted, their flavor can be described as nutty and smoky.
11. Gochugaru Powder – An Unexpected Match
While it is not a traditional spice used in Mexican cuisine, gochugaru powder can be used in a pinch to replace the guajillo pepper.
As a popular Korean spice, gochugaru powder is made of ground, sun-dried chilies. The flavor is described as bright, spicy, and smoky.
Further reading: Gochugaru Vs. Gochujang: What’s the Difference
12. Tabasco Peppers or Sauce – Spicy and Biting
Best known for being the key ingredient in Tabasco sauce, tabasco peppers are described as fruity, sweet, and bright when picked at peak ripeness.
They are one of the more spicy substitutes topping off at 50,000 SHU.
If you are looking for less heat and more of a vinegary bite, consider adding Tabasco sauce to your dish instead.
13. Espelette Pepper – A French Counterpart
Similar to how the guajillo chili is a staple in Mexican dishes, the Espelette pepper is known to spice up French cuisine.
It is sweeter and fruitier than the guajillo but brings a similar level of heat (up to 4,000 SHU).
While it makes for a suitable spice replacement, you may miss out on the smoky flavor of the guajillo chilies.
14. Pequin Peppers – Woodsy and Hot
Although you may have never heard of this unassuming ingredient, pequin peppers are used in a wide variety of Mexican dishes and found alongside the guajillo chili in the popular Cholula hot sauce.
When harvested at their most ripe, pequins taste nutty, crisp, and smoky.
Though small, they are mighty, with a SHU ranging from 40,000 to 60,000.
Part 4: FAQs About Guajillo Chili Substitution
Is New Mexico Chili the Same as Guajillo Chili?
Although they are from the same botanical family, New Mexico chilies are not the same as guajillo chilies.
Guajillo chilies are dried mirasol peppers whereas New Mexico chilies are dried red peppers. New Mexico chilies are less spicy than guajillo chilies, registering about 800 to 1,400 SHU.
Both the peppers have an earthy and fruity taste, but the guajillo chili offers a hint of smoke.
What is the Difference Between Ancho and Guajillo Chilies?
Ancho chilies are the dried form of the poblano pepper where guajillo chilies are dried mirasol peppers.
Ancho chilies are less spicy than the guajillo chili and boost deeper flavors that are reminiscent of chocolate, coffee, raisins, and licorice.
The peppers compliment each other and are often used together in sauces and stews.
What Can I Substitute for Guajillo Chiles in Birria Tacos?
Guajillo chiles are used as part of a marinade for meat, usually beef or lamb, in birria tacos. If you can’t find guajillo chilies, pasilla peppers are an ideal substitute.
Although they are slightly less spicy than guajillo chilies, they have very similar flavor profiles. Both peppers are earthy and sweet with notes of fruit.
The guajillo chili is a flavorful staple in Mexican cuisine, adding smoke and spice to many beloved dishes.
Its unique flavor can be difficult to replicate, but there are many suitable alternatives that can be used in its place.
You may even consider combining the chilies and spices above to achieve the perfect blend of flavors for your dish.
Now let’s get cooking!