four chilaca peppers on a white background

Chilaca Peppers: A Mexican Staple

Chilaca peppers are a versatile ingredient in Mexican cuisine, particularly in sauces and salsas. These peppers are usually dried and referred to as pasilla, but you can also use them fresh. Read on to learn more about this culinarily and culturally significant pepper!

Facts about
Chilaca Peppers

Heat level:
1,000 - 2,500
Capsicum annuum
North America

What are chilaca peppers?

Chilaca peppers are mild and curvy peppers that are an essential ingredient in Mexican cuisine. They are long and thin, grow to about 6-9 inches long, and are typically dark green. When dried, they are known as the Pasilla or Pasilla Bajio.

Fresh chilaca peppers can be chopped and used in salads, salsas, or roasted or grilled. They are mildly hot, ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 SHU. This is a similar heat level to poblano peppers and on the lower comparable heat end of jalapeños.

Origin and history

The chilaca pepper originated in Mexico and is a part of Mexican cuisine. Chilaca comes from an ancient Aztecan term meaning “old” or “gray hair.”

The chilaca pepper was a staple food in ancient Mexico and has been used in traditional Mexican mole sauces for centuries. The dried chilaca pepper is also known as the pasilla pepper, one of the three peppers referred to as the “Holy Trinity” in Mexican cuisine.

What do chilaca peppers look like?

The chilaca pepper was named for its wrinkled skin and long, bending body, its name meaning “old” or “gray hair”. Chilacas begin as green peppers, and as they mature, they develop into a dark greenish-brown that borders on black. This contrasts with most peppers, which ripen from green into yellow, orange, or red.

How hot are they?

Chilaca peppers are considered to be mildly hot, with a Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) range of 1,000 to 2,500. A jalapeño pepper typically has a Scoville rating of around 5,000, making the average chilaca pepper about two to five times milder in heat.

While it may not be the hottest chili pepper, it still provides a noticeable spiciness and heat to dishes. The dried form of the chilaca pepper, known as the pasilla pepper, has a similar heat range but tends to be closer to the top end of the scale as it is fully matured when dried.

What do they taste like?

Mature chilaca peppers have a rich flavor with thick, meaty flesh. In addition, you may notice a slight floralness to the taste, adding a unique complexity. When dried, the chilaca pepper’s dark green skins darken to a richer brown-black color, and the flavor is sweet, smoky, and raisiny. Their dried form (pasilla) is widely used in Mexican cuisine and has also become popular in the United States because they are flavorful and versatile.

Common culinary uses for chilaca peppers

While they are often dried, you can chop fresh chilaca peppers into salsas and salads. Unfortunately, their thinner skins and narrow shape make them unsuitable for stuffing.

In their dried form, pasilla peppers are great for many sauces in Mexican food, such as enchilada sauces and mole sauces. They can also be ground and made into a hot sauce or condiment.

Chilaca vs. poblano

There is often confusion between chilaca and poblano peppers since they share some similarities in their dried forms (pasilla and ancho), and the fresh chilaca is not as widely known. Poblano peppers are broader and thicker than chilacas, making them suitable for stuffing. They are also more commonly used fresh in Mexican cuisine.

Chilaca vs. pasilla

Chilaca peppers and pasilla peppers are the same pepper but in different forms. The chilaca pepper is usually dried, and in this form, it is known as the pasilla, pasilla bajio, or pasilla negro. Pasilla peppers have a sweet raisin-like flavor with smoky and earthy undertones. They are part of the Holy Trinity of chilies in traditional Mexican mole sauces.

How to dry chilaca peppers and make pasillas

There are several different ways to dry chilaca peppers to make pasilla. We’ll talk about drying them in the oven and dehydrator, or you can learn more about other methods for drying chilis here.

To dry chilaca peppers, start by washing them and removing any stems. Next, place them in the oven on the lowest heat setting, with the door slightly cracked. It may take up to 12 hours to dry completely, but it’s crucial to ensure they are completely dry to prevent molding.

To dry them in a dehydrator, set your device to 125°F and allow them to process until they are dry and brittle. Once dry, they can be stored in an airtight container for up to six months.

Where to get chilaca peppers

Chilaca peppers can be challenging to find outside of Mexico, but they are available in some Mexican grocery stores or gourmet specialty shops. You can also purchase chilaca peppers from online retailers, such as Amazon. If you cannot find fresh chilaca peppers, pasilla peppers are a fantastic alternative.

Tips for growing chilaca peppers at home

If you’re a fan of Mexican cuisine and want to grow your own chilaca peppers, here are some tips to get started.

If you want to grow Chilaca peppers at home, you can start by sowing them indoors around 6-8 weeks prior to your region’s last frost date. Chilaca peppers do not tolerate the cold and require full sun to thrive, so it is crucial to ensure their soil stays warm and plant them in a spot that gets lots of direct light.

Aphids are one of the most common pests that may impact your crop, which can be combatted by ensuring there are other beneficial insects in your garden to control the aphid population (like ladybugs!) Chilaca peppers will mature fully roughly 85 days after transplanting, at which point you can harvest your peppers.

You can store fresh homegrown chilaca peppers in the fridge for up to a week or dry them to preserve them over winter. To store dried pasilla peppers, place them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.