Food & Drink

The 9 Best Substitutes for Guajillo Chiles in Cooking

Published on November 14, 2023 | 0 Comments
Substitute for Guajillo Chiles

Guajillo chiles are a popular ingredient in Mexican cuisine, but if you don’t have them in your kitchen, is there a good substitute for guajillo chiles? Guajillo chiles have a signature flavor that adds depth to any recipe. For such a signature flavor it seems difficult to replace, but there are actually some great substitutes if you don’t have or can’t find this ingredient for a recipe.

Guajillo peppers are native to Mexico and used in a variety of recipes and favorite dishes of the country. In this guide, learn exactly what guajillo chiles are and what recipes they work well in. Plus, learn what the best substitute for guajillo chiles is if you still want to retain the flavor when the guajillos aren’t available.


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What Are Guajillo Chiles?

Native to Mexico, guajillo chiles are a popular variety of chile that is one of the most used in Mexican cuisine. Guajillo peppers are dried mirasol chiles and are about four to six inches long with tough red skin. The peppers have a mild to medium heat with notes of sweet, smoky and fruity flavors. The larger variety, guajillo, is longer and a little less spicy than the smaller guajillo puya.

You can purchase guajillo chiles whole or as a powder. They can also be rehydrated to be used in sauces and pastes. To learn more about how to use guajillo chiles in more unique recipes, try cooking classes near you or an online cooking class to boost your culinary skills. 

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Purpose of Guajillo Chiles in Cooking

Guajillo chiles bring a unique flavor to whatever recipe they’re included in. These chiles are often used in sauces, marinades and dry rubs for meat, salsas, soups and stews. The depth adds an earthy, green tea flavor with a slight fruitiness, along with a mild to moderate heat. The chiles and chili powder are often used in enchiladas, tamales and tacos.

You can use substitutes for guajillo chiles in tacos
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Guajillo Chiles Substitutes

1. Ancho Peppers

When it comes to a guajillo chile substitute, ancho chiles are one of the better options. Ancho peppers are another popular option in Mexican cooking, so it’s a natural choice for a substitution. Ancho chiles have a rich flavor that will add depth to any recipe with a similar earthy flavor and a hint less spiciness. Ancho chilis are also easy to find in most grocery stores. They're best used in stews, soups and marinades.

Ancho Peppers are an easy guajillo chile substitute
via Canva

2. New Mexico Chiles

New Mexico chiles originate in the southwestern United States and are a staple of Southwestern and Tex-Mex cuisine. They're also called red chiles or Hatch chiles. These peppers are five to seven inches long with smooth skin that’s a deep red. These have a lower heat level than guajillo chiles, so you may miss out on the spiciness. However, New Mexico chiles and guajillo peppers have a similar sweet and earthy flavor profile.

A pile of New Mexico Chiles
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3. Cascabel Pepper

If you’re looking for a guajillo pepper substitute, the Cascabel chile pepper is a popular option in Mexico. Because of the dried pods inside the pepper, these are also called chile bola or a rattle chile. Cascabel chiles are small, round and vary from green to deep red-brown. These have a sweet and smoky flavor with a slightly lower heat level, which makes for a milder guajillo substitute. They’re a great choice for soups, sauces and salsas.

Cascabel Peppers is similar enough that it's a good guajilo chilie substitute
via Canva

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4. Pasilla Peppers

Pasilla peppers are another popular option that makes a good substitute for guajillo chiles. This pepper is a little longer with brown skin. Pasilla peppers and guajillo chiles have a similar sweet flavor and heat level. Despite the difference in appearance, this is a great substitute because you won’t miss the richness in flavor.

Pasilla Peppers
via Canva

5. Chile Pepper

If you’re looking for an easy-to-find guajillo pepper substitute, chile peppers are a good option. Chile peppers are one of the easiest peppers to find in a grocery store, so they’re a great option if you need a pepper in a pinch. Chile peppers and guajillo peppers have a similar heat level, and they’re also versatile enough to work in a variety of dishes. Chile peppers can come in powdered forms, so they’re also a great guajillo chili powder substitute.

The classic chili pepper is an ideal guajillo chile substitute
via Canva 

6. Mulato Chiles

Mulato chiles are dried poblano peppers that are usually dark brown and four inches long. These peppers have a sweet, smoky, fruity flavor that’s similar to the guajillo pepper. However, mulato chiles are hotter than guajillos, so be prepared for a little more heat in your dishes. Mulato peppers are a great option for soups, moles and sauces.

Black mulato chiles
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7. Chipotle Chile Peppers

Smoke and ripen jalepeño peppers and you have chipotle chile peppers. Chipotle chiles have a high heat level, so they make a good substitute for guajillo chiles. Chipotle chiles also come in powder forms, which makes them a good option for a guajillo chili powder substitute. Both the whole pepper and the powder version are versatile in cuisine, used in meat marinades, salsas, sauces and soups.

Chipotle Chili Peppers are very similar to guajillo peppers.
via Canva

8. California Chiles

California chiles are ripened and dried Anaheim peppers. If you find guajillo peppers to be too strong in flavor or heat, California chiles are the ideal guajillo substitute in this case. California chiles have a milder heat and sweetness compared to guajillos. These chiles are best used in casseroles, soups and sauces that call for a milder flavor profile.

Green California chiles
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9. Chile de Arbol

For those who love spicy food, chile de árbol is one of the best substitutes for guajillo chiles. These peppers have a high heat level, about three to five times hotter than a guajillo. Chile de árbol peppers are also smokey and nutty, so you’ll have a similar rich flavor to guajillos. This is the perfect pepper for hot salsas and can pair well with sweet flavors for a sweet and spicy dish.

Chile de Arbol are similar to guajillo chilies.
via Canva

The right chile pepper can add a brilliant depth of flavor and spiciness to any dish you’re cooking. Guajillo chiles are a great option when cooking Mexican dishes to add a sweet and earthy flavor with a moderate heat level. However, if you can’t find guajillo peppers in your grocery store, there are some substitutes for guajillo chiles that can work just as well. These substitutes can have similar flavors and heat levels, while others can differ in what they bring to the dish. 

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