The second-most popular chili in Mexico, Guajillo chiles are used in a variety of dishes, and perhaps most famously in Mexican moles. These chili peppers are ideal when seeking out a sweeter, slightly fruity heat in a dish.
Despite their popularity, they may not be a common pantry ingredient for you. While you can use guajillo chili powder, it’s sometimes necessary to substitute the entire pepper.
If that’s the case, the best substitutes for guajillo chiles include ancho chiles, pasilla chiles, and cascabel chiles. All three have slightly varying tastes when compared to the guajillo chili, which we’ll get into.
Most Common Substitute: Ancho Chiles
Like guajillo chiles, ancho chiles are considered to be a part of the “Holy Trinity” of chiles used in Mexican cuisine. Ancho chiles are perhaps the most commonly used (and most popular!) chili in Mexico, and as such are quite easy to find.
Ancho chiles are comparable in taste to guajillo chiles, with their sweet and earthy taste. That said, they are slightly less spicy than the guajillo chili, with their heat clocking in at 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), compared to that of the guajillo at 2,500 to 5,000.
Substitute Most Similar in Flavor: Pasilla Chiles
The last member of the “Holy Trinity,” pasilla chiles are the most similar in flavor to guajillo chiles. Pasilla chiles are slightly sweet, without as much earthiness to them as the guajillo.
Pasilla chiles have a heat similar to that of ancho chiles, that can also reach the level of guajillo heat, falling between 1,000 to 2,500 SHU.
Substitute With a Different Taste: Cascabel Chiles
Like the header suggests, cascabel chiles have an earthy and nutty flavor that is not sweet – a diversion from the sweetness provided by guajillo, ancho and pasilla chiles. That said, their earthiness gives them a taste comparable enough to be used as a substitute for guajillo chiles.
Cascabel chiles are called the “rattle chili” because of the loose seeds inside that rattle around the dried chili. They don’t look like an obvious choice of substitute given their wide, round structure, but they taste delicious.
Cascabel chiles are comparable in heat to the pasilla chili as they fall between 1,000 to 2,500 SHU.
What About the Jalapeño?
Like all of the substitutes listed above, guajillo chiles are dried. Therefore, while it may be tempting to use a jalapeño pepper as a substitute, as they are traditionally more spicy, doing so will switch up the texture and flavor profile of your dish.
It’s best not to use the jalapeño pepper as a substitute for guajillo chiles, unless you are looking to do something different.
That said, the dried version of a jalapeño is called the chipotle chili. Registering at 2,500-8,000 SHU, chipotle chiles are much hotter than any of our guajillo chili substitutes, however a small amount of chipotle mixed with ancho, pasilla, or cascabel chiles can give you the heat you’re looking for.
Deciphering the Heat & Names
If you’re confused by all of the numbers and names mentioned here, you can use the table above to figure out which chili might be best for you as a substitute for guajillo chiles. Happy eating!