Nice spice: guajillo, ancho, pasilla, cascabel, arbol & chipotle peppers

Chile Pepper Tasting

Slow Food San Francisco

I used to think all chile peppers were the same: HOT. So for years while dining at Mexican restaurants I’d select the simplest dish with the least amount of heat. And flavor.

After a brush with the Slow Food Chile pepper tasting in San Francisco led by Naomi Friedman I have a different – and better – point of view. Or rather my taste buds do! The tasting, held at the Charanga Restaurant in San Francisco, allowed a number of us to learn about several varieties and taste them (in small quantities!) to gauge heat/spice side-by-side.

Below are the chiles we tested, listed by degree of heat.

From mild…

  • Guajillo. Along with the ancho, the most frequently used dried chile. Occasionally toasted and ground for table sauce, often used as a seasoning paste or sauce for meats.
  • Ancho. I liked this one because it was slightly bitter, yet still had a mild pleasant flavor. Used toasted and soaked and ground smooth for cooked sauce. Can also be rehydrated and stuffed (can you say “cheese”?)

To medium…

  • Pasilla. The flavor is rich but sharp. Often toasted and soaked then blended smoothly with other ingredients for a sauce. It’s particularly good with seafood and fried (my favorite!)
  • Cascabel. These are the small round chiles. The name is derived from cascabel or rattlesnake because the seeds rattle inside when you shake the pepper. The flavor is rich and earthy when toasted.

To hot…

  • De Arbol. Long, skinny peppers. Can be toasted and ground with other ingredients for a table sauce.
  • Chipotle. Love these although they were the hottest we tried. Smoky, with a deep flavor that can’t be mistaken for any other chile, I use these to make enchilada sauce or ground as a spice for grilled meats. Yum.

I hope this article will inspire some exploration in your kitchen! Spice is nice – and a good salsa or chile sauce is even better!

Special thanks to Chef Gabriela Salas who allowed us to taste the ground/pureed chiles and the delicious mole.


2351 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Chef: Gabriela Salas

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I’m a tech marketer by day and a wannabe cook once my laptop powers down. These days, the line between quitting time and play is pretty thin. It's why I like a little discovery in the kitchen— creativity in prep and ingredients—to take the edge off the mundane and make food and feasts fun. Because let’s face it, if it’s not fun, then somewhere, somehow, you’re doing it wrong.

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