Chilaca Chiles: Origin, Appearance, Flavor, And Culinary Uses

The literal translation of “Chilaca” means “old” or “gray hair” and the name refers to the pepper’s wrinkled appearance. Fresh Chilaca chiles are rarely found in vegetable markets and are more commonly used in dried form. The dried Chilaca peppers are sold under the name “Pasilla” which means “little raisin” when translated from Spanish. This pepper is also known by other names such as Chile Negro, Pasilla Bajio, Cuernillo, and Mexican Negro.

What is a Chilaca Chile Pepper?

Chilaca chile peppers, botanically classified as Capsicum annuum, are mild hot peppers of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Native to Mexico, it’s commonly used in Mexican cuisines. Dried chiles turn into a brown-black color from the dark green color of the fresh chiles. In appearance, the pods grow about 6-9 inches in length, and 1 inch wide, and have a curved to flattened conical shape with thin flesh inside. Matured chiles are wrinkled, waxy, and covered with vertical ridges.

The taste of this pepper varies according to the stages of maturity. Tender pods taste mildly tangy and floral with heat similar to poblano chiles. Matured chiles are mildly sweet and have an earthy flavor with mild heat.

Origin And History

Chilaca chile peppers are said to have originated in the Puebla region of central Mexico and have been cultivated from ancient times. Today, this chile is widely cultivated in Mexico, and in some regions of North America. Availability of fresh peppers is mostly limited to local markets and home gardens in Mexico whereas the Pasilla is exported to all parts of the world and is easily available with spice retailers in the Europe and United States.

In Mexico, it is part of the holy trinity of chiles which includes pasilla, ancho, and Guajillo used for making mole sauce; a smooth sauce made of chiles, spices, tomatoes, and sometimes raisins.

Key Facts In A Gist

  • Capsicum species: annuum
  • Origin: Mexico
  • Heat level: 1,000-2,500 SHU
  • Median heat: 1,750 SHU
  • Size: 6-9 inches in length, and 1 inch wide.
  • Shape: long, narrow, flattened, wrinkled
  • Color: matures from deep green to dark brown
  • Flavor: mildly tangy, floral
  • Uses: Culinary (roasting, grilling, dried)
  • Products: Pasilla
  • Harvest: about 85 days after planting
  • Best Substitutes: poblano, ancho, guajillo peppers

Chilaca Chile Scoville

Chilaca peppers are mildly hot peppers, ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville Heat Units on the Scoville Scale. This pepper is about 4 times milder than a typical Jalapeno pepper, which goes up to 5,000 SHU. In short, this pepper isn’t hot by typical heat level standards, but you’ll notice a bit of overall heat and spiciness in general cooking.

Culinary Uses

Fresh Chilaca chiles work well in fresh salsas. Grilled or roasted chiles can be chopped into salsas or sauces. Not a good option for stuffing for they have thinner skin walls with an elongated shape. Chile peppers blistered over the grill go well into vegetable dishes, stews, rice, soups, and casseroles. Roasted chiles are a wonderful addition to tamales, tostadas, tacos, and Chile Rellenos.

Pasilla (dried Chilaca chiles) is a popular ingredient in several Mexican dishes, especially in sauces. Ground chiles are often used as a condiment and for making a quick table sauce, or used for savory sauces, sprinkled with overcooked meats, and tortilla soup.  Chilaca chiles pair well with all types of meat, eggs, onions, garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, rice, and beans.

Buying And Storage

Fresh Chilaca chiles are easily available at local Mexican grocers depending on the season. However, fresh Chilaca peppers are rarely available in almost all places outside Mexico. If you are fond of them, think of growing them in your kitchen garden yourself. Pasilla, in whole or ground form, is easily available in the US and Europe in high-end groceries or purchased from online vendors.

Fresh peppers will be kept for 1-2 weeks when loosely stored or in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Well-stored Pasilla peppers have a shelf life of up to 3 years.

Ripened Chilaca Chili Peppers

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Chilaca peppers the same as pasilla?

Pasilla (Chile pasilla), also known as “little raisin”, are dried Chilaca peppers, a very commonly used chili pepper seasoning in Mexico. This dried chili is often incorporated in mole sauce, enchilada sauce, and salsa. Also, it’s typically used in combination with other dried chilies, such as ancho and chipotle peppers.

What are fresh Chilaca peppers used for?

Fresh Chilaca peppers are occasionally chopped and mixed into various applications, especially in fresh salsa. They are also excellent for grilling and roasting. This pepper is a long chili with a narrow body and thin skin. Therefore, it isn’t suitable for stuffing, unlike the poblanos or bell peppers. However, dried Chilaca (pasilla) is highly preferred by chefs because of its sweet, slightly smoky, and mildly hot flavor. Before use, usually, this pepper is charred, peeled, and shredded to be added to sauces, soups, tamales, and vegetable dishes.

What is Chilaca sauce?

In Mexican cuisines, Chilaca pepper (pasilla) is commonly used for making salsa sauce, mole sauce, and other hot sauces. The mole sauce is made of a blend of chilies (pasilla, ancho, guajillo, or chipotle), onion, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, garlic, raisins, chocolate, and spices. Chilaca salsa is a fresh salsa that is used with tortilla chips, used atop a taco, or any dish that calls for fresh salsa.

When should I pick Chilaca peppers

Usually, when the seedlings are about 6 inches tall, the chili plant is transplanted in the garden or container. After the transplantation, it takes about 85 days for Chilaca peppers to be ready for picking.

How do you grow Chilaca peppers?

This pepper can be grown in the same ways in which you grow jalapeno, poblano, or cayenne chili peppers. It grows best in warm tropical climates; the outdoor plantation should be done only after the frost has passed. In frost-free tropical climates, the plants grow perennially but in colder climates, they can be grown as annuals.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Chilaca chile peppers, native to Mexico and part of the Capsicum annuum species, are a mildly hot variety featuring a unique flavor profile that transitions from tangy and floral in younger pods to sweet and earthy when matured.

These elongated, wrinkled peppers, measuring 6-9 inches in length, are central to Mexican cuisine, especially in mole sauce. Their heat level, ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 SHU, is milder compared to a Jalapeno.

Chilaca peppers are versatile in culinary uses, ideal for fresh salsas, grilling, roasting, and as Pasilla when dried. They pair well with meats, eggs, and vegetables. Available mostly in Mexico, their dried form, Pasilla, is accessible globally. Fresh Chilaca peppers last 1-2 weeks in storage, while Pasilla can be stored for up to three years.

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