Guajillo Pepper Substitutes

Top Guajillo Pepper Substitutes: Unleash Mexican Flavors

The deep, earthy flavor of guajillo peppers is a hallmark of authentic Mexican cuisine. These mild to moderately spicy chilies impart a slight fruity sweetness along with hints of tea and berries. While guajillo peppers are a staple ingredient in dishes like enchiladas, tamales, and the complex sauce known as mole, they can be difficult to source outside of Mexico.

If you can’t get your hands on guajillo peppers, fear not! Here we explore the top substitutes that capture the taste and spiciness of guajillo to unleash big Mexican flavors in your cooking.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ancho and pasilla peppers are part of the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican chilies along with guajillo. Both make excellent substitutes.
  • Ancho peppers are easier to find and mimic the sweetness of guajillo but are less complex. Pasillas better match guajillo’s layered flavors.
  • Cascabel peppers are unique alternative with a nutty, earthy taste similar to guajillo.
  • When cooking with substitutes, adjust recipes to account for differences in flavor and spice levels.
  • With any of these substitutes, you can unleash the essence of Mexican cuisine!

The “Holy Trinity” of Mexican Chilies –

Guajillo peppers are part of the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican chilies, along with ancho and pasilla varieties. This trinity forms the base of quintessential Mexican sauces like mole.

Ancho peppers are dried poblanos with a sweet, fruity taste. Pasillas, also called chiles negros, have a robust, layered flavor with berry and cocoa notes. Both anchos and pasillas make excellent guajillo stand-ins, depending on your priorities of flavor or availability.

Ancho Pepper: The Easy-to-Find Guajillo Substitute

Ancho Pepper: The Easy-to-Find Guajillo Substitute

Ancho peppers are by far the most convenient substitute for guajillo peppers. You can readily buy them dried in Latin American markets and many grocery stores.

In terms of taste, anchos share a similar level of sweetness upfront, with hints of raisins and dried fruit. They rate at 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units, milder than guajillo’s 2,500 to 5,000 units.

While anchos mimic the subtle fruitiness of guajillo, they lack the complex, almost tea-like earthiness. Still, their comparable sweet profile and wide availability make anchos the top choice for an accessible guajillo swap.

Pasilla Pepper: The Closest in Flavor

Pasilla Pepper

What pasilla peppers may lack in convenience, they make up for in flavor. Pasillas offer the closest match to the tasting notes of guajillo of any substitution.

With a Scoville rating up to 2,500 units, pasillas can match guajillo’s moderate heat. Beyond the spiciness, pasillas mimic guajillo’s mix of mild sweetness up front, transitioning to an earthy, almost herbal finish. Notes of cocoa and berry also parallel guajillo’s subtle fruit qualities.

If you want to duplicate guajillo’s complexity as near as possible, pasilla peppers are your best bet. You may have to hunt them down in a specialty grocer, but their layered profile makes pasillas the clear choice for prioritizing taste.

Cascabel Pepper: The Unique Alternative

Cascabel Pepper

With its round, hollow body and loose seeds, cascabel peppers are botanically and visually distinct from guajillo. But don’t let that fool you – cascabels can stand in admirably when guajillo peppers are nowhere to be found.

Cascabels have an earthiness reminiscent of guajillo, with additional nutty, woodsy notes. They are not as sweet, but still offer richness and depth. Cascabels also bring a touch of heat, rating between 1,000 to 3,000 Scoville units.

If you want a guajillo substitute that goes its own creative direction, cascabel is a great option. Their texture and visual appeal also make them fun to cook with.

Practical Tips for Using Guajillo Substitutes

When swapping any of these peppers for guajillo, keep some key considerations in mind:

  • Adjust for heat – Guajillo, pasilla, and cascabel all have similar Scoville ratings. But anchos run milder. For spicy dishes, increase quantities of ancho to compensate.
  • Account for sweetness – Guajillo has a subtle sweet edge. Pasilla matches it best, while cascabel runs less sweet. With cascabel, consider adding a pinch of sugar.
  • Mind the flavors – Pasilla most closely mimics guajillo’s entire flavor profile. Ancho copies the sweetness, while cascabel mirrors the earthiness.
  • Get creative! Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try substitutes in guajillo classics like tacos al pastor or mole poblano.

Sample Substitution Recipe: Easy Chicken Enchiladas

To give you an idea of how to sub in one of these peppers, here’s a simple recipe for chicken enchiladas:


  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 lb shredded chicken
  • 1 cup enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (e.g. Monterey Jack)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 tbsp guajillo (or substitute) powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Salt to taste


  1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Cook onions until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
  2. Add shredded chicken, spices, and a splash of water. Cook 5 minutes until chicken is heated through.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8×11 baking dish with oil.
  4. Soften tortillas in microwave or pan. Fill each with 1/4 cup chicken mixture and roll up.
  5. Arrange rolled tortillas seam side down in baking dish. Cover with enchilada sauce and cheese.
  6. Bake 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.
  7. Serve with favorite toppings like cilantro, jalapeños, guacamole. Enjoy!

Adjust the quantity of guajillo or substitute powder to your taste – 1 tablespoon for mild spice, up to 2 for extra heat.


While guajillo peppers add an unmistakable depth of flavor to Mexican food, they can be elusive in many grocery aisles. Luckily, anchors, pasillas, and cascabels all make excellent guajillo stand-ins.

Anchos offer a comparable sweetness that’s easy to find. Pasillas closely mimic the layered flavors. And cascabels provide a creative new twist.

The next time your recipe calls for guajillo and you come up short, try one of these substitutes. With a little spice savvy, you can recreate authentic Mexican dishes and transport your taste buds south of the border.

So embrace the spirit of experimentation – you just may discover a new favorite Chile! What guajillo substitute do you think you’ll try first? Let us know!