Guajillo peppers are one of the most popular dried peppers in their country of origin, Mexico. Relatively mild peppers and guajillos add a fruity, earthy complexity to dishes without too much heat.
The fresh pepper, known as the mirasol chile, grows mostly in central and northern Mexico. Mirasol chiles are almost never eaten raw. Once the mature pepper is dried and ground, it’s called a guajillo pepper (similar to how a chipotle pepper is just a smoked and dried jalapeño).
Read on to learn why and how to grow these flavorful peppers and use them to enhance your own culinary creations.
Guajillo peppers are around an inch wide and 3-6 inches long. They have a slight curve and are deep red to brownish in color due to the drying process. The fresh version – marisol peppers – are left to ripen on the vine until they mature from green to a bright red.
Guajillo chiles, the largest of the Marisol family, are smooth and are the largest of the three marisol varieties.
Guajillo peppers are often used as a base for marinades and salsas, adding a fruity, earthy sweetness and tanginess to Mexican dishes without turning up the burn. The pepper’s underlying smokiness combines with these other flavors to make this chili an excellent addition to nearly any dish.
If you’re looking for a less-spicy pepper, the guajillo pepper is the one for you. These culinary favorites rate around 2,500-5,000 Scoville heat units (a measurement of the number of times capsaicin must be diluted by sugar water; the more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper).
These peppers have a mild to medium heat, coming in somewhere between a poblano and a jalapeño on the spiciness scale.
In addition to being an excellent source of vitamins C and A, the capsaicin compound in guajillos has anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and metabolism-boosting properties.
How to Grow Your Own
Start with some good-quality guajillo pepper seeds like those from Hoss Tools.
About 6 weeks before the anticipated last frost in your area, start the seeds indoors in a starting tray. If the plants outgrow the starting tray, transplant them into larger pots before moving them outside.
Guajillo peppers grow best in warm, sunny beds with good drainage. Space the plants between 1 and 2 feet apart, and space rows between 3 and 4 feet apart.
These fruits can get heavy, so be prepared to stake or trellis them as they mature. It usually takes about 70 days for the peppers to turn red and reach full maturity.
Small peppers can be dried whole. Otherwise, wearing gloves, cut the fruits into uniform pieces and spread them on a baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet in the oven at 150 degrees (F), leaving the door open a crack to let moisture escape.
Check the peppers about every 30 minutes and rotate them as they dry. Once they are brittle (after about 1- to 2 hours), remove them from the oven, cool them, and store them in an airtight container.
Wire Rack or Hanging Method
Wash your peppers thoroughly, removing any dirt, then dry.
Place the peppers on a wire rack or thread a string through them and hang them in a well-ventilated space to dry.
How to Choose the Best Guajillos
If you just can’t wait for your crop to mature and want to start cooking, check out local grocery stores that offer traditional Mexican products.
The turnover will be more frequent at these stores than at traditional American grocery stores or online, meaning you’ll be able to find a fresher product. However, you can purchase guajillos on Amazon if you prefer.
Good guajillos will be fairly leathery and elastic. If you lightly bend one and it cracks, it’s likely older and will have less flavor. Older peppers can still be used; they’ll just be a little less flavorful.
As with most produce, you will also want to look for peppers with even coloring, and shiny guajillos are preferable to dull ones.
How to use in Cooking
Just a reminder: Always wearing gloves when working with peppers, regardless of the heat, is a good idea.
To prepare your peppers, first, rinse them and pat them dry. Remove the stems and slit the pepper down the side, then remove the seeds and veins.
Not only are the seeds and veins the source of the majority of the pepper’s heat, but, more importantly for these peppers, they also make it harder to get the smooth consistency you’ll want for your sauces and marinades.
Some recipes call for untoasted peppers for a lighter, fresher taste. If you do decide to roast your peppers, do so in a medium-hot pan for about 20 to 30 seconds per side until they’re fragrant.
Store untoasted guajillos for up to 6 months in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I prevent my hands from burning after working with guajillo peppers?
If you forget to wear gloves when working with your pepper harvest, first wash your hands with neutral soap. Then, rub your hands with vegetable oil and leave it on for about 10 minutes. Wash the oil off with cool water and soap.
Should I remove the seeds and stem before using them?
Seeds, stems, and veins are where the majority of a pepper’s heat resides.
Heat may not be a big concern with this pepper, but as you’ll probably use these peppers in a sauce or marinade, you will want to remove the stems, seeds, and veins for the sake of consistency (you’ll want a smooth puree from your peppers).
Are guajillo peppers annuals or perennials?
In the US Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 to 11, guajillos can be grown perennially. In all other climates, the plants survive as annuals.
Can I grow guajillo peppers inside?
Technically, yes. However, you’ll need to create a fairly humid atmosphere unless you have a greenhouse. Window light is not sufficient to grow these peppers either, so you would need to invest in a quality grow light to make indoor growing successful.
Add Guajillos to Your Garden and Your Menu
Guajillo peppers, with just a little heat but a complex flavor profile, are perfect for bumping your favorite recipes–Mexican or not–up a level.
Guajillos are easy to grow in your backyard garden during the summer months and easy to dry and store for year-round use.
Learn more about all varieties of peppers on our dedicated Peppers page.