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 the 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 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 have 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.

How Hot Is A Chilaca Chile?

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 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 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 European high-end groceries or purchase them from online vendors.

Fresh peppers will keep 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.

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