The flavor of Mexican food is so rich, complex, and layered that it’s hard to imagine how one single country could produce such an array of tastes.
There are a huge number of spices used in Mexican cooking, many of which have their own unique properties and flavors. One such spice is the guajillo pepper, dried, fresh, and powdered. It’s also known as mirasol chili pepper due to how it grows.
This article will explore everything you need to know about guajillo powder. This includes its history and uses in Mexico and the rest of the world, where it has also become popular in recent years.
You will also learn about different ways you can use guajillo powder in your cooking and other useful information about this great spice!
Guajillo Chili Powder Overview
History of Guajillo Chili Powder
According to the Franciscan friar, Bernardino de Sahagun, who arrived in New Spain (what’s now modern-day Mexico) in 1529, the Aztecs placed such great importance on chili peppers that they classified them into six categories not only on a pungency scale from low to high but also a pungency scale from broad to sharp.
Over his 50 years studying these peoples, de Sahagun learned of the chilis their markets regularly carried like hot green chilis, smoked chilis, water chilis, tree chilis, flea chilis, and sharp-pointed red chilis.
From what we know now, the Aztecs were already growing jalapeño, chilaca, poblano, serrano, de Arbol, and mirasol chilis.
Chilis were considered so important to this society, as well as the Mayans and Incans, that they were one of the foods excluded from their diets during religious fasts.
The preservation method of smoking chilis over a fire was a discovery made by the Aztec people.
The dried mirasol chili, also known as the guajillo chili, has been consumed in this area for several centuries.
Even today, many chili farmers still use traditional drying methods for their peppers and the guajillo pepper remains extremely popular.
Cultivation of the Guajillo Chili
Originally known as the mirasol chili, these peppers were named for how they grow on the plant, “looking at the sun”.
Guajillo chilis are native to central and northern Mexico, specifically the states of Aguascalientes, Durango, and San Luis Potosi. You’ll also find these fruity peppers grown in China, Peru, and parts of the US.
These chilis grow best in arid climates and north-central Mexico is said to have the best-tasting guajillos.
They enjoy the sun and can’t be over-watered as they are prone to root rot.
Uniquely, their long, pointed peppers grow with the point toward the sun, hence their name.
When they’ve achieved a deep burgundy color, they’re ripe for the picking.
The guajillo name is more common after they’ve been dried.
Whole vs Ground Guajillo Chili
Whole dried chilis can be turned into fresh, ground powder, but can also be rehydrated and used like fresh chilis.
The powder is far less versatile but may be more convenient.
Which way you decide to store your guajillo chilis is a personal preference.
What Does Guajillo Powder Taste Like?
This incredible pepper has conflicting flavors with a fruity taste that competes with the accompanying pepper spiciness.
The tart berry flavor is accompanied by hints of pine and mild smoky undertones.
What is Guajillo Powder Used For?
Guajillo powder is frequently used alongside ancho chilis and pasilla chilis in Mexican moles.
Guajillo peppers are a typical choice in Mexican cooking when you want to add flavor, mild heat, and color to your dish. It’s a common choice as a paste for chicken.
The flavors of this pepper are very versatile and can be added to salsas, enchiladas, soups, cheese sauces, purees, and any other dish that needs a smoky, fruity, and/or spicy flavor profile.
While they are most known for their role in Mexican cuisine, they’ve become a popular ingredient in North African and Peruvian cooking as well.
The popular North African spice blend called Harissa commonly contains guajillo chili powder.
The unique flavors, with that combination of sweet and spicy, make guajillo powder fun to play with in the kitchen. Experiment yourself and try it as a cheesecake topping, on your ice cream, or even combined with your favorite chocolate.
How to Make Homemade Guajillo Chili Powder
- 10-12 large dried ancho chili peppers
- 6 dried guajillo chili peppers
- 6 dried arbol chili peppers
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- Remove all stems and seeds from the dried chilis.
- Preheat a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes.
- Once the skillet is heated, toasted the dried chilis in small batches. Using a metal spatula, press the chilis into the heat of the pan for a few seconds, releasing the aromas. Repeat on the other side.
- Once the chilis are toasted, set them to cool completely.
- In the same skillet, toast the cumin seeds and oregano for one minute. Remove them from the heat.
- Tear the chilis into small pieces and using a clean coffee grinder, add just enough chili pieces to loosely fill it. Grind for a few seconds at a time until your chilis turn into a powder.
- Repeat this process until all of your toasted ingredients are ground. Mix everything together and store it in an airtight container in a cool place. For longer-lasting guajillo powder, store it in the refrigerator.
Freshly ground guajillo powder is far superior to those on the shelf that have additives to make them more shelf stable. If you’d like a simpler powder that only contains guajillo try this:
- Remove the seeds and stems from your dried guajillo peppers.
- Place them on the baking sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes at 250 degrees F.
- Now that they’re super dehydrated, put them into your clean coffee grinder and grind. You may need to do this in batches.
- Once you have a fine powder, store it in an airtight container. That’s it.
Is chili powder the same as guajillo powder?
No. guajillo powder is specifically ground guajillo peppers. Chili powder is a spice blend with garlic and other additives specifically designed for making Chili con Carne.
What can I substitute for guajillo chili powder?
A less heat alternative for guajillo chili powder would be California chili powder.
How spicy is guajillo chili?
Guajillo chili powder has a SHU (Scoville Heat Units) range of 2500 – 5000. This is close to the heat of the average jalapeño pepper but spicier than a poblano.
Guajillo chilis are small, deep red, and have a mild flavor. They’re native to central Mexico and have been cultivated there for hundreds of years.
Dried chilis are often used in mole sauces and other dishes that need rich flavor.
Fresh chilis are often added to salsa verde but can be eaten raw as well.
This smoky chili is slightly sweet but can get a little hot if you add too much.
Use them sparingly in sauces, salsas, and stews.
You can also grind the peppers into a powder and use it as a spice in any recipe you like.
Their subtly smoky flavor is great as a rub or spice blend, but you can also add it to bread or baked goods.
The best way to enjoy this versatile chili is by making your own condiments or salsas or grinding the peppers to make spicy chili powder or flakes, but it can also be used in all kinds of dishes as well. Guajillo chilis are best stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight and heat.